Way back in February, I spent many post-midnight hours trying to get super-cheap tickets in an AirAsia seat sale. It wasn’t easy. As soon as the seat sale began, the AirAsia servers collapsed under the weight of bargain hunters. Screens full of error messages were more common than booking confirmations. Reminders that “we will only hold your reservation for nine minutes” were pointless. Given nine hours I might actually have been able to confirm and pay.
But, I did eventually manage to book three overseas trips. One was to Kochi, also known as Cochin, in India. Why? Because I knew absolutely nothing about the place. In fact, I confess, I’d never even heard of it. Turns out it’s the second largest city in the State of Kerala. And that means big. Even places they describe as “small cities” usually have four or five million people.
Since February I’ve learned quite a lot about Kochi by searching for information online. It looks fascinating. A place I’d really want to visit. In fact I’ve learned so much that I feel like I’ve already been. Which is just as well, because I’m not going!
At 2:30am, or whatever time it was when I finally managed to book the ticket, I wasn’t thinking about visas. Mistake! India, in its infinite bureaucratic wisdom, is a country which requires every traveller to obtain a visa in advance. I have no argument with that, but do they have to make it so damned difficult?
An Australian visa can be obtained online, in a few minutes. Approved, paid for, confirmed, all done and dusted. An Indian visa meanwhile requires not minutes but days.
I’ve been to India a couple of times before. I obtained my visas at the Indian High Commission in KL. The process is so unpleasant I won’t even try to describe it. Let’s just say, the Indian government tries hard to make sure you never visit.
Searching the web for some alternate way to obtain a visa, I discovered the “Grandlotus India Visa Centre.” As far as I can figure, this is a private organization which charges a fee to make the application process easier and faster. I quote…
“Our specialist team of qualified Visa Officers and consultants are equipped with vast knowledge & experience in the consular services to manage and monitor your Indian visa application throughout the process, providing guidance and support at all stages.”
I thought I had downloaded and completed all the right forms, and printed some photos in the exact size and quantity needed. I arrived at their office mid-morning, to be greeted with a large hall with wall-to-wall people. I have to admit that unlike the High Commission, the place was actually clean, bright and air conditioned.
Having finally pushed my way to the information desk, or rather, having been pushed from behind, I was handed one more form, which just to ensure my blood pressure stayed above normal levels, is inexplicably not available on their website. Of course, I didn’t bring a pen. And the officious lady behind the desk curtly told me she only had one. Naturally. Why would you have more than one when you are trying to provide “guidance and support at all stages”?
Eventually the lady agreed my four pieces of application plus supporting documents were all in order, and handed me my number, telling me to go to the counter to submit the forms.
I took a seat, and waited, and waited, and…
Ahead of me were 66 people. And the illuminated number clicked up at the rate of about five an hour. You can easily do the math to figure I would have been there the rest of the day. I had no food nor drink, nothing to read, and a lunch appointment was about to be missed.
Even if I’d had the patience to go through this process, I was worried by stories I’d read about other applicants being rejected for the most spurious of reasons. It seems that often, countless visits are needed before the application is even accepted. I was anyways anticipating an argument because some of the questions on the form are downright silly and couldn’t be answered. Questions like “Permanent Address in Country of Origin.” I haven’t lived in the UK since 1976 so why the heck would I have an address there?
And of course they couldn’t possibly issue the visa the same day. You are required to return three days later to fight the same wall of people, who by this point are all in need of anger management therapy.
In the end, I figured it would take me longer to obtain the visa than the planned length of my trip. And the visa fee was more than the price of the air ticket. So having wasted only a few hours, I decided – to hell with it. India clearly doesn’t want me to visit, so I’ll go some place else.
The country is wasting millions on a TV advertising campaign touting “Incredible !ndia.” That money could be much better spent on streamlining or eliminating the cumbersome visa process. Then, people like me might actually visit. But perhaps they don’t want that. Can’t say I blame them.