Our featured bloggers were meant to be on a sugar-white beach. Instead they found themselves visiting the Indian Consulate in Male.
The best way to begin a relaxing holiday in the Maldives is definitely to spend two days in Male trying to organise an Indian visa. Said no one, EVER.
Being such worldly and up-to-the-minute travellers, it had sort of slipped our minds that there are actually nations in the world who do not just open their gates and rush out brandishing cool face towels and pre-inked visa stamps when they see an Australian tourist approaching. Imagine our surprise when we discovered, via a quick random Google search, that not only would we have to apply for an Indian visa prior to travelling, but that we would have to do it, in person –gasp – at an embassy!
Quite inconvenient, seeing as though there was quite a bit of other stuff to do, like booking flights and accommodation, deciding on a rough itinerary, actually reading the guidebook (rather than just looking at the pretty pictures), working out how to deal with malaria, sourcing India-appropriate attire, and stocking up on antibiotics and Loperamide. Deep breaths. This is how it unfolded:
Sat, 5th Sept, 9.30 pm: Lying in bed, pinned beneath the weighty tome “Lonely Planet India”, it suddenly occurs to me that we should perhaps check the visa requirements for Australians visiting India. BAD NEWS! Turns out, we need a visa, which we need to apply for, in person, at an embassy.
Sat, 5th Sept, 9.35 pm: GOOD NEWS!! There is an Indian consulate in Male, and (like everything else in Male) it’s just around the corner. Fantastic. We drift off to sleep, and dream of houseboats in Kerala, and wearing long floaty pyjama-thingys, whilst eating fiery curry and swigging from Kingfisher longnecks.
Sun, 6th Sept, 9.00 am: BAD NEWS. There is a foolscap notice pinned to the door of the consulate announcing that it will be closed for the day on 6th Sept. Hot foot it back to the guesthouse to ask about ferry times to Maafushi, where we are due to go on Monday.
Sun, 6th Sept, 9.05 am: GOOD NEWS! The ferry doesn’t go until 3pm. We have all morning Monday to sort out the visa (yes, yes, I KNOW). Plan to spend rest of day eating like kings, shopping, soaking up holiday atmosphere and celebrating James’ paternal awesomeness.
Sun, 6th Sept, 9.15 am: BAD NEWS. Further Google search (not sure why I bother really) reveals that we will need to provide square 2×2 inch visa photos, and that the rectangular ones we carry with us for these occasions, will not be acceptable. GOOD NEWS! Our guesthouse proprietor knows a photo studio nearby. He orders a young staff member to show us where.
Sun, 6th, 9.21 am: Young staff member leads us to what is clearly not a photo studio, but a printer cum photocopy shop. Young staff member smiles helpfully, and disappears.
Sun, 6th Sept, 11.45 am: GOOD NEWS! After asking half the population of Male on the street, we find ourselves a Konica Quick Photo and manage to get appropriate photos taken in under an hour! Spend rest of day congratulating ourselves on organisational skills.
Sun, 6th Sept, 10.20 pm: Fall asleep either side of weighty tome “Lonely Planet India”, after admiring remarkably dead-looking pictures of ourselves in 2×2 inch format. Still dreaming of Kingfisher longnecks. (Or in fact, any beer at all by this point in a dry town.) Tomorrow we get our visas!
Mon, 7th Sept, 9.30 am: Attend embassy, clutching passports hopefully, and exuding slight glow of delusion that we will actually get visas in timely fashion. BAD NEWS. Glow of delusion slightly dimmed by large number of people already queuing in disorderly manner. Further dimmed by sign that announces that we actually need to fill in and print out on-line form before attending consulate. Remaining glow extinguished by sign stating that visa applications will only be accepted before 12pm. Hot foot it back to guesthouse.
Mon, 7th Sept, 09.35 am: BAD NEWS. Guesthouse wifi dropping out more frequently than a first term UQ arts student, making form-filling non-viable. GOOD NEWS! Eventually get forms underway by using James’ cranking mobile hotspot (grandparents reading- I assure you this is not what it sounds like) and downloading Google Chrome onto iPad. BAD NEWS. Forms exceedingly complicated, requesting trivial details, like birthplaces and addresses of both parents, and likely itineraries for the visit. Use weighty tome “Lonely Planet India” index to identify an impromptu new address for our time in India. (Make mental note to definitely organise accommodation at Regency Guesthouse, Trivandrum, for arrival, as soon as visas organised.)
Mon, 7th Sept, 10.35 am: GOOD NEWS; forms completed! James hot foots it to nearby photocopy/printing shop (fortuitously identified earlier) to print forms.
Mon, 7th Sept, 10.45 am: We join the queue at the embassy, clutching passports, 2×2 inch dead person photos, and still-warm visa forms. GOOD NEWS! Everyone else appears to have similar paperwork in their hands. BAD NEWS. Everyone else is here.
Mon, 7th Sept, 11.00 am: Waiting.
Mon, 7th Sept, 11.10 am: Waiting.
Mon, 7th Sept, 11.20 am: Waiting.
Mon, 7th Sept, 11.30 am: Still waiting. Briefly consider cutting in front of young bloke who is engrossed in Candy Crush on his phone, but decide that Indian embassy may not be the place to spark a diplomatic incident.
Mon, 7th Sept, 11.45 am: GOOD NEWS! Miraculously have reached the front of the queue! Triumphantly hand over giant sheaf of paper and all three passports to bespectacled Indian official. Await thump-thump noise of visa stamp gracing passport pages. BAD NEWS. Bespectacled official not impressed with Amazing Race-worthy efforts of visa application preparation. “Madame, I am sorry. I cannot process this. You need to upload photos electronically as well as providing originals. You need to provide proper addresses here, and here, and here….You need to provide proof of airline tickets and also need photocopy of Maldives visa and…and…and…” Her clipped Indian accent fades into a monotonous blur as I try to comprehend this. Something about an “additional form” and “four days” and “reception for other forms for non-nationals”.
Mon, 7th Sept, 11.47 am: Retrieve large sheath of papers and slink dejectedly from consulate.
Mon, 7th Sept, 11.50 am: Regroup for coffee, overlooking azure waters of harbour. Decide didn’t really want to go to India anyway. Houseboats and pyjama-thingys highly over-rated. And Kingfisher beers definitely available internationally.
Mon, 7th Sept, 3.00 pm: Sitting on wooden ferry, amidst a jumble of mopeds, bags of potatoes, boxes of plumbing fittings and an avalanche of suitcases and backpacks, watching distant lines of over-water bungalows chug past in the impossibly turquoise ocean. I consider throwing weighty tome “Lonely Planet India” to the multitude of brightly coloured fish I just know are waiting below.
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Follow of adventures of James Ball and his wife as they travel Asia with their child, the youngest Ball, in tow.