So even before I book my flight to India, my troubles start!!
You may have heard that its easy to get a visa to India these days but for every six months in the last sixteen years I go through the exhausting process of applying for a business visa for India. The fact that I’ve lived there, I’ve personally invested there, am a director of numerous Indian companies and probably one of the biggest promoters of the country in the duty free business, has little sway. I was once told “why don’t you go to London for your Indian visa, you get it in two days and for a year” … BECAUSE I DONT LIVE IN ENGLAND, I LIVE IN SRI LANKA!!
The Indian Immigration office in Sri Lanka wants seven working days to process a visa of a British passport holder. On the day of pick up in the morning I’m told it is fine, so I book my flight to Mumbai. At 3pm they call and ask me to drop in to the Galle Road visa office with my old passport, which they have had for seven working days and gave back to me (different dept. was their explanation). At their office I’m told the only man who can stamp the visa has been called to a meeting, his office is locked and the key can’t be found. There are about 10 staff members behind the glass screen; the eight women are entertaining someone’s baby daughter for about thirty minutes. It’s times like this when the ‘Britishness’ kicks in and the classic unrehearsed speech to the nations follows so that all in the hall can hear me. There is some reference to ‘what did the Empire ever do for you,’ am I being victimised as I’m English or is it just the Indian/Sri Lankan culture or, ‘perhaps he is a Sri Lankan-Burgher let the bugg*r wait.’
Behind the glass partition one man stands to face my barrage and challenge. Grabbing my three passports (one old, two current), which in itself causes immense confusion, as many countries will not give you two current passports. You see, the British trust the British with two passports and with elongated visa processing by many countries, no countries pointed out specifically, how could you travel frequently. This delay resulted in my nearly missing my flight to India.
I’m never keen on visiting public toilets in airports, especially in the Indian sub-continent. My expectations are fully reached as I enter the toilets in the Bandaranaike International Airport that have just had a bucket wash, eg: buckets of water are thrown in every direction and a mopping process then suffices. The place needs a good scrub along with attendant in charge. As I leave he hands me some toilet paper to act as a hand towel to dry my hands. This is followed by him sticking his hand out, seeking a tip. My response, which he clearly doesn’t understand, is to damn well scrub the whole place. You can’t blame the toilet attendant though, just the management.
I bid farewell to Sri Lanka. The worst place to sit on a flight to India is the middle seat on 737 Jet, (we used to fly these on charter holidays in Europe 30 years ago), between two liquor drinking Indians who assume the trip is an opportunity to get legless. Needless to say the steward puts a stop the process and the next 2 hours is like sleeping with two hippopotamuses who snore badly.
The engines stop and a coterie of French travellers clap, they are the only nation I know, except the Canadians, who do it. Let’s face it, 50% of Canadians still act like they are French (that’s a different story, see the article on Quebec by the Whinging Pome). I’ve seen this French phenomenon before, but I never understood it. Before the clapping ends, eighty Indians jump up, trying to get their luggage out of the overhead compartments and dash for the door. It’s like a French rugby scum; lots of pushing and chaos with no real gain. Even though I’m traveling with an India airline, we still don’t get an air bridge on arrival at Mumbai, and getting on the bus with one hundred impatient travellers reminds me of all those poor refugees crossing from country to country in Europe. Mumbai airport may be noted for its hundreds of feet of Indian art hung on the walls, but the long walk to immigration in the early hours of the morning isn’t so cultural, more travelators or buggies would be a better investment.
What tops everything is the forty-minute wait in an immigration queue to be told ‘you are not on our system.’ WELCOME TO INDIA! I’m put in a room with a bunch that looks decidedly dodgy, attempting in some cases to make illegally entry into India. You have to be pretty desperate to get into India on this basis, unless there is something I don’t know about the welfare state.
Some hours later I get into my Marriot Hotel car to relax on the way towards the newly opened five-star jewel in the crown JW Marriot, it’s in spitting distance of the new international terminal. Sorry for the spitting reference. The diver speeds off as I try to explain we have just passed my hotel, ‘no no sir, we go backside route to Marriot courtyard airport hotel.’ So I arrive at a hotel I didn’t want to be in and it’s 3 am in the morning.
WELCOME TO INDIA! Six staff members pass right by me before I get to my room, all bowing and wishing me a good morning.
I wake up, it’s another sunny day and I’m glad to be in India. To enjoy India you have to put many things to the back of your mind.