Tangent Time: The Great Indian Visa Debacle (August 2015)

Our last day in Sri Lanka was spent relaxing in Negombo and preparing for our next flight to Mumbai. My pinterest-ing was out of control and I was super excited about our trip to India. I was ready for the country of contrasts, colour and spice. We had booked a two week trip around the Rajasthan area seeing many of the sights India has to offer. I had reservations about the hygiene and unwanted attention from Indian men, but other than that I was really looking forward to my exploring the cities and getting a taste of Indian life. We decided on a  tour with Gecko in order to make our trip as hassle free as possible thinking we would go back another time to explore on our own once we were feeling a little more comfortable.

We intended to stay our last night with Patrick in his quaint guesthouse. We spent the evening having  a few drinks and eating our weight in pasta from the Rodeo Pub. After dinner and a few drinks, I began to feel a little nauseous and put it down to anxiety about our very early flight ( we had to be at the airport just after 4am) to New Delhi via Mumbai/Bombay the next day. We decided to call it a night and get a good night’s sleep. We arrived home as the feeling in my stomach worsened and I began to cross off what I had eaten that day suspecting food poisoning.  I packed my backpack ready for the morning and we organised for Patrick to take us in his tuk tuk to the airport. That night as Rhys slept soundly beside me, I deteriorated getting up and down through the night with a fever, hot and cold sweats, diarrhoea and vomiting. I know that isn’t the most flattering image. I’ve had traveller’s tummy before (in Indonesia) I knew it would all be over soon enough and I just had to try and keep my fever down and my fluids up, but alas it was not a restful sleep.

As I watched the clock tick by, I eventually decided I might as well get up and shower before our alarm went off and Rhys woke up. He had stirred a few times during the night to see if I needed help, but I tried not to wake him as I figured it wasn’t much good both of us being zombies the next day. I felt a little better after my shower and even managed to slowly eat half a croissant as we piled our bags into the (well overloaded) tuk tuk with the surfboards strapped on top. As we arrived at the airport, we said out goodbyes to Patrick and headed into the mostly deserted airport. We exchanged the last of our Sri Lankan money into Indian on our way past the money exchanges offices and then we checked our baggage in with Sri Lankan airlines. We sat in the cafeteria as my condition started to intensify again before making our way (slowly) to the gate to await our flight. I was trying my best not to look too sick just in case they didn’t let me on the plane, choosing to discreetly make my way to the bathroom (very quickly) whenever the urge to throw up began at the back of my throat (I am sorry so many of my stories involve vomit). I couldn’t keep the croissant down as we went through the final security check point and entered the gate lounge to wait. Finally, our flight was called and we lined up ready to show our passports and ticket for the final boarding just as the male flight attendant began to look a little puzzled.

As he flicked through our passport pages, he asked for our Indian visas. We tried to explain that we were just obtaining a tourist visa on arrival but had completed the forms (digitally) to show at the other end to save time. I showed him my phone with the completed form in my emails. In his broken English, he tried to explain that what we had was not sufficient and that we needed to have a different visa. The worry and panic began to overtake the sick feeling in my stomach as he told us to move out of the line and sit down to await our fate.

At closer inspection of the email (that we had filled out late at night, the night before we left for Sri Lanka after a few too many celebratory drinks) we saw that indeed it was not an etourist visa form, but a digital form  that needed to be sent away and approved by the Indian embassy. As we realised our mistake, we tried to communicate that we could perhaps just scrap the initial form and instead apply for a tourist visa on arrival forgetting that we had filled out anything else. Unfortunately, for reasons that were lost in translation, this did not seem to be an option.

The attendant just kept telling us to sit down and wait while they got the rest of the passengers on board. We sat anxiously for another 10 minutes while the staff discussed options amongst themselves telling us to just “sit and wait please” every time we tried to ask about what was happening. Everyone had boarded the plane and we still weren’t getting any explanations about whether we were going to make the flight or not. By this time I had spewed a few more times into my plastic bag while Rhys began to get agitated about the situation and lack of information. They had taken our passports away and not returned them and our bags were still on the plane. We tried to ask questions but the language barrier seemed to cloud any clear communication. No one would give us a straight answer and the longer we waited the more tense it became.

Eventually, we saw our backpacks come off the plane and then we had to worry about whether they had remembered our surfboard bag too. Finally, an attendant confirmed that all our bags were together and to follow him. He had our passports and told us to sit in a chair just near the departing gate  entrance while a security guard completed some paperwork. After an hour and a half of sitting and waiting while phone calls were made to superiors and the right questions were asked. It still seemed to us that no one knew what to do or what the procedure was to reject us from the airport. A different man came and escorted us to another section of the airport (not official, just outside s tea shop. Go figure.) and told us to wait again. During this time, I needed to vomit a few more times rushing frantically to find the nearest bathroom as I had now lost my bearings, only just making it to a shop and asking hurriedly for a plastic bag while the woman looked at me with confusion and then disgust as I threw up in front of her. Another hour passed and we were led back to the main airport entrance where our bags were screened again before they pushed us out a side door and into the hot, humid Sri Lankan air. At 4:30am, we had arrived airport only to find ourselves standing in the same position 5 hours later. We had our bags but no idea of what to do next (having never been rejected from an airport before) and we were still in a state of shock about what had happened hoping it was all a bad dream. We decided to go back to our accommodation to access the wifi and try and figure out what our options were. The worst part was we knew we had a connecting flight out of India to England in two weeks time that we would miss unless we could organise an alternative.

We hailed a cab, knowing how much we should pay and agreed on a price of 1000 rupees. Once loaded up and driving, the cabbie started trying to bargain for a higher price. In our exhaustion, we argued back and probably got a little too angry at him trying to haggle with us after agreeing on a price already. The cabbie thought we were newbies fresh off the plane that he could bully into paying more, when in reality this was our third airport trip and we were in no mood to take any of his shit. It got to the point where we had only been driving for a couple of minutes but Rhys and I were demanding he take us back if he wouldn’t accept the agreed price. The cabbie refused and then proceeded to lock the doors, keeping us essentially captive customers. The silence and our anger filled every crevice in the small van and the cabbie did not say another word until we arrived at our destination. We got out and gave him the 1000 rupees, but he wouldn’t accept it and kept asking for more. In the end, we refused to pay on principle and after such a hectic morning as well as being sick, I couldn’t deal with anyone anymore choosing to retreat to the air-conditioned room for some solace as the cabbie drove away in a huff.

In hindsight, I still feel that the cab driver tried to take advantage of us but after it was all over, I realised we were stressing over a small amount of money that didn’t really matter to us. It was all about the principle of agreeing on a deal for me. Thankfully, Patrick welcomed us back a little confused, but with open arms. We explained what happened as he made us tea and organised a fresh room for us. After a few hours of researching, numerous phone calls to Web Jet, Sri Lankan Airlines and World Nomads, we were running out of options and nobody seemed to want to help.

We even made a special trip to the Indian embassy in Colombo in an attempt to get the visa approval. We spent a whole day organising our visa paperwork, getting passport photos taken, photocopying documents and paying to have the forms completed by some guy in a makeshift office across the street from the official embassy. We waited in line to submit it all only to have the lady tell us that we would not be able to apply for a new Indian visa and have it approved and returned before our London flight as they had to send our passports away and it can take up to 10 days.

Web Jet (who we had booked all of our flights through) told us the flights couldn’t be changed or cancelled from their end and to call Sri Lankan Airlines. Sri Lankan airlines told us that Web Jet booked the flights and therefore they couldn’t change or cancel our flights and our travel insurance told us they would not cover the cost of any new flights or accommodation as having the correct visa was our responsibility. So we were out of luck, couldn’t change or cancel our flights or make it to India in time to catch our connecting flight to London. We also couldn’t just fly earlier to London as our working visas didn’t begin until the 15th of August meaning we would have to enter on a tourist visa and then leave the country and re-enter on our working visas. Talk about a messy situation! So we did what any sane person in our situation would do… we booked flights to the Maldives in an attempt to forget our woes.


#rocketandramble @rocketandramble


2 thoughts on “Tangent Time: The Great Indian Visa Debacle (August 2015)

  1. Pingback: The Maldives: Thulusdhoo Part 1 (Aug 2015) | rocketandramble

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