A Taste of India

Every time we complain about the traffic, the hassling or the bureaucracy in Nepal, we get the same answer, “Wait until you get to India.” After having been in Nepal for several months and coming out of China and Tibet where we had to deal with a lot of mindless bureaucracy, we didn’t think it could get any worse. But we were obviously wrong. Well, we got our first taste of Indian bureaucracy getting our visas this week – I think we are now starting to understand.

In theory, the procedure of how to apply for a visa seems clear enough if somewhat labour-intensive. On your first visit to the consulate, you fill out a telex form which is used to get security clearance to travel in India. Three days later, after you’ve been cleared, you submit your application in the morning and pick up your visa in the afternoon. So far, so good.

The number of people applying for a visa, however, versus the number of people helping you at the consulate are in no relation whatsoever. This makes the whole process painfully long and unnecessarily frustrating. Granted, someone had the brilliant idea of implementing a number system, but failed to understand the Nepalese economy. Locals come in as early as 4 AM and claim the lowest numbers which they later try to sell to speechless tourists who are lined up outside the consulate gates.

Unwilling to walk to the consulate at 4 AM or pay for a prime spot in the line, we ended up waiting for over four hours on our first visit while Tony, with the help of an Italian chef, fought off French and Norwegian tourists cutting in line. (You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen Tony yelling at a seven-foot tall Norwegian dressed in white knitted robes and a pearl tiara.) We left the consulate exhausted and dreaded having to return three days later. The night before we had to go back the second time, Tony got food poisoning. How I envied him. Why couldn’t I projectile-vomit all night and have a lame excuse to stay in bed? He was so LUCKY, still retching as I was leaving the hotel and heading for the consulate where I was going to stand in line again for hours on end.

We hoped this process was specific only to the Indian consulate in Kathmandu, but soon learnt, after talking to a British girl, that it is no different in London, “You line up outside for hours and once you are in, it’s a free for all.”

Well, we are now on our way to India only stopping at Royal Chitwan National Park in southern Nepal before venturing into this brave new, bureaucratic world. India, here we come.

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