I often think I should procrastinate but I keep putting it off – yet with regards to the looming India trip I have so far managed a high level of procrastination. This weekend though it simply had to stop and I finally forced myself to face the on-line visa application to be able to visit India. There are several websites that will pretty much do this for you, for a fee, but there are a lot of other websites warning you not to use the websites that will do it for you as they might take your passport and money and never be seen again, so one already has a furrowed brow before reaching the official Indian visa site at http://in.vfsglobal.co.uk/ which on clicking around made me exclaim, ‘you’re having a laugh’. Have a quick look if you don’t believe me.
You cannot enter India without a visa and you have to do it before you go, and to be safe, at least three weeks before you go. They don’t make this process easy and undoubtedly the first time you will ever fill one in you will have no choice but to ring the helpline number at the site which costs 95p a minute. I initially had to ring it three times at a cost that would probably have covered a return flight to Bombay. Here’s a tip, do not have any alcohol nearby as you’re filling this application in because you will be inebriated by question 9 and will possibly complete it incorrectly although by that time you likely won’t care less. If you manage to fill this in in one go, you deserve the holiday you’re applying for. I very nearly did. My only mistake was missing out my middle name on the ‘Given Name’ box because everything has to be the exactly the same as your passport – and as I’d already pressed confirm, the whole form, all three pages, had to be done completely again! You also need to know the correct spellings of your parent’s names and where they were born and if they, or any of your grandparents, were of Pakistani origin or whether any member of your family, neighbours and even distant friends might have once supported the Pakistan cricket team even if it was just a chance remark of ‘hit it for six Imran’.
Once completed, and if you’ve so far avoided the valium, you will then discover, if you’re lucky as I was, that you need two photographs to attach to the form, but not the usual, standard, everyday passport photographs – so therefore not photographs that passport booths strewn amongst the post offices and supermarkets of Britain would supply – but special 2 inch by 2 inch photos, and this is when those thoughts of bypassing the valium and heading straight for the prozac enter your head, simultaneously with the thought of ‘where do I get them from?’ which inevitably led to a fourth phone call, to be told that there are booths in all of the visa offices except for the one in Cardiff but there are none anywhere else in the UK but you can just go to a local photographers and have them done there. I started to wonder whether to cancel the trip and instead get a caravan in Dorset for a long and comfortably wet weekend or should we see just how far my synapses will stretch?
Not surprisingly, the first photographer we rang, knew all about it and had a studio if we’d like to come along and two hours later we were being told not to smile and try to look grim please. Back home to the computer and there’s just the declaration form to go and then all are printed off – because you fill them in ‘on-line’ but they then, along with your only escape from Britain booklets, your passports, have to either be posted (and risk them never being seen again) or taken to one of the visa centres. The nearest one to us was in Cardiff, just 64 miles away – the one visa centre without the photo booth hence the photographer – and was very sat navigable and was found nestled between streets of terraced houses in the Splott district of the city. It even had parking which is a plus compared to the one in Birmingham which was seemingly sited to cause maximum frustration as there is ‘no parking on site and clamping and heavy fines for any unregulated parking anywhere near the building’ that doesn’t involve getting a taxi.
On entering the Cardiff ‘India Centre’ we were greeted by many pairs of shoes without people in them, a very nice, smiley man and a big sign saying om namo narayana which looseley means “Salutations to Lord Vishnu/Praise the name of Vishnu”
That felt much better and we were all done and out in less than ten minutes………..and…….. breathe