Waiting Patiently for an Indian Visa in Kathmandu

Waiting Patiently for an Indian Visa in Kathmandu I think I may have mentioned once before that one of the reasons for coming to Nepal is to get an Indian visa. We could not get one while back in Canada because we were going to be on the road for too long before so it would have run out by the time we got here. The process here is very frustrating and time consuming however we are patiently waiting for it. More about the process later. We arrived in Kathmandu last Sunday. The flight from Istanbul via Sharjah, UAE was a red eye… well at least the Istanbul to Sharjah section was. That leg of the flight was uneventful and we slept quite a bit. The flight was quite empty and Nicola was able to get three full seats to sleep laying down. I was in a row with one other woman who actually asked me to go somewhere else so she could sleep. I could not believe it… why didn’t she go somewhere else. However, like the pushover I am I actually did. I moved to the front row of the plane and actually had more leg room so it was better for me really. At the beginning of the second leg, from Sharjah (another city that is close to Dubai) to Kathmandu, we must have looked tired because the flight attendant told me that once the seatbelt sign is off to come to the back row, it was empty, he would save it for us. How awesome! Nic slept on two seats and I slept in my usual airplane way… wrenching myself to fit in the little space I have. Nevertheless, it was great to have the full row to ourselves. As it turns out, that move also put us on the side to see Everest and the Himalayas as we flew in. The view of the Himalayas was amazing. One of the flight attendants was a Nepali woman and she was pointing out Everest to us. We got an amazing view, in fact just as good as some people get when they pay to do the mountain view flight.

20131123-122627.jpg Mt Everest as taken from our window on the plane
20131124-162013.jpg Also, from the plane we were able to see how they farm on the hill tops and sides

The flight was a gong show. I have never seen such a disorderly, non-compliant load of passengers in my life. I am sure if this flight had happened in Canada or the US we would hear about it on the news because the plane would have landed somewhere unplanned and the air marshals would have arrested several people. Before boarding the plane, they were not going to allow one guy on because he was drunk. Very drunk. Remember that this is at 7:15am. They were telling him to drink coffee and I am not sure how he did it but he talked his way on board. He was not the only drunk Nepali on board though. Without going into too much detail… this guy got up on final approach to Kathmandu… I mean final-final approach… to go to the bathroom. The flight attendants all jumped up and I thought were going to have to restrain him in his seat. Then once the plane was landed and still moving down the runway half the plane got up and started taking their luggage out of the overhead compartments. I am not talking about when we are about to stop at the terminal, I am saying we were still on the runway and had not stopped or turned toward the terminal yet. It was shocking to us to see this. Once in Kathmandu, we had to get a visa for Nepal. It took us an hour or more to fill out the forms and then wait through a very long line. We had a ride arranged by our hostel so when we walked out there was a guy holding a sign that said Nicola Jones. That is her dream to have a sign like that. We carried our own bags to the car and then some guy took them and put them in the trunk. Literally that is all he did. The guy with the sign then told me to give him a tip. I did not know what I was tipping for but did it anyway… sucker. I hate the first few minutes outside an airport, they are always chaotic and people are trying to take advantage of you. Oh well, I was out a dollar. He wanted much more though but I said “yeah right” and got in the car. Our room at the hostel is the one they show on the internet. It is on the roof and there is a public terrace just outside our door. That has actually been really nice because we often sit outside there and there has not really been noise from the terrace to speak of that has been a problem. There is lots of noise outside, after all it is Kathmandu and it is always busy and chaotic out there. I am awaken every morning to the ringing of the prayer bells. There are bells set up in little temples or prayer areas and people ring them as part of their prayer. At least in Muslim countries you hear the public call to prayer across the city a few times per day and then it is done. Here people are ringing it every few minutes. You get kind of used to it though and it does not seem to wake you up. There is no heat in our hostel, few places do have heating in Nepal. It gets pretty cold in our room. 20131124-164429.jpg A sunset view from our terrace in the hostel

On Monday, our number one mission was to go to the Indian Embassy. Actually, across the street from the Indian Embassy where they process applications for Indian visas. We had read intensively online about the process. We knew we were in for a frustrating time. I think what is most frustrating was that there seemed to be things added to the process that you were not told anywhere. Frustration number 1: The first step in the process is to fill out an online visa application at least one day before you go in. You cannot do it the same day for some reason and if you do they will send you away. The application asks for a whole bunch of information that seems pretty useless to me but India is renowned for its bureaucracy. You submit the form online and print it out as well. You also need a 2×2 passport photo to attach. Frustration number 2: The second step in the process is to go to the office between 9:30am and 12pm and take a number. People queue up before 9:30 some a couple hours early to ensure they are done as early as possible. If you show up at 9:30 or later you will have to wait at least a couple of hours so no matter what you do you have to wait. We showed up at 9:45am and we were number 100. We were worried about getting sent away at 12pm and told to come back the next day. They kept processing all the people and did not close at 12 as we had read online. They might stop taking people after a certain time, I am not sure. We entertained ourselves by eavesdropping on people who were crying the blues to the people accepting the applications. It seems the process takes so long because everyone is asking for special treatment. Some of them it was because their Nepal visa was running out and they needed the Indian visa faster. Others had already booked flights or other travel arrangements and needed to get their visa faster. Word to the wise, do not expect special treatment or to get it faster than anyone else. It will not happen and they will not care. All of those people were there later in the week when we were told to return. Best advise is get it done early in your visit as we are so that time is not an issue. It will take a week no matter how bad you want it done faster. Frustration number 3: We finally got called up shortly before 1pm. The girl looked over our forms and in about two minutes sent us to the next window to pay. We had read online that the cost was higher now. 4350 rupees (about $43.50 USD). We had a little more than we needed because we only found an ATM the night before that would give 10000 rupees and we spent some on dinner. However, when we got to the counter he wanted 4900 rupees each. Nowhere did it say that it was that much. There is also a service charge and a miscellaneous charge that we had not planned on. We ran outside the office to a place next door and changed $10 into rupees so we could pay the rest. We were then able to cut to the front back to the window and pay the rest. He told us to come back on Friday. We had read online that on the next visit, you arrive in the morning and go through the line up process again. You drop off your passport and if all is well and good with your application they tell you to come back at 5pm to pick it up with visa inserted. Frustration number 4: Friday arrived and we went earlier this time… 9am. We waited in the line for 30 minutes before it opened. When it did open we were number 48. I think the difference this time however was that the line seemed to go quite fast. It was less than an hour before we got to the window. We spent our time in line talking to a young couple from Austria who were incredibly frustrated. They were 18 years old and were travelling in India and Nepal for three months. They had actually been volunteering in a school for six weeks in Nepal. They had applied for an Indian visa back home before they left home. First of all, the Indian Embassy in Vienna lost their passports and so they had to get new passports. Then when they did get their Indian visas in Austria, hers was multiple entry and his was single entry. They flew into Delhi before coming to Nepal and then their flight home is from Delhi. So her visa is fine because she can come and go but his was spent as soon as he came to Nepal. They have had to change their flights about three times because of all the hurry up and waiting in the visa process. Thank goodness ours has not been like that. Frustration number 5: When we got to the window, the guy told us we needed a photocopy of our passport and a photocopy of our Nepal visa. Nowhere did it say that. So, again we ran outside and went to the same shop. Again back up to the window and he took our passports and told us to come back on Monday at 5pm. That we were not expecting. It seems you have to come back the next business day. Ugh. We had made all our plans and arrangements for leaving Kathmandu on Saturday. Now we were messed up. Decisions to make. Do we wait or do we go and then have to come back again later. The bus ride back here will be 8 hours so we would prefer not to come back. It is Saturday now and we have not finished the visa process. We need to go in Monday at 5pm so cross your fingers for us that it is done then. We have revised all our plans (frustration number 6) now and if we need to change again I may end up being one of those people who were crying the blues at the counter. I expect it will be fine. So, I jumped over everything we have done in Kathmandu. This week has been a national election in Nepal. It made things very different than normal. Kathmandu is a chaotic city. We are staying in the Thamel area where most people stage for their treks and backpackers hangout. The cars on the road are scary and I could not imagine driving myself in this city. It can be scary crossing the road. However, on Tuesday, Election Day, there were hardly any cars on the road. The only cars were official cars. No other vehicles were allowed on the road. The army and police were everywhere. We actually liked the quiet that came over the city. Kids were playing soccer in the middle of usually busy streets. 

20131124-165325.jpg Playing cricket taking advantage of the quiet day due to the election 20131124-165348.jpg Even the bovines were taking advantage of the quiet streets

Wednesday the cars were back on the road however most things were closed on Wednesday and Thursday so it was it was relatively quiet. Friday was a different story. We went for dinner on Friday and the traffic was insane. We were only trying to cross the road. Pedestrians do not have the right away here… or most of the world for that matter. On Tuesday, when the roads were quiet, we walked to Swayambhunath, nicknamed the Monkey Temple. It was about 2km from our hostel but mostly uphill. It is a sacred buddhist pilgrimage site, second only to Boudhanath. Holy monkeys inhabit the grounds and you make your way through them as you climb the many stairs. In my humble opinion, holy monkeys are not that different from the unholy ones. They will steal your food if you do not watch yourself. 

20131124-171035.jpg Later we saw a sign inside that said no sitting on buddha for photos… oops 20131124-171048.jpg The steep and uneven steps up to the Monkey Temple
20131124-171200.jpg A close up of the stupa 20131124-171301.jpg Holy monkey family
20131124-171313.jpg Monkey Love 20131124-175512.jpg The bottom entry to the Monkey Temple
20131124-175501.jpg You go clockwise and spine each of the spindles 20131124-175528.jpg There are four faces of Buddha on each of the four sides

I am not sure if it was busy or not compared to most days. It did seem like there was a lot of Nepali people up there but then again there was no work that day. We could see a voting station down below and many Nepali people seemed to be watching that. We did not see that many Tibetans up there that I can recall anyway. It is respectful only to go around the stupa in a clockwise direction. I do not think we learned that until after we had gone to the Monkey Temple though. The view of the city from up here was quite amazing. With the election on, and no cars on the road, and no factories operating, the smog was much less than usual. We were spoiled on our first couple of days because it was so clear. Usually Kathmandu is quite smoggy.

20131124-173856.jpg Voters line up in a field below the Monkey Temple 20131124-171324.jpg A view of nearby mountains from the Monkey Temple

On Wednesday, we went to Boudhanath. Also a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site, this one is actually number one on the list for Tibetan pilgrims. The stupa at Boudhanath is one of the biggest in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The stupa is said to entomb the remains of Kassappa Buddha. It is place where Tibetans have for centuries stopped to pray and rest along their trade route from Tibet through the Kathmandu Valley. It is a beautiful site.

20131124-181521.jpg On our walk to Boudhanath, we stumbled upon a parade 20131124-181532.jpg It was a buddhist or Tibetan parade
20131124-181547.jpg We joined in and followed along 20131124-182235.jpg At Boudhanath
20131124-182253.jpg You can see two of the four faces of Buddha better in this pic at Boudhanath 20131124-182310.jpg Lunch in the temple

While we were at Boudhanath, we decided to pick up a geocache. What was cool about this one is that it was set up by some high school kids when they were being taught about geocaching, gps, latitude and longitude. The cache was a puzzle cache. That means that the coordinates led us to Boudhanath but the cache was not there. We had to look around Boudhanath and answer some questions. For example, how many elephants protect the east face of the stupa? You are then told how to plug that into new coordinates to where the cache is hidden. The final coordinates led us to the high school. The directions were to knock on the grey gate and tell them you were there for the geocache. They would then open a door for you to get it. The school was closed but there was still somewhere there to let us in and a few kids. How cool is that? That is perhaps one of my favourite caches of all time.

20131124-183124.jpg This is us with the kids at the final cache 20131124-182226.jpg Two elephants guard one of the sides of the stupa. This is one of the puzzles in the geocache.

After Boudhanath, we walked to Pashupatinath. We were shocked to see that it was $10 to get in. Most places we had gone were only a couple of dollars. We decided not to go in because we did not really know what it was. We maybe should have read a little more about it because it is actually the cremation place. We will be going to Varanassi in India which is famous as the cremation place on the Ganges. Finally, we took a taxi back to Thamel for 300 rupees. On Thursday, we decided to walk to Durbar Square. Actually that is too vague. There are three Durbar Squares in Kathmandu which is quite confusing. We walked to the farthest one which is five kilometres away in Patan. The walk felt longer than 5km because we walked all the way through Thamel which is like walking 3km through a market where there are thousands of people and cars and motorcycles pushing people onto the very sides of the impossibly narrow streets quite regularly. The rest of the walk was along busy main roads. I used my gps watch to get us there but we had a map that was fairly easy to follow as well. Like the other Durbar Squares, there was an admission fee to the square but as we entered nobody had asked us for anything so we just walked in. At the other sites many people entered but as soon as they saw us they always jumped up and asked for money. The cost can be $7.50 to $10 for some of these. We wandered around for a while and just as we were about to leave a young girl came up and asked us for our pass. We played dumb and said okay we will not come in, even though we had already been in. Patan Durbar Square is a collection of several Hindu temples. This is another UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a place where Hindu pilgrims come every day to pray. The temples can only be entered by Hindus. A sign at the entrance to one read “Hindus only may enter. No photos and no leather products.”

20131124-184316.jpg Patan Durbar Square… Durbar means palace and it was for a king. There have been no kings here since the 1800s 20131124-184326.jpg There are three Durbar Square in the Kathmandu area.
20131124-184336.jpg Each Durbar Square has Hindu temples in it 20131124-184345.jpg Lion statues protect the temples
20131124-184355.jpg There are Hindu statues that adorn columns in each square 20131124-184413.jpg I wonder if this is a homeless woman or a woman on a pilgrimage
20131124-184404.jpg A quick selfie before we are kicked out 20131124-184421.jpg The number of levels on the temple is of significance
20131124-185410.jpg I do not know all of the Hindu gods but I thought this was a cool pic 20131124-185401.jpg Each of the supports for the roofs are ornately carved wooden images

Friday was a day of trying to finalize our Indian visas which I have already mentioned did not go as planned. We spent the rest of the day hanging out at our hostel and planning what to do next. We had to reschedule everything… actually our hostel owner who had booked things for us had to do most of that. I had booked a secret rate on booking.com for our hotel in Pokhara so I needed to sweet talk a change of that when it is not supposed to be changeable. Finally, we planned a short trip on Saturday returning on Sunday to Nagarkot. Nagarkot is famous for its sunrise and sunset views of the Himalayas. On Friday night we went out for dinner and ended up at an Irish pub. It was actually really fun because they had a live band that actually played music that Nicola and I both like such as Cold Play and Red Hot Chilli Peppers. We met a group of girls who had all been volunteering at an orphanage. We learned that Nepal law prohibits orphans from being adopted. Isn’t that the craziest thing… and the saddest? They stay there until they are 18. Go to school and then are on their own.

20131124-191455.jpg Local wiring is not necessarily made for people my height 20131124-191504.jpg When I see this I often think of the tradespeople I know. I am sure you could find work here easily

I have not said anything about food yet. I am now one week into the Nepal/India vegetarian experience. That is what I am calling it. I have decided to go vegetarian while I am here and in India. I have had a lot of advise lately about my digestive challenges while I am travelling and it seems that going veggie is probably a good idea for me… particularly in India but here too. There are lots of options for eating vegetarian here. We have eaten some very good falafel wraps from a very popular place in Thamel. We have also gone to a cool hippie kind of vegetarian restaurant called OR2K. We went once and had a good meal but I saw someone order a mushroom burger that looked really good. We went back another day to have that and indeed it was very tasty. Nicola also had amazing meals there. There is no challenge finding a good vegetarian meal here but I expect to be back on the meat again in South America. The cost of things here is cheap. Our hostel is costing us $20 per night for the most expensive room they have. This includes a big breakfast including eggs, toast, porridge, coffee and juice. A beer here is 650 ml and costs on average $3. We are on a totally different budget here than we were in Europe. Time to average out our travel costs for the year. 20131124-191204.jpg A friend of Nic’s suggested we try momos (dumplings) at the Yak Restaurant… so we did I will do another update after Chitwan when we are in Pokhara. In Chitwan we are going to the jungle and doing a safari. Four days will cost us each $125 for all inclusive including activities like elephant riding and early morning boat rides to see rhinos, etc. Cross your fingers for us that we see a tiger. That is what we are really hoping for.

20131124-191426.jpg Look closely, a poster of graduates with their final average. I think we should do this… good or bad 20131124-191434.jpg At the Garden of Dreams. One botanical gardens done. Just kidding Nicola