First get your visa
As with many things related to India, complications abound with anything which could be simple – such as getting a visa. It used to be the case that you could go to India House in London (or one of their other centres), fill in a form, attach a photograph, pay a fee, hand over your passport, go for a long cup of coffee and when you came back, your passport was ready with its visa. Alternatively you filled a form, sent your passport to India House with some money and in due course it came back with a visa.
Now if you are applying for your visa by post (as we did), the new simplified, improved customer experience service required us to:
- have two non-standard size (USA or India size) passport photographs taken to a very tight specification;
- locate, complete and print-off three separate forms from different web addresses;
- go to another web address to pay the fee which includes the visa fee, an embassy surcharge fee, a fee to a processing agency; a fee for notification of how our application was progressing, a return postage fee and then print off proof of payment for inclusion with our papers;
- go to a post office and send off our passports in a special delivery envelope (if you are sending off two passports, you need two envelopes)
- wait up to two weeks for our passports to be returned (assuming we filled in the forms correctly)
- be in when our passports were returned because we had to sign for them.
or alternatively if you live near one of their visa application centres:
- fill in one form online at home and print it off
- make a booking for an interview time online if you want to (very useful but not essential)
- go to a Visa Centre (where they will accept credit card payments).
- the centre staff will check that you have filled in the form correctly and calculate the fee
- then up to two passports with visas will be returned in one envelope for a fee of £7.40 (2013) provided they are not mixed business and tourist visas.
The total cost for us was about £60 per passport, alternatively you can pay a specialist agency around £130 to deal with some of the above for you but you still have to have photographs taken, fill in the forms and get your passport to the agency. A neighbour used a specialist agency for her tourist visa a few months before us and did not seem to get any better service (nor any less worry!)
Although seemingly complicated, the process was relatively easy to do however the fear of making a critical mistake was present throughout. It was with some relief therefore that we welcomed our passports back with their new tourist visas some 10 days after sending them off.
We calculated that the additional cost in time and train fares of going to a visa application centre was far more than the cost and worry of applying by post.
Insurance and Health
We are travelling using our own travel insurance policy since we have 12 month world wide cover. Had we not had our own, then the Rotary insurance cover offer would have been good value. Prior to going, we topped up our immunisations (which are quite comprehensive in any case) with Hep B which requires a number of injections over a couple of months and a booster one year later. We packed some disposable latex gloves just in case we needed them whilst dispensing the vaccine and took a couple of spare bottles of water just in case there is a difficulty in getting obviously pure and untainted bottled water locally (there is a thriving business in selling on dubiously refilled bottles to unsuspecting travellers). Taking hand disinfectant and disinfectant wipes is of course standard practice for anyone going to India as is extreme care about what you eat and drink.
Rotarians are encouraged to take about 200 small toys each with them, one to be given to any child who is vaccinated. We were very strongly advised only to take things like balloons, pencils, biros, tooth brushes, etc and absolutely nothing of value. Because if we give a child a present which is “valuable”, then the next time they go to a booth to be vaccinated they will expect to get the same and that is unlikely to be the case and then problems occur.
We found out (a little too late) that pencils can be purchased unsharpened and it took some time to sharpen many of our 268 pencils since there is no point giving an unsharpened pencil to a small child in a slum where they may not have ever have owned a pencil let alone a pencil sharpener. I can state quite categorically that there is an industrial injury called “Rotarian pencil sharpener’s finger” and we both now suffer from it!
We also took a few pocket English dictionaries because we were given them by a friend who had heard that schools there are desperate for English dictionaries.
Everyone of our 268 pencils, 42 pens, 15 toothbrushes, 6 dictionaries, and 400 balloons were donated either by fellow Rotarians or by friends. The only thing we purchased was the pencil sharpener!
Although not compulsory, we chose to purchase our plane tickets, book hotels etc through the travel agency which Rotary suggest one uses. This meant that we benefited from group rate discounts for flights and hotels and we do not have to negotiate the potentially complex process of getting to and from Delhi Airport to our Hotel – Delhi airport can be chaotic at the best of times and will feel worse after an overnight flight.
After the NID, we are taking advantage of the fact that we are in India and going on to Darjeeling and Kolkata for a few days. The total cost (2013 prices) of getting to India for the NID plus our add-ons was around £3500 for two. Because single supplements are quite expensive, the travel agency offer a pairing service to sole Rotarians who are willing to share rooms.
Travelling to India
And so a dark and cold Thursday evening in late February
finds us on the train and tube on our way to Heathrow Terminal 3 to meet the 65 other Rotarians taking part in this NID who are mostly flying out as a group to Delhi with Virgin Atlantic. (I am not asleep in this picture, just crouching down a bit to try to fit into where I think the camera is taking the picture!)
Check-in was straight forward (since we had done the bulk of it on-line before hand and we had managed to change our seats so that we were sitting together, the plane was
full to the brim and left on time.
The route was the usual one to India, there were some films to watch as the 8½ hours slowly passed, on-board food was worse than the usual barely acceptable standard and sleep was scarce! In other words, no surprises for anyone used to the back of the plane. After a rather bumpy flight, Delhi arrived on schedule
Delhi Airport Terminal 3 is a new addition since our last visit to Delhi in 2006 and proved to be a little less chaotic than the terminal it replaced. The queue though passport control took about 35 minutes and our bags were waiting for us on the belt when we got to it.
There were about 30 Rotarians on this flight, when we were assembled, we headed off to a coach and were presented
with a symbolic Marigold Garland to celebrate our arrival.
Pat would wish you to know that had she known she was going to get this garland, she would have worn a jumper whose colour does not clash with the marigolds!
Reassuringly (or perhaps terrifyingly), Delhi traffic has not changed since we were last here. You will note the four lanes of traffic in the above photograph (we are in the fifth lane). This is in fact a three lane road and the sides of most vehicles bare the scars of being squeezed through gaps which are not there! We know from the last time that we were here that if you are driving down a two lane road (one in each direction), you should assume it is at least a four lane road,sometimes all coming towards you and that road markings are irrelevant.
Our Hotel was the Royal Plaza Delhi – not one of the world’s great hotels. Once our luggage had been found (half was delivered to the wrong room and only found after a very anxious wait), there was a short briefing on our role
in the NID, a presentation on the current position of polio in the country (and more generally throughout the world) and the timetable for the next few days.
We also met Rotarian Mike Yates who has done much over the past years to enable Rotarians from the UK and many other countries to take part in Polio Immunisations here – our group comprises a large contingent from the UK plus some from Australia, Belgium and Ireland. Thank you Mike.
We then received our briefing packs which contained (amongst other things), some bright yellow T-Shirts stating what we were here to do and an even brighter yellow hi-viz jacket.
Throughout the NID we are told to wear these yellow jackets and shirts not only so that we can be seen by the local population but so that we can see each other in the crowds. In the pack were examples of the literature used in India to educate the masses about Polio. One of these is a cartoon book for children
And so to bed (as Zebedee would have said) for a rather jet lagged and restless night with an 8 am scheduled departure for Bareilly awaiting us.