BEWARE! If you want to get a simple tourist visa to India while traveling Asia and you hold an American or Australian passport, it will likely be impossible or a nightmare not worth pursuing. In 5 years of non-stop travel as a family, with many simple tourist visas easily acquired, we were shocked by how ridiculously hard it was to just take a week trip to India. Do NOT wait to book this visa on the road of travel ( which one does with most) but book before going in your home country. This was particularly hard for us because we are not twenty something backpackers just partying at hostels, but "boomer" long term travelers with a young child in school with responsibilites and a leased furnished flat.
INDIA TOURIST VISAS ARE DIFFICULT OR IMPOSSIBLE FROM THE ROAD
Since running into this India visa problem we have met other travelers online who had the same problem, because it is not one that you would expect. Most place like to have middle class tourists visit. If you are traveling on a tourist visa, you can not get an India tourist visa in Malaysia or Singapore. One friend said she could not get it in Bangkok either ( she had to go all the way to Bejing to get it) but I have heard both possible and impossible experiences on getting such in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Because our RTW ticket has had us booked from Penang to Delhi, India leaving on May 1st ( to Singapore first and onto India on May 3rd) ever since our purchase last September, it would have been really nice to have this important information at the time of purchase. We had to find out the hard way. First we called the two top travel agents in Penang, one was a referral from a good local friend here who lives in our building and is the general manager at a major hotel here ( thus someone the agent wanted to please).
When it became immediately clear that this very simple process was going to be difficult, DaVinci took a very early morning hours bus ride and spent one whole day trying to work it our with the travel agent as she talked to the Indian High Council in both Penang andKuala Lumpur.
That was last Friday's wasted day. We were suppose to fly from Delhi to London, so just booked a week there to visit old friends who have a farm near Delhi (he is a pilot and she does amazing esoteric healing with a Tibetan traditional medicine man) as well as take a fast trip to see Taj Mahal. We thought it a nice way to break up the long haul as well between SE Asia and Europe.
INDIA'S CRAZY TOURIST VISA POLICIES
Recently we were invited to visit Bhutan and Jordan by their tourism boards and planned to travel to both from Delhi, so this problem complicated everything as we are still in limbo lost in bureaucratic complications as the time ticks away for our take off from Penang date, May 1st. Meanwhile I am dealing with digestive health problems that have plagued me for the last year since my bike accident in Austria, but have been worse these last 5 months in Penang and taking up much of my days trying to solve. (I've learned so much through our process that I will do a whole series on health on the road once I have time).
Friday's failure led us to calling our agent where we booked our RTW ticket who told us to go ourselves to the embassy. So we spent the weekend filling out several detailed forms needed and getting passport photos for the India tourist visa, ( all time consuming when you go every where by bus) even though we knew this was a long shot. The rule is that if you do not have a business, school or working visa for Malaysia, then you can not get a travel visa for India while in Malaysia.
Our child has a student visa ( that was obtained by her Mandarin school here) so she can go visit India, but her parents are visiting Malaysia on tourist visas so we can not. In our case there is a possible way around this as we can apply for guardian visa's in Malaysia because she is a student, but that is complicated and takes a month or more to obtain. Some say it is just for the mother and others say it is for both parents.
INDIA AND SE ASIA CAN BE SURREAL - BIZARRE TRUE STORY
Davinci got up at 5AM on Monday morning and took an hours bus ride to the station in Komtar and got a taxi to the center of old Georgetown where the India embassy ( India High Commision Visa Center) is located ( which no old timer taxi driver knew where it was at first). Funny how place terms like Komtar, Tanjung Bungah, Batu Ferringhi etc rolls off our tongues with relative ease now ( but I still have to look up the spelling. Everything is in English here, but place names).
He got to this very funky, ancient building in the Little India section of Georgetown at 7:50, the first person in line as he watched the crude exposed electrical wires above, smelling stinky gray water drains and observing merchants sweeping, and various Indians walking by with hot big tubs of colorful Indian food. The large metal doors were locked.
Suddenly, a casually dressed, loudly moaning Indian man pulls up in a motorcycle and parked right in front of him. He clearly was in great pain and slowly got off the motorcycle saying that a car had just run over his foot! ( Wild traffic and crazy moped driving is part of Penang and Asian life). Sure enough he had car tread marks on his loafer that was all twisted off at his heal. He sat on the bike and carefully took off his shoe and sock. He tried to bend his toes and they were extremely black and blue, easily seen even on his very dark Indian skin as well as the top of the foot above the toes which was scraped.
He some how hobbled his way to the stairs in front of the building and sat down continuing to moan in pain, DaVinci trying to help as he could. A nearby Indian merchant who was clearly his friend, came by and they discussed the accident in an Indian language DaVinci didn't understand, then his friend opened the office for him. After composing himself he hobbled into the tiny office, entering the private area and leaving DaVinci with the handful of plastic chairs at the counter. A few minutes later he stood at the window and asked DaVinci, " Can I help you?"
Living in Asia is often like living on another planet and surreal. DaVinci answered, "How is your foot?". He could not convince the man to put ice on his foot and eventually he found out that we had all but no chance to get these simple travel visas to visit India. DaVinci was there for hours and the man never went to the doctor, but carried on with his work.
WHY WE WILL SKIP INDIA AND THE TAJ MAHAL THIS YEAR
There was a long shot that if he went to KL he might be able to plead our case and convince them since we had a kid in school here as well as a ticket already to India and beyond. Meanwhile, I was getting much sicker with the digestive problems ( more about that in our next post) , so we needed to handle that immediately before take off.
It costs over 200 dollars for the India travel visa for the three of us ( good for six months) , and suddenly afer two weeks of struggling to get this, it didn't seem like such a good idea, so we decided against going the 4/5 hours by bus and ferry ( one way) to KL and adding those costs for just one week of travel when it is so miserably hot in India now. I am exhausted by trying to coordinate things with many people in several wide ranging time zones, who only wake up late in my day when I am tired.
The universe seems to be telling us not now. Makes more sense to add this next year, as we are already tired of India. We will be back next year for more Mandarin school, so can pick up our India tourist visas in San Francisco where we will be for Thanksgiving and before heading back here for another winter. Then we can take more time in India and go when the weather is perfect.
HELLO SINGAPORE, BANGKOK, BHUTAN, JORDAN AND EUROPE!
Thus India is out, but, after much juggling behind the scenes, we will soon fly out to Singapore, Bangkok, Bhutan and Jordan on our way back to Europe for the summer. We are really excited by all of them! Due to this strange rule, our RTW agent helped us reroute to Bangkok instead of India at no charge to us, which we are grateful for. We've never had a more difficult or bizarre trip planning process, but things all work out in the end, eh? The great thing about being a digital nomad family, is there is always a plan B, or C, D, E, etc.