The race for the Indian visa

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Middle East » Turkey » Central Anatolia » Ankara
September 5th 2011
Published: September 6th 2011
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So, the next major hurdle on my trip is that I need an Indian tourist visa to be allowed into India. I had tried to do this in America, but conveniently, you need to prove residency, so I couldn't get a visa in NY since I was an Indiana resident at the time. You needed to give a bill or something showing residency. I should have just tried anyway. It would have eliminated this saga.

So this saga begins in Dogubayuzit - having just said goodbye to Didier, I boarded my bus for Erzurum a little after 1pm (1:12 or something I think). Not too late to start. So we start driving for a bit, and then we pull over. At first I thought that we had stopped to pick up people, but no one was getting on, and the driver wasn't in the bus. After 45 minutes of waiting I was getting impatient, and wanted to see what was going on, and when I got outside the bus I saw a mass of men huddled around the engine of the bus, working on a part inside.

The reason that my impatience is relevant is that I needed to get to Ankara by the Monday morning so I could drop off my papers for the visa and pick it up by the end of the week since they say they need 3 business days to contact their American colleagues. If I didn't make it by Monday morning I would have to spend another weekend in Ankara since I can't leave Ankara while I am waiting for my visa since I need my passport to check into any hotel. Something like jail really.

Anyway, the bus got fixed, and we were back on the road, now one hour behind schedule. The ride after that point was pretty uneventful. The countryside was pretty, and entertaining. Here are a few videos from the ride: Video1 Video2. One really interesting thing that I haven't seen elsewhere in the world is the middle lane. It's basically a passing lane that people going in either direction can use. So not 100%!s(MISSING)afe, but I guess it is a compromise between what people are going to do anyway, and making their actions more safe.

I arrived in Erzurum a little bit before 6pm, and started talking with all the ticket agents in the bus station. Since there is no way to get bus information without being in the station (very little information is online), I really had no idea what the bus schedules were like from Erzurum to Ankara. As it turns out, there aren't that many buses from Erzurum to Ankara, and those that there are get booked up solid pretty quickly. So my hopes of getting a bus directly after arriving in Erzurum were quite thoroughly dashed. All was not lost though, as I would return the next day and try again.

With my tail between by legs, I made my way to the taxi stand and got a taxi to the train station. Perhaps the train had a space for the night train that would leave at 5:30am. Arriving in the train station I found that the train was completely booked. Shit.

With my hopes for immediate departure dashed, I made my way to one of the hotels in the Lonely Planet with the goal of staying for a night, and leaving the following day. I was wandering around and looking and looking and looking for this hotel, but COULD NOT find it. I eventually gave up, and asked for help, and this Indian Kashmiri Muslim and a friend of his helped me find the hotel. The streets were quite dark and I was a little bit sketched out, but they helped me find it sucessfully. Turns out the map of Erzurum in the Lonely Planet was wrong... The guy offered that if I couldn't find my hotel I could stay with them which was quite nice.

After an uneventful but rather expensive (35TL) night, I woke up and had a breakfast of ├žorba and ├žay at a small restaurant next to my hotel. I packed up my bags again and caught a taxi to the otogar around 9:30am or so. When I arrived at the otogar, I talked with the ticket agents (of whom almost no one spoke a lick of English which made communication rather challenging). I kept asking "Ankara?" to everyone, but I kept getting the full sign, which is something like brushing your hands together. Nearing desperation, I arrived at another desk where they told me they had a bus, but it was a minibus rather than a big bus, it would be overnight, and it would take 14 hours. Ouch. I was desperate to get to Ankara before business hours opened on Monday, so I said go ahead. 65 TL later I had a ticket in my hand. The bus was leaving at 5pm, so I had rather a long amount of time to kill at the pretty boring bus station. Actually, the time went by fast enough.

One of the things that I did while I was waiting was get a professional shave. I've seen barbers both in India before and throughout my travels in the Middle East this time, but I had always been a bit nervous about the prospects of having someone with unknown dexterity and a sharp blade millimeters from my jugular. As it turns out, this barber was quite good. First they lather you up with a large quantity of foam, and since my beard was rather long, he did a two-part solution, first a coarse cut, and then coming in for a second cut with a straight blade. After shaving, he rubbed my face with lemon oil. Painful but oddly refreshing at the same time. Total price: 5TL (a bit more than $2.5). Expensive, but well worth it for the experiential aspects. By the way, the guy was smoking and talking to his friend throughout, and we communicated almost entirely though hand gestures and grunts.

Eventually 4:30pm rolled around, the time that I was supposed to meet at the desk for the bus. A few minutes before 5 we went out to the bus, and we were standing for a bit before our minibus arrived. I think I may have gotten the last seat on the bus since there were 29 seats and I had seat number 29. Which would make it all the more fortuitous since Erzurum is a boring city and I had no interest in being stuck there for any longer than necessary. After the bus arrived I got a seat, and with a bit of playing the ignorant tourist card (and truthfully misremembering my seat number), I was able to get an aisle seat which made the trip more pleasant. After something like 15 minutes of arguing over who gets onto the bus (I really had no idea what was going on since all the arguing was in Turkish), we set off about 15 minutes late.

On the whole, I have no complaints about the bus trip. We stopped a few times along the way (about every 2.5 hours on average, but the first stop was something like 5 hours in). The bus didn't have a bathroom, and it seems that almost no long-haul buses in Turkey do. But they do stop often enough that it is tolerable, even for Ian peein'. I was able to sleep for a few hours (not great sleep, but still).

We arrived on the outskirts of Ankara around 7:30am on Monday morning, and promptly hit terrible traffic. While on the bus, I called the Indian consulate to figure out when I needed to be at the consulate in order to get my papers in on Monday and they told me to come at 10am (remember this time for later).

So by the time that 8:30 rolls around, I am beginning to freak out that I won't get to the embassy by 10am. We are not moving more than at a snail's pace. Eventually the driver kinda gives up, and lets people who want to get out before we reach the station. I really had no idea where I was, but I saw there was a metro stop, so I figured it was as good as anywhere to get out.

I quickly was able to hail a cab driven by a friendly older Muslim man who spirited me away from the traffic and to my hotel. We had to ask for directions a few times, but we made it to the hotel quickly. The hotel I was shooting for ended up being full, so I went to a hotel down the street due to my time constraints, gave them my passport to check in, and ran down the street. You see, before I could get my visa, I still needed to do three things - find US currency, get passport photos, and get a photocopy of my passport for the visa application. While the guy at the hotel had my passport I was able to find a photo place for the passport photo. While he was processing the photo I ran back outside and found an ATM that magically could also give USD (a godsend since there aren't that many that will) and took out $60. I ran back to the photo place and picked up my photos, and ran back to the hotel where they were finished with my passport. I picked up my passport again, and ran to a photocopy place to get a copy of my passport. "Ran" in this case is sadly not hyperbole. Finally I was able to hail a cab that knew the location that I wanted and we arrived at the Indian embassy at 9:35am, right on time.

As it turns out, 10am is actually the beginning of the visa office hours, not the end of the office hours. So amazingly I had a bit of time to kill so I wandered around a bit and looked for another photocopy of my passport and some more US money (I thought I might not have enough). I wasn't able to find any US currency, but I was able to get a photocopy at a nice travel agent that gave me the copy for free and lent me a pen to boot.

I got back to the embassy before 10am, and waited around for a while while a few other people also arrived for visas. At a little bit before 10 they let us all in, we checked in everything in the security hut, and we went into the visa waiting room inside the building with our paperwork. The first woman that went took a long time, something like 40 minutes, and I was getting concerned that I might not be able to finish before they close at 11:15, but the next guy was missing something and he went quickly, and then it was on to me.

When I got to the counter I gave my papers over, and was greeted by an unexpected problem. I was told that they can only issue visas starting within a week, and since I would be leaving for India in a few weeks, they couldn't do it. My heart sank. He said "Why can't you just do it in Istanbul before you leave?" and I pleaded with him since I really don't have the 4 days to spend in Istanbul at the end of my Turkey days. At the end he relented, and said that he would give me a 6 month single-entry visa, as long as they get a good word from my friends in the US. And the amount of money that I had ($113), was enough to cover the visa ($78). *PHEW*. As I write this post I am waiting in Ankara for my visa. He told me to come on Friday, but I am going to call on Thursday and see if it is magically ready early so that I can get going for Cappadocia. Good thing I got to Ankara by Monday, otherwise I would have been in Ankara quite a while.

But considering how well all the visa things worked out, it seems only fair that karma should pay me back. Shortly after getting back to my hotel room from dropping off my visa, I was pretty sick. Again. This is the second time that I have been sick in Turkey. This time it started with the runs, and then I had a terrible fever, and by the end of the night, I was vomiting. Apparently Fanta and yogurt are not the ideal stomach-calming foods. Who knew? I was so lucky that this happened after the end of the bus ride, otherwise I hate to think what I would have had to do.

So that is how things stand now. I've got a hotel room with internet, and I am spinning my wheels for a few days. I think one of these days I am going to finally finish my journal papers. It's perfect timing since there isn't much to be done in Ankara anyway.


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