Hello, Nepal: 23 – 24.09.2013

We are in Nepal! I can’t believe we didn’t wake up in India this morning, just as much as I can’t believe we are actually here in Nepal – so much so, I had to write it twice!

Our flight here to Kathmandu yesterday evening was wonderful; just over 2 hours in length, due to the fact that our plane had to circle above the airport for around 45 minutes whilst we waited for the storm below to move along. Eventually, the storm moved enough for our plane to land, but not enough for us to fly down to the ground without first passing through thick grey clouds, rain and turbulence. Excellent.

Flying over the snow capped and green mountains was spectacular, and landing onto the tarmac, I was so excited for what awaited us here in this new country. We only have one week here, so we’re going to enjoy it. Already, I know this is a country we will be coming back to – for a lot longer next time.
We passed through immigration and the on-arrival visa procedures with ease, and caught a taxi to the home of our couch surfing host. It’s really lovely to be welcomed immediately into the home of a local, and we’re happy to be here. Tonight we fall asleep in Nepal, fending of ferocious-sized mosquitoes with insatiable appetites and looking forward to what’s to come.

Our first morning in Nepal began with bleary eyes and a feeling of utter exhaustion, over a traditional Nepalese breakfast; LOTS of rice, steamed mustard leaves and a watery-dahl; it was delicious. After breakfast, we made our way out to the busy street to find a taxi to the Myanmar Embassy, via a money exchange place in order to get USD; something we should’ve done at the airport when it was convenient, and what we thought would be a simple, straightforward process. This was not the case.

It was very difficult to find a money exchange place (we should’ve gone straight to Thamel where every second shop exchanges cash!), and when we did, it was an ordeal.
Our waiting taxi driver, who had originally been confident about knowing where the embassy was – according to our map that had it marked – must’ve very quickly forgotten his way around because we stopped maybe 10 or so times before someone kindly informed him – and us – that the embassy had actually moved. A phone call to them directed him to the right place, for which he demanded another 700 rupees. Fine, whatever, I’m not arguing right now – just get us there before 1pm so we can apply! We are SO pressed for time – it takes 3 working days for the visa to be approved – and we need it by Friday, so it HAD to be done today. It was all a little stressful, and when we arrived at the embassy and realised that Australians are able to get a visa on arrival now in Myanmar, we sighed and I wished somehow, we’d been able to find this out earlier – before we took the trouble to make our way out here. Previous attempts to research this had failed to confirm or deny that an on arrival visa was possible, and since we were now there, we filled out the forms and handed over our passports. We can pick them up on Friday at 1pm. Done.
HOURS later, a little bit exhausted but mostly relieved that finally our Myanmar visa will be sorted, we walked out of the Myanmar Embassy and into the waiting taxi and headed to Thamel – the tourist area of Kathmandu. We were no longer in the mood to visit the famous temple sites we’d been planning to earlier this morning, and instead, wanted some chai and momos, and to simply wander about.

Thamel was a cool place to visit for a little while; incredibly touristic, overpriced and full of hippie clothing and people wanting to help you book trekking adventures, but never the less alive and bustling and busy and INTERESTING. My favourite way to travel is to simply walk around and get a feel for the area, rather than hop from famous sight to famous sight, and this is exactly how we spent our afternoon. That was, of course, after we sat for a few hours in a lovely little restaurant sipping chai, using the free wi-fi and napping on the cushions on the floor.

Thamel was a great place to look at/find things like souvenirs, handicrafts, hippie clothing, Nepalese music, trekking gear, touristy food, cool cafes, books , prayer flags, clothing, – anything and everything no doubt, and of course, at hugely inflated prices. We did spoil ourselves however, despite this, and Em managed to barter down the price for a couple of pairs of thai fishermen pants to just a slightly inflated price. Winning.

Our evening was spent back at our host’s home, where we chatted and attempted to go to sleep at a reasonable hour. Tomorrow, we’re off to our next destination, Bhaktapur, a historic town just a short drive away (around 13kms) from Kathmandu, set in the Kathmandu Valley. It’s meant to be incredibly beautiful, and I’m really looking forward to a relaxing place to simply wonder about and enjoy.

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Traumatic Visa Applications and Indian Touts

We’d been warned by many, been told horror stories and read about how traumatic it can be to try to organise and apply for an Indian Visa…

Our local travel agent warned us about the perils of applying for the Indian Visa without their help; describing the paper work as confusing, the wait-times as ridiculously long, the ques of people horrendous, and the embassy as so incredibly strict that without a travel agents signature of your approved itinerary, you’re bound to be rejected. We were encouraged to pay a $70.00 “convenience fee” each for them to organise our visas for us, as well  cover the extra cost of money orders necessary to pay for the $97.00 visas.

No thanks.

Those 160-odd dollars could stretch a looooong way in Asia… and if we can’t handle disorganised crowds of people, or expect constant convenience at all times, well.. we’re basically fucked in India, aren’t we?

One friend of ours warned of the crowds of people we would encounter at the Melbourne Indian Embassy, and staff so picky about application forms that they will do anything to make your application process more difficult.
Another told us we’d left it too late and would most likely have to pay a large fee to have it processed in a shorter amount of time.

We brushed off their caution, and decided to do it our way. If we can’t handle the visa application and the confines of the embassy, again, we may as well just give up now.

So we filled out the application online which was pretty straight forward.
We simply saved the application forms to PDF format and printed them, signing our names on the dotted line at the bottom of the forms. We each cut out a crisp, new passport photo depicting our mug-shot faces, and ticked off the nessecary check-list saying we had collected all the required documents.
Now we just needed to march ourselves down to the embassy with our paperwork, passports and a whopping $97.00…

So simple! Too simple…Where was all that hassle? Surely, that can’t be right!? The worst must be yet to come.

Monday morning, 8:30am, we stood silent in the lift as it took us to the 12th floor – to the Indian Visa Application Office. We were anticipating huge crowds of people, long-waits and unfriendly staff…

Ding! The lift opened and before we could even step out... “Yes, Hello Sir, yes, Hello Madame, hello, hello how are you? You want visa for India, you need passport photo? I can take, yes sir, I can take for you, only $10 per person, very cheaper than other place.”

Within the space of a few seconds in the Indian Embassy of Melbourne, yes sir, yes madame, we had been touted. Of all the things we were expecting, this had (foolishly) not crossed our minds. We had to smile.
Fuck! …already being touted and we haven’t even left the state, let a lone the country!… and we found that in itself reasonably shocking… we better get used to that shit quick smart and nip that unsettled feeling in the bud.

Escaping the tout, we walked into the empty, clean and silent visa office. We took a ticket from the self-service machine on the wall, and took a seat. Our number was called almost immediately, and together we walked to the desk… both wondering when the traumatic experience was going to start. Perhaps now?

“Hello. Forms and passports, please… You’re applying for a tourist visa? Okay… Jake you’ve made a small error on the form here, I will just change it now for you… Okay, It will be $97 per person… Can you sign here?… and here?… Cash or card? Paying seperately or together?… Okay, card please…”

Still so strangely, scarily… simple. No hassles. What is going on?… We’re still waiting for the drama to unfold.

With that, we were told our passports would be ready within 5 business days, and we would recieve a text message and an email letting us know when we could collect them. Within the space of a 5 whole, pleasent, pain-free minutes, we were done. We waved goodbye to our passports, $194.00 and to the man at the desk.

As we left the building I think both of us were in shock. Where the fuck was all that supposed garunteed commotion, hassle, bickering, inconvenience and turmoil? We’d mentally prepared ourselves for all of the above, as well as a two hour wait!

As we walked towards the lift feeling victorious, the tout came out of no where again, I guess hopeful we’d forgotten our passport photos afterall and required his very cheaper service. Thankfully, before he had time to pounce on us, the lift dinged again and some fresh prey began to exit into the corridor.
Mr. Touty no longer had time for us.

Just over 24 hours after we applied for our Indian visa, we’ve been notified our application is currently being processed. We’re still trying to figure out when the worst will come, but, somehow, it seems the worst of it was the smiling Mr. Touty.

Oh, India; we like you already.