Posted on May 6, 2018 - by

How Not to Travel to India (or Anywhere, Really)

I can so clearly remember my grandparents disappearing into our guest room one afternoon during a visit in the early 1980’s. When they finally emerged, it turned out they’d been worrying in advance about the trip home, looking for their keys. They searched and searched, more frantic by the moment. My little grandmother finally found them— pinned to the inside of their suitcase where she’d put them before they left home. I knew that would never be me.
Fast forward thirty-some years…
Rickshaw ride in Old Delhi
After touring two days in Delhi, the time came to pack up and join our group in the hotel lobby in order to catch the plane to Udaipur. You can imagine my despair when I found my passport missing. John ran downstairs to fetch the group leader and a hotel employee and they rooted through every item in our room, including my cotton unmentionables. The passport was gone. And soon after, so was our group. We were left to twiddle our thumbs for four hours until a driver and translator could be dispatched to help get my documents replaced. (No one drives their own car in Dehli – the traffic is heinous and you must be fearless in cutting off other cars, bicycles, rickshaws, ever present tuktuks, and the occasional cow or water buffalo.)
First stop, the Delhi Police Department. Outside the building, a long discussion ensued between our driver and guide, with consultations with other people by phone–in Hindi so we couldn’t understand a word. It boiled down to this: Tell the police you were walking around the hotel and then when you looked, your passport was missing. Do not mention the rickshaw ride in old Delhi (where I suspect I lost it) because then they will send us to that police station to make the report. Okay, my passport is gone and now I’m fibbing to the authorities.
Lucy with her saviors
The interior of the station reminded me a little of places I’d seen in the Caribbean. There were fierce, unsmiling, uniformed men in berets, carrying rifles. There was a woman in a sari who was seated at a desk providing “women’s services.” The back of the office opened out to a dusty courtyard where a set of black metal seats welded together were placed facing the sun, along with what looked like a beach umbrella stand covered with a ratty towel. And behind that was a row of scooters. A dirty black and white dog wandered the courtyard, pausing to lift his leg on one of the bikes. Eventually we emerged with a police report. “I think we should look at this as an adventure,” I told John. “One day it will make a good blog.”
Here’s the photo taken at the moment we left the station with our copies of police report in hand. All still cheerful, in other words.  “Just think,” I added, “if I hadn’t lost my passport, we never would have seen that police officer scratch his nose with the tip of his assault rifle.”
Next we visited the American embassy. It was around 3:30 when we called from the old-fashioned phone stationed at a table on the sidewalk. I was told that the cashier had gone home at noon and there was no way to get help until the next morning. At this moment, our good cheer begin to ebb.
As we trudged toward our car, the sidewalk phone rang again and the guard waved me over. “Do you have exact change?” “Yes!” “Do you have passport photos?” I explained we had just stopped to get them taken. “Without spectacles?” the woman asked. Of course that’s not what we had.
“If you can get pictures retaken and return by four we will try to help you.”
So off we went to our second photography studio, this one stationed inside a tiny dry cleaning establishment. Two men banged on the back metal door, and the photographer came out and hung a white cloth over the front window. And then took the worst photo of me I have ever had taken in my life. I considered posting it here for you but could not bear to do it. An hour later, I emerged from the embassy with temporary passport. Still, we were short one document, the exit visa.
We arrived at the visa office the next morning, and were advised by a lovely Australian man to visit the “office” on a nearby street where my documents could be uploaded and added to my application. (You might have had such equipment in your office in the 1990’s. I was taking this picture from the sidewalk.)

 

Then we returned to the visa office and waited, hearing nightmare stories of people who’d been waiting 10 days to three weeks—returning each day to try to resolve another mysterious technical issue. (Luckily, I had Rhys’s new book on my phone or I might have gone mad.) The workers buzzed around, seeming to accomplish little as people poured in but none went out. We heard rumors that the office closed down for lunch and I began to get seriously worried. Finally we were called in and given my papers, and then rushed off to catch a plane and join our group.
The next morning as we woke up exhausted. John said: “I’ve been thinking about document discipline. We are going to have one zippered pocket for our documents, no lip balm, no hand sanitizer, no iPhones allowed in that pocket.”

 

“Document discipline? I’m all in,” I said. “How about we pin them to the inside of the suitcase?”

Soon I’ll share a little of what was actually on our tour of India, rather than Lucy’s private tour of Indian bureaucracy…meanwhile would you care to share one of your traveling disaster stories??

And PS here’s John’s take on the “incident” with practical suggestions about how to stay organized when traveling…

0 Comments

We'd love to hear yours!



Leave a Reply


Here's your chance to speak.

  1. Name (required)

    Mail (required)

    Website

    Message

Previous
Next