It was less than 48 hours before my flight left and I was standing at Cox and Kings Visa Application Centre asking for my visa for the 5th time that week. It was time to enter into panic mode. I knew if I didn’t get my visa by tomorrow I would miss my flight, and it looked like that was a strong possibility. At this point I had made friends with the staff at the centre and was begging for a way to make sure it came tomorrow. One of the guys put his hand over his mouth and mumbled “Consulate, basement, go to window 2.” I had a final in less than an hour but it was down to the wire and decided to just go for it. I jumped in a cab and got up to the consulate by central park and started thinking maybe this was a bad plan and I would miss my final but as the great minds of our generation say: YOLO. I saw the stairs leading down to the basement were roped off. Not sure what got into me, but I climbed over the little wall and jumped onto the stairs, ran through the metal detector setting off the alarm and walked straight past the security guard to window 2. Note to anyone who wants to get into the thief field: the Indian Consulate is remarkably easy to break into. I summoned the (fake) tears and stated my problem to the woman behind the glass. She asked why I had booked my ticket before I got my visa despite the website saying not to do that and I started to explain the email said my visa would be ready in time which immediately lost her interest. Then I just said “because I’m an idiot.” She seemed to like that and sent someone to go look into my visa.
Preparing to go to India was a mission and a half. Between finding out a few weeks before my plane left and thus being pressed for time, being in the thick of finals, finishing my internship and having to do a trip back to Canada to deal with an almost expired passport, things were pretty hectic. But aside from all of that, how does one even prepare to go to India? I had no idea what to expect. I started asking friends and family for their thoughts and got a whole slew of advice. I got lists from people who had traveled and worked there, my parents, the lady at the bank, my Dad’s cab driver. Everyone had something to say. Most of the advice was safety and food related, making me think I had a strong possibility of being kidnapped/raped/deathly ill within the first few hours of arriving. A girl my age who had traveled in Dehli last summer said she felt unsafe all the time. The advice ranged from cautious to extremely cautious. Some of the most common pieces of advice were:
- Never take rickshaws, the subway, buses or cabs.
- If I get in a cab to take a photo of the driver, license plate and send all the information to my parents. – Others said the only safe way to get around was to get a driver.
- I was told not to go out after 7 pm, or if I must go with a group.
- Do not go to the market by yourself.
- Do not go anywhere with someone you do not know (this is going to be interesting since I do not know anyone).
- Carry all your money in a money pouch attached to the inside of your shirt.
- Do not drink the water, only bottled water
- Do not buy food from street vendors, eat as much hotel food as possible it is usually safe
- No fruits or vegetables unless they have been cooked
A lot of people who gave me advice had never even been to India. This is interesting because it is a reflection of how the West views India. India is negatively portrayed in the media; we hear all these stories of rape, severe illness, theft and danger. The most common response I got when I said I was going was “Why? Don’t get raped.” I joked with a friend and said “why doesn’t everyone keep saying that to me!” and he said “it’s not you, it’s India.” But is it really India? Or is it just our skewed perception of India? The people I spoke to who are actually from India kept saying “it’s fine, you’ll be fine. It’s not like everyone says it is.” I didn’t believe them.
Either way, as a 20 year old girl travelling alone I will exercise caution. After getting all these warnings and lectures, I’m also nervous as hell right now. I have friends of my fathers friend picking me up from the airport and housing with an American expat family organized, so at least that’s a starting point and I’ll figure it out from there, only time will tell. Let the adventure begin.
Advice to fellow travelers:
- Apply for visa as early as possible, hopefully you can wait to book your plane ticket until after you get your visa. If it’s not coming for some reason, go directly to the consulate, down to the basement and to window 2, and tell them you’re an idiot and hope they take pity on you.
- Go to Cox and Kings early. Walk in hours are between 9 am and noon Monday through Friday. They only accept a certain number of walk in appointments, so go around 7:30 am (at the absolute latest). You will see a lot of people lining up outside waiting for 9 am when the guard will escort small numbers upstairs.
- To pick up your visa the hours are between 3-6 pm (despite what it says on the website, learned this one the hard way.) Download a movie on your phone, bring a book and go for about 2:15 at the latest. Going early is way better than having to wait until they go through 50 people before you and then find out that they are closed and you have to go the next day. Fortunately it never happened to me but was a common horror story repeated in the Cox and Kings line up.
- Want to avoid all this hassle and just mail it in? Bad plan. Lots of people were saying their applications got lost (along with their passports!) when they had done this and missed their flights and their trips. It’s a lot of time but absolutely worth going in person. Think of it as your introduction to the lines and crowds you will be facing in India.
- When you are submitting your visa forms to Cox and Kings make sure the address you put on the forms as your current address is the same as the address that is on your proof identification. So submitting a drivers licence from your hometown and having your New York address on your forms isn’t going to fly, the identification address needs to match your current address. I brought a passport (no address), a lease and two utility bills. They prefer utility bills over a lease, so go for that if you have it. Note they do not accept Time Warner bills, it has to be a water, heat, electricity bill, etc.
- Fill out every single form listed on the Cox and Kings website. They’re going to take about half of them but apparently it just depends on the day, better to be prepared than have to go back.