OK, so, depending on what country you come from, you CAN get a visa on arrival in Mumbai, but I’m not sure I would entirely advise it.
I arrived in the city after a 16 hour flight in remarkably good shape thanks to drinking litres of something the pharmacist talked me into called 1Above which is a – oh, like I know what it is! It comes in a blue bottle and looks a bit like wees but tastes OK and (fill in the blanks) hydration.
I queued at Immigration with the other passengers but when I got to the desk was told I needed to go back through the zig zag ropes to wait in the Visa On Arrival Interview Area. There followed a somewhat Benny Hill-like scenario of me weaving my way through the ropes only to hit a brick wall, literally. Luckily the man at the Immigration desk was still watching me over the heads of the hundreds between us and, using very efficient gesticulations, indicated that if I walked approximately half way back to New Zealand, I would find the Visa On Arrival Interview Area around the corner.
The Visa On Arrival Interview Area consisted of three leather sofas and a vast empty space. After sitting there a while a little man came over and went through a very long form that I needed to fill out. It would be a problem for me, he said, that I did not know the booking reference for my husband’s hotel. I knew everything else about it, even what room we were in but this was not enough.
After I filled out the form, I was asked to follow him across the vast empty space to a single stand where he put my passport in a machine about 42 times and shook his head a lot. Then I was asked to follow him back across the vasty empty space to the leather sofas where he pointed out again how big a problem it was about the booking reference.
I texted the Ginger, who I knew was waiting for me and would be getting antsy about now, and he said he would find out.
Meantime I was asked to follow the little man back through the zig zags, although just like a drug mule or the mother of triplets, this time we were able to take a shortcut.
We arrived in an office with three women sitting at two desks doing, erm, some talking.
Some of the talking was even with me. I found out that Jaipur and Agra are the Siamese twins of tourism if you want to see the Taj Mahal and it’s best to go to the Taj at 7 before the crowds and heat.
The little man was filling out another form by now and asked me to follow him to a different seat on the other side of the office while he did so. Then he asked me to follow him to a different office, so another man could stamp the different form.
Then I followed him back to the original office. There were now only two women there so we did some more talking.
Still, we had the problem of the hotel booking reference. Now the little man rang the Ginger on the office phone and asked him if he was expecting anyone and the Ginger very rightly decided not to play silly buggers and say: “No, send her home,” and said yes he was, and he even got my name right, but he was still waiting to get the booking reference, so the little man told the Ginger to ring back on that same phone number when he had it.
I sat for a while as the little man kept filling out forms and the two ladies talked. Then the phone rang.
“That must be my husband…” I said to the little man but he was too busy with the forms.
For a while I thought that no one was going to pick the phone up but finally one of the ladies did. From watching her face it was clear she didn’t understand who was on the other end but finally a big smile blossomed on her face. “Oh, yes,” she said as she held the phone in my direction: “It’s for you!”
During the hour I had spent in the office by this stage, the phone had only been used the once – to call the Ginger – and had only rung the once – for the Ginger to call me – and no one else had come in or out of the office so it was surprising that no one had put two and two together a bit quicker but hey, we got there in the end.
Or almost there.
Next I was asked to follow a different man to a bank in another part of the airport so I could pay for my visa. This man was very polite and let everyone else go ahead of us in the queue which was not my favourite thing at the time but eventually, I paid the money, after correcting only a tiny bit of maths, then followed the other man back to the office and gave the receipt to the original little man.
Then the little man did some more filling in of forms and finally his boss came and stamped my passport, another man came and delivered my bag which had been circling the carousel having a whale of a time, and voila, I had 30 days in India at my disposal.
After having the contents of both bags x-rayed and then checked by the Indian Richard Gere from Officer and a Gentleman, I emerged, smiling, into the Mumbai sun.
The Ginger was beyond shocked to see the smile, but here’s the thing: even though it took one and a half hours and 10 people, everyone was lovely – friendly, interested, polite – just a little tied up in red tape.
And at the end of it, I was in Mumbai. What’s not to smile about?