Friday, January 2, 2009

My Indian visa and a first class upgrade

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on January 1st in Metro √Čireann By Charles Laffiteau

Last week I shared with you my overall impressions of wonder and amazement regarding the nation of India so I will now attempt to flesh out this perspective by sharing with you some of the more memorable things I experienced during my trip.
I must begin though by telling you that I actually came perilously close to not even making this trip. I originally planned to get my Indian visa while I was back in the states attending the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. But then the Indian consulate I was supposed to obtain my visa from in Houston Texas was closed unexpectedly due to the damages it sustained during Hurricane Ike. This meant I would have to wait until my return to Ireland to get my visa with only one short week remaining until my flight departed for New Delhi. But that was still enough time… or so I thought.
I went to the Indian Embassy on Tuesday the day after I arrived back in Dublin but was told I had missed the morning window for submitting a visa application and needed to return on Wednesday morning to do so. When I came back the next day however, I was informed that the Embassy also required three business days to process my visa. Well since my flight was departing at 6:30am the following Tuesday I figured I was cutting it very close but I would still get my visa just in the nick of time. Wrong!
Unfortunately I hadn’t accounted for the Indian Embassy being closed the next day because of Gandhi Jayanti, India’s national holiday to celebrate the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. So because of the holiday and the three business day visa processing requirement I was told I’d have to wait until the following Tuesday after 4pm to get my visa. That gnawing concern I had felt regarding my visa was now morphing into out and out panic because there was no way I could afford the cost to change the departure date of my non-refundable airline ticket on Qatar Airways. I knew that unless I found a way to get my visa a day earlier then I was not only going to be unable to make the trip to India, but I was also going to forfeit more than 1000 Euros that I had already paid for my ticket.
While I am not a particularly religious person, the thought of losing over a thousand euros and completely missing the trip to India as well proved to be a very strong motivation for me to do some real serious praying. Now maybe it was just luck or fate rather than any sort of divine intervention, but when I returned to the Indian Embassy on Monday afternoon instead of Tuesday, things mysteriously began to turn my way. First, one of the employees in the visa office said she recognized me as a columnist for Metro √Čireann and asked me to wait outside for about twenty minutes.
After what seemed like an eternity, she finally returned and ushered me upstairs and into the office of the Indian Minister and Deputy Head of the Irish Mission, Mr. Mahesh Chandra Naithani, who just so happened to have a copy of Metro √Čireann sitting on his desk. We exchanged pleasantries and then proceeded to discuss my upcoming excursion to India. As soon as he asked about my departure date I explained my dilemma and my need for a visa that same day. Thankfully Mr. Naithani immediately called in Mr. Tara Chand, who then facilitated the processing of my visa while Mr Naithani and I continued our discussion about various issues involving India.
I must say I will always be grateful to Mr. Naithani, Mr. Chand and the young woman in the visa office whose name I don’t even know, for taking pity on me and for helping me to obtain my visa a day early. Absent their intervention and assistance, I wouldn’t even have a story to tell you here, much less the many wonderful memories of my trip that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
My journey to India commenced the following morning with a flight to London’s Heathrow airport where I connected to my Qatar Airways flight from London to the Persian Gulf. But I also remember wishing I could have been sitting in First or Business Class instead of Coach, not for the amenities, but so I could get a bit of sleep in their fully reclining seats before my 4:00am arrival into New Delhi the following morning.
I fly in Coach on all of my international travels to save money and I don’t mind so much that this isn’t the most comfortable way to fly for long periods. Whenever I travel across multiple time zones I always try to get on the clock of my destination as quickly as possible and have no trouble doing so when I fly from west to east. But when I am flying a long distance from east to west, which usually means it is also overnight, I usually suffer from jet lag unless I am able to get at least a few hours sleep while I am in route. However, it also isn’t easy to sleep in those rather cramped seats you find in an airplane’s Coach Section.
Well once again call it luck or fate or maybe even divine intervention, but when I checked in for my overnight flight to New Delhi from Doha, I was informed that my seat had been changed and I had been upgraded to Business Class. But when I got on the plane and proceeded to find my seat I walked through Business Class and found out that my seat was actually in First Class. Needless to say that lie flat seat in First Class allowed me to arrive in New Delhi refreshed and ready to begin my Indian adventure.
Next week I will continue discussing what I experienced there.