We have been in Tehran for four days and apart from the local street (for food and to buy a change of Manteau at Paris House….as I have to wear it each day and needed to wash my white one)…we have seen nothing of the city. There is a strange French influence here in their advertising, make-up and perfumes in stores and pictures of icons – such as the Louvre. I have read that the Ayatollah Ruhollah Moosavi Khomeini (founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran) spent time in exile near Paris….so I am not sure if that has any bearing on the French influence here.
The majority of our time has been at the Indian Embassy each day trying to convince a range of ever increasing officialdom that they should issue us visas that will allow us to travel to India via road. The official story is they only issue visas by air! I mean the ANIMAL is talented but even she can’t fly!
When we are not at the Embassy pleading our case to have the visa issued here, as we don’t want to risk entering Pakistan without onward visas in place, we are holed up in our hotel room, at the Terhan Grand Hotel, completing paperwork and wading through red tape and alternative options.
It really is the climax of what has become an ongoing saga….the information we received prior to departing Australia was that we could not organise the visa before leaving due to our travel timeframes and expiry…..as Indian Visas start from the day of issue and are only valid for 6 months – so ours would have expired before we got to India. We were told that we could apply whilst on the road at any Embassy. Most Australians get an eTourist Visa (Visa on Arrival) online and it’s a simple and straight forward process….but this was not possible for us as we were not flying into an airport.
Some Indian Embassy’s now outsource their visa applications which is why we approached the Indian Visa Application Centre in Geneva Switzerland – who checked by telephone with the Embassy whilst we were there but we were told, despite our raising the concern over the airport issue, that we needed to apply for an eTourist Visa (Visa on Arrival) online. We still thought that this did not really make sense, so we waited and then went to the Indian Embassy when we got to Ankara, Turkey. However, we were again told….after the person checked by telephone, that we needed to apply for an eTourist Visa (Visa on Arrival) online….and again were given the web details we already had.
We then tried to fill in the online forms but there was a question about which airport of arrival (a drop down menu for 9 approved airports) so we were immediately jammed up, as we will not be going via air but overland via the Wagah-Attari border, crossing near Amritsar. We did explain this to both Geneva and Ankara. We contacted the online support for help and their response was that we were not eligible for an eTourist Visa (Visa on Arrival) and needed to apply at an Embassy…..as we originally thought!
At that point we contacted the A/Consulate General of India in Perth, to request advice and assistance. Perth contacted Ankara and they asked us to come back to gain our Visas there through the First Secretary, who would assist us. Unfortunately, we were already 700km away and needed to leave Turkey….as our insurance was running out and we had to enter Iran. We explained this and we were told to go to the Embassy in Tehran.
This time, armed with more information, we managed to work our way up the chain a little bit ….Vince calls me the “Jack Russell” ….and eventually got to speak to the First Secretary. But basically Terhan has their rules and won’t budge…even with help from Perth, it is a hard slog.
Today we “might” have moved forward….fingers crossed…..yesterday the First Secretary agreed to put our case forward to New Delhi and if they approve he will grant the visas. So today, we attended what can only be described as a rugby scrum, that was the Visa Processing Section of the Embassy (they do outsource here but we could not go there as we are not Iranian Nationals). We arrived around 10.00am and the doorman sent us to another door. Once inside it was jam packed and very hot. People were pushing and shoving, several all at once calling to the two officials behind screens…..at two separate windows and one door…..quite amazing to watch.
We had no idea what to do or where to go…..a young Iranian student, who spoke English offered us advice….we had to approach the first window and they would take our name….then go and wait for the second window to call us. Without any real line as such we just joined the throng and waited for an opportunity to speak at the window….total chaos…..I’ve never seen anything so disorganised in my life…..think Centrelink in a lower socio economic area, with no ticket system, and you just might get a sliver of the idea!
Kindly, the young student called Vince forward, before him, and encouraged him to push his way through…..they took our name! We moved towards the second window and waited. The process was very slow, and some Iranian women stated asking us what we were there for….when they saw that we were just dropping off documents, they encourage us to push our way to the front to speak at the second counter…..reluctantly, Vince did this and we were told she would call him next. Once called, we were quizzed at length and given an extra form to complete (that really just repeated information already on our application). The visa officer was very abrupt, barking instructions at us and cutting us off after she asked us questions and we were trying to explain. Eventually, I had had enough and started mirroring her tone back in my responses…..this seemed to work. She had to go away and check on something….we don’t know what….and she claimed our Iranian Visas had expired as well as our Rego ….this was incorrect and we managed to point it out in our documentation. We had to pay 2,800,000 IRR…which she miscounted and wanted more money….but I argued the point and eventually she realised her error and processed our applications. We were then subjected to biometric screening (photo and fingerprint scan)…and now we wait! They estimate 10 days or so until we will have and outcome from Delhi. We left a little before 12.00pm ….so around 2 hours.
We were lucky, people were kind to us, and we got to lodge our applications…..I overheard one woman explain to a French couple that the centre closes at lunch time and those who have not managed to be seen have to come back the next day and try again!
We really hope the response is positive as the rest of our trip kind of depends on it, and we really want to see beautiful India!