The bus rolled into jolly old Dubai at around six in the morning. If there is a time of day I dislike more I am yet to meet it. The Deira district looked as wonderfully shabby and dysfunctional as ever, and I slunk into a little Indian workers café and ordered an omelette and bread breaky washed down with a nice hot cup of chai.
At 7.30am, I headed over to the Indian Consulate to get the ball rolling with my Indian visa – the idea being that the time wasted waiting for the damn thing could be constructively used attempting to get to Eritrea from Saudi. After queuing for over an hour with all my stuff in the hot hot morning air of urban desert Dubai, I got knocked back at the front door by a friendly guard who explained I couldn’t get the visa from here, I had to go to the nearby post office.
Another taxi ride and I found myself wandering about the post office area. After a couple of misses, I finally found the right building and the right counter. I asked for a multiple entry application form as I’m going to need to go in and out of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan.
Sorry – you can’t get a multiple entry visa from here, only in your home country.
I explained my mission and the nice lady looked despondent. You won’t be able to do that, even if you get the visa in England.
Because they have changed the rules about re-entry. If you leave the country, you can’t return for 30 days.
WHAT? Sorry, WHAT?
Now they do this sometimes in countries that issue visas on the border to stop people doing the old Thai border hop at the end of every month and staying in the country for years on end. But if I purchase a multiple entry visa, once it expires, it’s over – I couldn’t stay for years no matter how many times I hopped over the border to Nepal.
Now the Indian government has a reputation for pulling down it’s pants and doing a great big poo on the memory of the greatest freedom fighter of all time, Mahatma Ghandi – what with the wars with Pakistan, the fighting over Kashmir, the forced sterilisation drive of the 1970s and the acquisition of nuclear weapons (paid for, one presumes, with money with Ghandi’s face printed on it). It’s also got a reputation for hating all of its neighbours. The borders with Burma and China are barred, the last ferry to Sri Lanka left sometime around 1973 and the one official border it maintains with Pakistan closes every day with an ceremony of animosity between the two which is as elaborate as it is childish.
I guess it’s in this vein that the Indian government seeks to destroy the nascent tourist industry of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan as well as scalping the dreams of any backpacker wishing to head over to Kathmandu for a week before heading back into India.
You see, if you want to travel overland to any of the countries I’ve mentioned, you have to return back into India – there is simply no other way out (unless you fly). The overland cross-India trip I took in 2002 in which I popped into Nepal and spent a few days in Bangladesh would now be impossible.
Mean? Vindictive? I have no doubt.
The sad thing about this is that India is one of my favourite countries in the world, so I’m not just sickened, I’m also heart-broken. I would like to see how the Indian government justifies this unjust legislation, because it’s not only tourism in Nepal and Bangladesh that is going to suffer, India will suffer too. Well-heeled western types don’t go on holiday in countries where over half the population are forced to go to the toilet on the street – they go somewhere nice.
India remains a destination for the adventurous: hippies, backpackers, fat chicks with too many cats. By essentially denying these people who are prepared to put up with the heat and dust and stink the opportunity of to visit the surrounding India-encompassed nations, all the Indian government is doing is ensuring that thousands of tourists stay on the plane all the way to Thailand.
‘But the UK makes it difficult for Indians to visit’. Yes. Yes we do, we have no choice in the matter. Supply and demand. But there aren’t 1.2 billion Brits, and I can tell you now NONE of us dream of growing up to be a rickshaw walla in Calcutta. In fact, most Brits wouldn’t go to India even if it was all expenses paid. If we want to be stared at and hassled every waking hour of the day we’d dress up like a monkey and go sit in the zoo.
Don’t worry, I’ll find a way around these ludicrous regulations, but I’m not going to be shy calling the Indian government out on this one.
As gutted as I was disgusted, I needed to go hunting for internets so I headed over the hideously tactless Wafi Mall, a shopping mall so ridiculous it makes that tacky low-rent glass pyramid in the middle of the Louvre look aesthetically pleasing. Yup, the architects went to Egypt on holiday and thought to themselves mmm… if only the peerless pyramids, the timeless temples and colossal colossi of the Pharaohs were constructed out of concrete and glass…
Oh deary me.
But it had free internets roaming its innards, so I plunged inside. Still, at around four quid for a cup o’ tea it all balanced itself out. With Lorna working today, Odyssey fan and Sydneysider Alex Zelenjak stepped up to help me with the Eritrean part of my cunning plan. While Alex researched the Red Sea options I cracked on with my pirate doco proposal for the shipping companies. Alex got back to me with the news that there was indeed a ship that hopped back and forth between Jeddah in Saudi and Massawa in Eritrea.
With nothing yet set in stone, I resolved to head to Jeddah and scout out the shipping company. Technically speaking, I could have continued on towards Jeddah today, but since I’d be returning to Dubai whatever happens, it would be sensible to meet with good ol’ Damo and drop off anything that might give the Saudi authorities an excuse to detain me (tapes, hard drives etc).
And a Thursday night out in Dubai wouldn’t hurt matters too much either.
So a jaunt on the brand spankingly new overhead train service down through the business district (wave to the Burj Khalifa) to The Greens delivered me into Damien’s evil clutches and after a quick face-stuffing trip to KFC we headed out into the night. After meeting up with a couple of Damo’s chums to watch the footy, we ventured off to a club on the other side of town. I attempted in vain to fend off the booze that kept coming my way (Damien you LEGEND!), but soon enough I was dancing the funky chicken to Three Lions.