The Pure and Rarefied Realm of Red Tape
The German bureaucracy is well-known in Germany as to be the most horrible thing under the sun. I (Thomas) fervently believed this until (circa 1985) I tried to start a business in France: compared to French bureaucrats the Germans are utter amateurs. (The British don't really register on the scale, though Brits invariably think theirs is a very bureaucratic country.)
Enter India. Bureaucracy in India (BI) is from a different planet and any attempt to compare BI to plain, earthly bureaucracies as we mere mortals know them is laughable. India has made an elaborate art form out of red tape, labyrinthine forms and stacks of hard-to-understand explanations as to how the labyrinthine forms have to be filled (one tiny error in sub-sub-subfield IV.4-a(iii-1) and you're screwed: please go back to square one). It's all there to feed the great, the insatiable IBM: the Indian Bureaucratic Machinery.
Forms (triplicate, if at all possible) are everywhere and are needed for everything even remotely to do with officialdom. You want to buy a train ticket, sir? No problem, please fill in this form (see https://www.amitbhawani.com/blog/how-to-fill-indian-railways-reservation-form/ for the details). Changing money? Yes, we certainly have a form (or two) for that. Hotel room? One form for the hotel, another for the police and perhaps a third or even fourth one for the local government or God knows who. And so it goes.
When we first visited India in 2003/4, this unmitigated reliance on forms to fill and boxes to tick, the merciless application of procedure (however eye-wateringly pointless), the sheer, inescapable weight of the IBM you knew to be purring away all over the country 24/7 — all that didn't exactly endear the place to us. However, we learned, over time, that to travel through India (and have fun while doing so), is not too hard. Some Zen, a good dollop of sense of humour, a little patience, and, in case all else fails, mumbling a prayer all go a long way to keep one's sanity. And second time round, we really enjoyed it, life in the slightly Kafkaesque world of the IBM.
Anyway, fast-forward a bit. After a few years you've naturally forgotten almost everything about Indian bureaucracy. But when we started to prepare our 2013 trip, of course we needed to apply for our Indian visas (Cambodia has e-Visas but India, though supposedly being on the forefront of the IT revolution, has not). We went to the website of the India Visa Application Centre (which “is officially authorised by the High Commission of India, London to accept applications for all categories of visa except Emergency cases or Diplomatic/Official visas and to return processed passports back to the applicants”) and… oh dear, it all came back very quickly. The process of applying for a visa is so complex that an impressive part of the website is devoted to dealing with the forms, documentation and credentials required (even finding out which forms you need to fill and which you don't is an adventure). The photos required have to be exactly two by two inch, with the eyes and the chin at defined distances from the edge (alas, the image that details this requirement is not especially enlightening).
They want to know exactly where you want to go, everything about your earlier Indian travels (if any) and the previous Indian visa details, where you have travelled during the last ten years, names and birthplaces of mother and father, and all other sorts of things. You need two “references”, one in India and one from your home country. (To be fair, for the Indian one they seem to be willing to accept the details of a hotel — but it's clear that this is one of the possible stumbling stones if they don't want to give you a visa.)
So we read and re-read and triple-checked the explanations, nervously filled in the various forms (online), printed them, painstakingly prepared the two-by-two-inch photos, sent a prayer to heaven and, early one December morning, went to the Visa Centre in London.
This was very Indian, with at least four virtual queues with four separate sets of numbers to be called forward: some started with 00, others with 20 (we were 2057), still others were in the 6000s. The seats were hard, the room overheated and there was a constant toing and froing of applicants, staff and other figures — all in all a bit higgledy-piggledy, a genuine bit of India in the midst of staid London. After two hours (only) we were at the head of our own virtual queue, number 2057 was called in that lovely, inimitable Indian accent, and in no time at all we were separated from a) the heap of forms, documentation and photos (two by two inch) plus two Registered Mail SAEs; b) our passports (we really, really don't like giving our passports away but what can you do!?) and c) £85.
And indeed, four days later, we received our two Registered Mail envelopes — with the passports inside. And in the passports, there were two shiny new Indian visas, each complete with a tiny colour photograph of the bearer! So the Cambodians may boast e-Visas but the Indian ones have photos… though sadly not two by two inch;-).
$updated from: Blog.htxt Mon 03 May 2021 16:08:30 trvl2 (By Vero and Thomas Lauer)$