Monday, January 4, 2016

Travelling in India - The sound of stamps

Happy New Year everyone… I’ve been on a lovely Christmas and New Year’s trip back to Germany and am now sitting on the plane back to Mumbai, currently eating some Swiss chocolate and drinking some red wine in memory of much food and wine consumed over the last few days.

Coming to the airport in Germany this morning, I was reminded how different travelling can be around the world. I’m proudly European and a big supporter of Europe in many, many ways. One of them is being able to travel across borders without having to go through the hassle of showing your passport every couple of kilometers. When I was at University, I used to drive on a Sunday night from Germany, through the Netherlands to Belgium and wasn’t stopped once to show any form of documentation (unless some suspicious policeman decided three students in a jam packed small Lupo were potential drug traffickers which can happen sometimes when you frequent the Dutch German border). And I thought that was completely normal (the driving across borders, not the being checked for drugs).

A few years on and I move to London. Over are the days of being able to drive from country to country, I now have to get on a plane. But even worse than that, I have to show my passport in Germany and again in the UK (Ever wondered why you have to show it twice? Surely once is enough!). Not that I mind showing my passport but what I do mind is standing in endless queues and waiting… I get some of the concerns around safety and controlling borders but I think the true reason for the UK passport controls is to make every British citizen feel at home again on their journey home. Whenever we arrived in Gatwick, Heathrow or City, I would be dreading the immigration queue from the moment I got on the plane. Not saying that Indiadam looked forward to it but I could most definitely see his face light up upon seeing an orderly queue. You could always tell the Brits from the tourists – I would keep sighing every time the queue came to another stop after moving forward 1m and me realizing that had missed yet another train home. The “locals” would happily check BBC news and the Sky Sports app, glad to be back on mobile data and standing in a good British queue.

Move forward another 5 years and here I am in India. Not that they love an orderly queue here but I can tell you what they love: A good stamp! When you come to India, leave India or even travel within India, you will be guaranteed various stamps on a) your boarding pass b) the tag attached to every piece of hand luggage you’re carrying c) your immigration forms and d) your passport. I might have even forgotten a few more stamps. On top of that, everyone loves drawing on your boarding pass to the point you might struggle to see the gate you need to go to – see below a photo of my boarding pass on the way back to Europe. So one thing that truly made me feel like I was back in Mumbai was not the smell, not the noise but the melody of constant stamping of various travel documents around the airport.

Other fun anecdotes from my trip India – Europe:

You know how there is a queue and whether it is orderly or not, there is a rule that you don’t jump a queue. Well… When leaving on Christmas Eve Eve (love that expression – for my German friends and family, this is the evening before proper Christmas, i.e. 23rd), I was standing in the standard queue for immigration, the ones you have everywhere with the poles and removable barriers. Difficult/quite obvious jumping a queue here. Not for the guy about 5 people behind me… slowly but surely he kept moving past someone every time the queue moved (which to be fair wasn’t every often and slow). And then he “overtook” me. If you have ever been on the Autobahn, we don’t like people overtaking us (which is why we all drive so fast) and you don’t mess with ze Germans. I gave him my (according to Indiadam well-practiced) death stare that he first chose to ignore but then had to acknowledge. Next time we move, I move past. And now comes the best part – everyone who before let him go past without a word now starts complaining and he gets passed back… J

Same queue, different queue jumper. After about an hour (!) in the immigration queue, I get to the front. Yay, not far to go until a well deserved drink. Just right in time for some guy to approach the queue from the side, signaling that his flight is very soon and he needs to jump the queue. Fair enough I think, the queue is very long and one can be late to the airport so I give him a little (approving) head wiggle. But I’m wrong, THIS type of queue jumping is not acceptable and everyone behind me erupts into loud complaining to the poor guy. I let him go in front anyway – he can only take a couple of minutes me thinks. Wrong again, he walks up to the counter, gets out his forms and starts filling them out in front of the immigration officer. Based on my empirical studies, Indians have to fill out forms when they leave the countries and foreigners when they arrive in India. After three minutes of filling out the form wrong the first time, I have had enough and walk up to the desk, tell him to at least fill out his forms before jumping the queue and hand over my passport.
The story should continue… she got handed back her passport, had a glass of wine and travelled happily ever after. But it doesn’t. See, I have two valid visas… a business one and an employment one. You’d think two valid visas are good, right. Chose one and let me thorough – I’m clearly here legally. Wrong AGAIN. Two visas need to be checked by at least two supervisors who live in an office far far away…. 1,2,3,4,5,10mins later and still no sight of the immigration lady and my passport (always a worrying feeling abroad). Queue jumper number one can barely hide his joy when he steps up to the counter next to me… Grr

Finally, I get my passport back and hear the sound I’ve been waiting for. BOOM. STAMPED – the soundtrack of travels in India.

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