Mumbai was not in our original itinerary; circumstances (by this I mean cheaper airfare) forced us to make a stopover in this city.
We only had 25 hours to experience the home of Bollywood, but I was excited to be back in India. We landed around 2a.m. and were told by the immigration officer that Trevor would have to register with the police the following morning because he was re-entering the country within six months – failure to do so could result in us not being allowed to leave. This is despite the fact that he had a double-entry visa.
My friend, Sagar, picked us up from the airport at this god forsaken hour – we were very grateful.
We woke up the next morning and took our time – the immigration officer had told us that the office was open from 10 to 4p.m. We arrived at the registration office at 1:30 p.m. That’s when the nightmare of dealing with Indian bureaucracy began.
First, we were told that the office closed half an hour ago. Then, after some pleading, we were told that because the immigration officer in New Delhi forgot to stamp Trevor’s first entry to the country, we would have to go back to Delhi and get the stamp. Finally, we were informed that they would send a fax to their New Delhi office and if they received a reply confirming Trevor had indeed arrived in Delhi, the necessary paperwork would be processed. Otherwise we would have to cancel our ticket to Dar-es-Salaam. During this whole process I never understood why it was easier to enter the country than leave it.
At this point, we knew we needed reinforcements. We called my parents, who called Chachi. She suggested that we call my Dad’s cousin who works in the Indian Foreign Service and is currently posted in Delhi. It is because of Sunil Uncle that we were able to make it to Tanzania on time. He hassled the Delhi office to get the fax to the Mumbai office and then hassled the Mumbai office to process our paperwork.
While we were waiting, I met a British girl in the same office, who had lost her passport. As it turned out, without her passport no hotel would let her stay – it is against the law for them to accept a guest who cannot show their passport. Luckily, someone was kind enough to give her a room even though it could’ve cost the staff member his or her job.
This confirmed what I realized earlier on our trek through India: foreigners have to be brave and adventurous to travel through this country. Even though there is beauty in the madness, it can feel overwhelmingly chaotic. Add to this the constant attempt by the locals to overcharge you for services. Many people don’t speak English. And as we found out, if something goes wrong, dealing with the bureaucracy can be a maddening experience.
By the time, we walked out into the fresh air it was past 5p.m. – but not before we were practically forced to make a nice comment in the guest book.
It had been an extremely stressful and frustrating afternoon. We were mentally too exhausted to do any sightseeing, so we got into a cab and headed to Sagar’s office.
The slum we passed en route, was the most interesting we had seen yet. It was settled on what was clearly meant to be a sidewalk and was well-established – each of the supposedly temporary huts had it’s own postal number and satellite dish.
Our evening was lovely – the perfect antidote to our afternoon. I bought some clothes at the mall. We had a fascinating conversation with Sagar and Anupama (his fiancee) over a delicious dinner about the insurance industry. We felt like ourselves again – relaxed and happy.
We drove back to Sagar’s house, picked up our bags and then Sagar and Anupama dropped us off at the airport at 11:30 pm. We got the nicest security officer in line. And just like that we were officially on the next leg of our journey – Kilimanjaro. But not before deciding, never to backtrack into India within six months until Trevor could get his PIO or “Person of Indian Origin” card making visas and registration unnecessary.