28.09.2013 - 30.09.2013 35 °C
Since Saturday we have been in Colombo. We were sad to leave out beach bum life that has been the previous ten days but with a flight in a weeks time we needed to sort out our Indian Visa.
As always the public bus has been easy, if not cramped and hot, and it only took around 3 hours to do the 100 miles or so along the coastal road. We are having to stay 5km outside of the city centre as the accomodation prices in Colombo are super high. We have managed to get a decent room for RS275O, about £13, and metered tuk-tuks to the center only cost been RS250 - RS400 so it has been fine.
We had to wait until Monday for the visa office to open so had Sunday and what was left of Saturday to look around. Its never fun coming back into the land of car horns, traffic and pollution after so long out of the cities and Colombo was the same. We spent our first day just walking around the area our hotel is in, Colombo is split into districts with Col 1 being the centre, we are in Col 4. It is basically one major road into the centre, with sidestreets and a quieter costal road. We are still close to the see at Colombo but it is by no means pretty. We walked around for a bit, making it around half way to the centre. There is nothing really of any interest where we are, just a working community, there are lot of local eateries and shops, as well as the odd shopping centre. We ate in of the many bakeries/restaurants, we ordered a selection of snacks from a counter full of samosas, pies (curried and normal) an the normal array of things we did not know. When we had had enough of the heat and noise we retired back to our hotel and tried to figure out how we go about getting our Indian Visas.
Sunday we decided to make the most of the full day available to us and go to the centre. Known as the fort we had visions of something similar to Galle, only a little less touristy. Next to the centre is an area called Pettah, described in our Lonely Planet guide as a bustling bazaar, and a interesting place to spend a few hours. We must have been in the wrong area. It was Sunday so not everything was open but all we saw was a severely run down area, full of random shops, mainly selling mobile phones. The fort area was no better, there is a section full of high end hotels like the Hilton and there is a Presidential house which you are not allowed to get with half a mile of without being shot. We wandered around trying to find some things that were mentioned in our guide book but with no avail. We were not having a good time. Thankfully we found a small tea shop that was a little haven. It had possiblly the largest selection of tea known to man, Chelsea ordered a ice tea, made with tea grown in Kandy and Liam ordered one of the sweet spice teas he has come to love, Chelsea loved her ice tea that was served in a jam jar style glass with a handle. We could not resist ordering a 'British Pub' steak and Guinness pie, which was random but delicious and we ended it off with a cake. It was expensive for us, but we needed a little lift after walking the streets. Deciding to end our day on a high we went back to our hotel afterwards.
Today has been mixed. We got up early to be at the India visa office for 9am. We first however, had to find a internet cafe so we could print off the application form you need to fill in online before you go to the office. This was easier said than done, at 8am most were still shut, but we managed to find one. The form is a farce, they might as well ask for a full family history, it is by far the most information we have needed to disclose to get a visa. Once we finally arrived at the visa office we did not even get passed the entrance. A guard checked all our documents and told us our passport photos were no good. The background was not white enough (what?) and the need to be 2 inch x 2 inch, not the standard passport size that every other country requests. Another annoyance but this one did not matter too much, when we asked if we applied for the visa today when will we receive it. We got several answers, nine working days, five working days, one week, until Chelsea asked to go inside and speak to someone official and he confirmed it would be next Monday. Our flight is booked for Saturday. That is the end of that then.
It is our own fault, we should not have left it too late but the problem we had is the India visa starts as soon as it is issued, not when you enter the county, so we did not get it immediately because we would have lost a month without even being in the country. We purposefully left it as late as we could, as we thought like with every other visa it takes 3 working days and even if not you can pay for it to be processed quicker. Not India. They do seem to like to do the whole process differently.
Anyway now we had a new problem, our Sri Lankan visa ends Monday. So we hopped in another tuk tuk and went to the Sri Lankan Department of Immigration to see about a visa extension. This was way simpler. We had to go to the 3rd floor, where the receptionist gives you a form to complete, whats more they accept normal size passport photos, with whitish backgrounds. The form was easy the only problem was we did not have a flight out of the county anymore, but we thought it would be OK. We took the form back, and they asked how long we would like to extend it for. We both looked at each other as we had not even thought about it, and Chelsea on the spot said two months. We were then given a number to wait to have a quick discussion with a immigration controller about the extension. We must have waited around ten minutes and we were ushered into a glass room. The controller took our paperwork and passport off us and immediately asked us about the outward flight issue. For some reason Chelsea then became a nervous wreck, stuttering over her words as she spoke and broke out in a cold sweat like she was guilty of something. Liam managed to explain everything to the controller, that we cannot get out Indian visa until Monday so are applying for extension so we don't overstay. He was happy and signed it off.
More waiting. Our number needed to be called out for us to collect our passports and paperwork at one counter, then go pay at another counter. This time we waited around 30 minutes. We had been granted two months and the fee was around Rs7500 each, £35. Once paid we got a receipt, they took our passports back off us, and we waited again this time for them to be stamped and we collected them at the previous counter. All in all we were in an out within a hour, and we now have a visa for Sri Lanka valid until 7th December.
We think that is the end of India, we will have to save that for another trip. We are not disappointed, we have loved Sri Lanka, especially the beaches so we will head back there, the season is just about changing so the weather will be great. There is also the east and north of the island we have not seen so that is an option. First though tomorrow we are heading back to Mirissa our favorite of the beaches we have been to, and we are talking about holding up there for a month, as now we have the time, and live the proper beach bum life.