Leh, the capital of Ladakh and the epicentre of tourism in the area, is a nice place to stay for a couple of days while getting acclimatized and organizing your trek, with all the trappings of a cosy backpacker bubble (German bakeries! Hello to the Queen!), a handful of good bookshops and a number of day trips that can easily be done with public transport. Continue reading
Wherever the Brits went on their colonizing spree, they left behind a frustrating bureaucratic apparatus, an undying love for cricket (the rules of which still elude me) and a country-wide railway system.
Sri Lanka’s railway is one such relic, the shabby but good-natured cousin of India’s impressive train network. With rattling old carriages and stunning views, getting around Sri Lanka by train is a highlight for any train enthusiast or hopeless romantic.
The trains are slow, often delayed and invariably overcrowded (unless you splurge for a 1st class ticket), but that is more than made up for by the photogenic landscapes, delicious snacking opportunities and ridiculously cheap prices.
Case in point: the 100-kilometre trip from Colombo to Kandy on the hill country line takes three hours, with a second-class ticket (without a reserved seat) costing a measly 190 LKR (1,20 EUR).
While buses might be a tad faster the trains are undeniably the more characterful and comfortable way of travel (if you can get a seat, that is).
The Sri Lankan railways network consists of three main lines:
THE HILL COUNTRY LINE, which services the hill country and connects it with Colombo,
THE COAST LINE, running along the west and south coast from Puttalam to Matara, and
THE NORTHERN LINE, which now once again runs from Colombo to Jaffna. Trains between the capital and the war-torn northern regions only resumed in October 2014 with the inauguration of the train station in Jaffna – the northern railway network was destroyed 24 years ago during the civil war, effectively cutting the Tamil north from the administrative centres of the south.
For any questions about the logistics of train travel in Sri Lanka the railway guru on seat 61 has your back.
Times and prices can be checked on the official website.
My advice? Charge your camera, pack a good book and travel hungry so that you can sample all the delicious snacks, fruit and drinks that the vendors sell up and down the train!
So you’ve decided to go to India! The food is mind-blowing, the big cities nerve-wracking, the transport always eventful and never on time. It is a land of extremes, both good and bad – but before you can dive head-first into this mind-bendingly gorgeous mess you have to face one of the more frustrating aspects of India – its vast and stubbornly inefficient bureaucracy.
Since the introduction of the online visa application form (which you then have to print out and submit in paper, aaargh!) things have become more complicated than ever. The form goes into minute detail, including “visible identification marks”, religion, job and education, the names and birth places of your parents and the countries you have been to in the past 10 years. Not all correct answers are necessarily the right ones and your form might be rejected by the guard before you even get to submit it in person.
A very helpful step-by-step guide to filling out the form can be found here.
I’d suggest reading it thoroughly before you start filling out the form, because the form expires if you take too long on one page, which means you have to start from scratch again (at which point I would not blame you for wanting to go over to the visa agency and hit someone over the head with your computer).
At first glance it might seem incredible that all the stoners in Goa ever manage to even get an Indian visa. But, as with most things, it looks more complicated than it actually is.
The rest of this post deals specifically with the practicalities of applying for an Indian visa in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
What you need:
TIME – The visa application takes 7 working days to process, but you don’t have to leave your passport there during that time. Also keep in mind that the visa is valid from the date of issue, not the date of entry into India.
MONEY – in cash, and in Sri Lankan Rupees. You can check the fees here – my condolences to the Brits and the Russians.
PAPERWORK – sooo much paperwork…
The official requirements for Non-Sri Lankan nationals:
- An online application form (filled out online and printed out)
- A FAX reference form (printed out and filled out by hand, just because)
- Three recent photographs (no, your passport photos won’t do – the dimensions have to be 2inch x 2inch, with a white background)
- Photocopy of your passport (Bio page and the Sri Lankan visa)
- Travel and tour itinerary
- Copy of your hotel booking
Ok, now, chill out. Before you go on a hostelworld booking spree and cement you itinerary in stone read the rest of this blog and then head down to the Kandy train station (and grab a couple of rotis on the way… this might take a while).
Submitting the Application
First of all, don’t even bother with the online application – odds are, you’ll get it wrong anyways. No need to print out the FAX form either.
Take your passport, money (or credit card – there is an ATM near the IVS office), and the details of any hotel you might have already booked in India (if you haven’t, don’t worry). I’d also suggest taking a black-ink pen, since the FAX form has to be filled in black ink and there are no black pens to be found around the IVS office. No, blue ink won’t do. Black! Because it says so on the form! And because the guard checking your paperwork before submission has decided to exercise his one iota of power and authority over you and your blue-ink pen.
With all your documents in tow you can now either get a tuk-tuk down to the IVS office, or just walk to the railway station and flag down a bus going down William Gopallawa Mawatha (the IVS office is on No. 675) – check with the driver that they stop at “Royal Mall” station. The bus fare is somewhere between 10 – 15 Rs. and the ride takes about 15 minutes.
Get off at Royal Mall and ask around for the IVS Lanka office – its on the second floor of a pretty nondescript building.
First it’s time to get your paperwork in order. Luckily there are a couple of kiosks just down the road from the office, staffed with people whose job it is to fill out the online application forms in a way that will be deemed satisfactory by the impenetrable standards of Indian bureaucracy. Take a seat, hand over your passport and leave it to the pros.
For the “Travel Itinerary” section just mention the places you might be going to – “um, so, Kerala and Tamil Nadu I guess, and then kind of heading north?” worked just fine for me.
If you don’t have a hotel booking they will just put the address of a random hotel in the “address in India” section – you don’t have to submit proof of a booking.
If you are a student or currently unemployed just make something up for the form – if you put down “student” you will have to provide your father’s job and address.
There you can also have your photo taken and copy the relevant pages of your passport.
The filled and printed application form, 3 photos and 2 photocopies only cost around 4 Euro and will save you a lot of hassle.
Once you make your way to the IVS Lanka office you can buy the FAX form for 10Rs. Your paperwork will then be checked by a perpetually cranky guard and with some luck he will find it worthy of submission. Once at the counter you hand over your money and get a receipt with the date on which you can pick up your visa.
You are done for the day! To get back to Kandy just flag down any bus going in the right direction.
Picking up the visa
You have to submit your passport between 8:30 and 12:00.
If the weather is nice and you’re getting sick of Kandy you could spend the afternoon in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya, about 2 kilometres from the IVS Lanka office. It’s less of a botanical garden and more of a big park and a nice place for a picnic and a stroll, though the prices for foreigners are pretty steep.
You have to pick up your passport between 16:00 and 17:00.
Congrads, you are now the proud owner of an Indian visa! I hope this post was helpful in negotiating the Visa Application obstacle course.
Any questions or tips of your own? Comment below!