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Bad Proofreading Costs Me $40

Sent in my ten year Indian visa application last week. I was peeved because last year Travisa, the Indian visa processing company, allowed payment online by credit card. This year it was money order only. Horrors! I had to actually go to my bank, which is only across the street from where I work but still a pain in the butt compared to doing it all online. To add insult to injury, the bank charges a $5 money order fee, which I will gladly pay to avoid going to the post office.

Returning to pounding things out on stone tablets seems like going in the wrong direction, but I am absolutely positive they must have several well-thought-out and logical reasons for doing so. Because bureaucracies are always not only logical but extremely efficient.

Sent it off, having proofread it carefully, I thought. Got an email back two days later saying I had made a mistake on it and that I needed to submit a new application within ten days, complete with a new processing fee. It was only another $13 Travisa service fee they required, not an additional $153 consular fee.

I was feeling pleased with myself that I had the foresight to scan the passport page last year with my photo & passport number on it and leave a copy in several places where I could easily find it. Because they have my passport right now, and I have to put my passport number on the form before I send the new one back. Two minutes later my smugness was replaced by nausea as I realized that the form also requires the number of the Indian visa that was granted to me last year, which I had no way of knowing I would ever need.

I stupidly didn’t make a copy of the application package before I sent it off. Fortunately, I was able to download a copy from the online application site because I had kept a copy of the application number. Hint: keep a copy of everything you send out for visa processing, and especially keep the online application number.

After printing out the application, I found not one, but two mistakes. Couldn’t correct the old application, had to start from scratch and do a new one, leaving more possibilities of error making. I proofread it until my eyes were bleeding.

By the time I got through, my bad proofreading had cost me $40: $13 for the new processing fee, $5 for the money order and $22 for the Fedex. That’ll teach me to be more careful next time, if not more anal retentive.

After several nail-biting days of not seeing any updates, which you can track online, I emailed for the status. Got an answer back in about an hour: the processing was proceeding. As of right now, my passport with its shiny new Indian visa is being Fedexed back to me.

It’ll be nice not to have to deal with it again for another ten years.

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It’s Not As Easy As It Looks

Out of curiosity I’ve looked up flights between Shimla and Delhi, and from Delhi to Udaipur. There are flights from Shimla to Delhi, but only three days a week. They don’t coincide well with flights from Delhi to Udaipur. Sometimes the layover is 21 hours! Can you imagine it taking two days to get from New York to San Francisco in 2012?

In addition, some of the domestic Indian airlines have reputations for not being so reliable. This is India. It’s not going to be easy.

I’ve also looked at the train schedules. It seems crazy that taking the train would be faster, but it looks like it is. Checking all the ins and outs and connections is not my idea of fun.

Prem may have some ideas on how to get me to Delhi, but he’s a driver, not a travel agent. I may just spend some time with a travel agent in Shimla  who’ll know the best way to get me all the way to Udaipur.

Namaste India Tours: Simply the Best!

I’ve just returned from the 28-day tour of Rajasthan which I booked through Namaste India Tours. Without exaggeration, this was the best vacation of my life!

I was a bit concerned a week before I left because I had sent two reconfirmation emails that hadn’t been answered. I left with some ideas of what I should do in case there had been a mixup and my driver wasn’t at the airport at the appointed time, but he was there so I never had to put Plan B in action.

The driver’s English was very poor, and his understanding of mine seemed to be worse. He had trouble finding the car in the airport parking lot. It took him about 20 minutes. This didn’t instill any confidence. Lastly, he had a personality like a wet dishrag. I didn’t enjoy the thought of spending 28 days with this guy.

Jawahar, the owner of NIT, called on the driver’s cell phone on the way to the hotel and asked to talk to me. I asked about the two emails that hadn’t been answered. He said he had been out of town for several weeks visiting family. Apparently he has no one that answers emails in his absence, but he does have a business partner who answered my previous ones. Regardless, I told him it had made me very nervous to be arriving alone so late at night without a reconfirmation that my driver would be there. He understood.

The next morning Jawahar called me at the hotel. I mentioned the driver’s poor English skills. Jawahar advised that this driver was for Delhi only and that my assigned driver for the rest of the trip was a professional guide who had been delayed due to a problem at his home. I again expressed concern about the driver’s poor English. Jawahar said no problem, I’ll get you someone else for today. Since Jawahar was so quick to get me a new driver, I didn’t think it necessary to mention that the first one couldn’t find the car and I didn’t care for his timid personality.

The second driver was delightful. His English was much better, and he was animated and fun. I only had one day with him.

My assigned driver for the rest of the tour was fantastic! Prem was an excellent traveling companion, a good driver and a great guide. He was fun, entertaining and I really enjoyed his company. He was so helpful in every way. He made suggestions based on his observations of what I liked and didn’t care for that really improved the trip. And he also came up with a few ideas for things that hadn’t been on the original itinerary that were some of the highlights of my trip. If you decide to book with Namaste India Tours, you can’t go wrong if you ask for Prem Baliyani as your driver/guide. He is simply the best.

Only one issue came up during the entire trip. The hotel that we checked into at Jaipur had a series of things happen that I didn’t like that when taken separately might not have been a big deal, but there were so many of them that I didn’t want to stay there. Here’s what happened.

There was no toilet paper or towel in the room. I had to ask for them. The toilet paper was brought a few minutes later. I had to again ask for a towel.

The hotel restaurant was less than impressive. For a closed restaurant, there were far too many flies. That sort of thing makes me wonder what the food handling practices are.  I usually don’t dwell on things like that, because it doesn’t do any good. But there were really too many flies.

I made a point of asking the waiter if the dish I ordered was not spicy. He said it wasn’t.  I specified that I wanted it mild. I ordered mutton biryani.

While we were waiting for lunch to arrive, Prem asked the guy at the cash register about the elephant festival. You know, the annual Jaipur Elephant Festival that’s plastered all over the internet and has posters plastered all over town. The one that brings hundreds of tourists to town each year. He said it had happened in the morning and that it was over already. He made no effort to ask anyone else at the hotel to confirm the information.

I told Prem that firstly, I thought the guy didn’t know anything and didn’t care to find out, and that bothered me. Secondly, we could go reconfirm the information on the internet. I didn’t like the guy’s attitude. Prem didn’t, either.

My food arrived after quite a delay, but Prem’s wasn’t served until long after mine had gone cold. I wasn’t going to eat until Prem had his food, too. My order was so spicy that I couldn’t eat it, and the mutton was mostly bones and gristle, hardly any meat. Essentially, the only thing I could eat was the nan. Bread and water for lunch, yum.

We then went to the reception desk where the hotel owner didn’t know anything at all about any elephant festival. He’s just the hotel owner who should be able to assist the tourists his facility is there to serve. And he knows nothing about an internationally famous cultural event that’s taking place in his own city.  And he, too, couldn’t be bothered to try and find out any information.

The hotel had no internet, so we were obliged to leave to go find an internet cafe.

I was pretty annoyed by now but willing to stay for just one night of the scheduled four nights in Jaipur.  Prem didn’t like the hotel staff’s responses, either. One phone call to Jawahar solved everything. Jawar said return to the hotel at once, check out immediately, and I’ll find you another hotel. We ended up staying at an old family-run guest house for four days that I really liked.

The rest of the tour was really great. My expectations for this trip were already high, but NIT exceeded them.

Without hesitation, I strongly recommend Namaste India Tours. Jawahar is very sincere, and he really does care about customer service. I believe he took my concerns about the email reconfirmations to heart and will try to improve on that. He did everything he said he would do, and more. I found him to be a very kind and honest person and would not hesitate to book another tour with NIT in the future.

Details and photos on the trip will be posted once I get over my jet lag and have a chance to sort through the photos and trip notes.

Itinerary Highlights

Namaste India Tours offers a standard 16-day Rajasthan tour package.  My trip is based on their itinerary. I simply added more time (I’ll be touring for 26 days, not 16) and a few items of particular interest to me. Here’s some of what’s on the agenda. There are temples, forts, palaces and museums at each site, so I didn’t list them all:

Day 1-3:  Arrive in New Delhi. Spend the first few days exploring Delhi. Delhi highlights include Qutb Minar, Laxmi Naryam Temple and the Red Fort.

Bikaner Camel Farm: photo by Dieser Benutzer.

Day 5-6:  Arrive in Bikaner. Tour the city, visit camel breeding farm, Junagarh Fort, Lalgarh Palace and Museum.

Mata Karni Rat Temple: photo by Shakti

Visit Mata Karni Devi Temple (rat temple). (They look like mice to me.)

Jaisalmer: photo by Valentina Pierantonio

Day 7-9:  Explore Jaisalmer.

Day 10-11:  Explore Jodphur, the Blue City. Shopping reputed to be excellent here, with much lower prices than Delhi. Side trip to Salawas, a weaving village known for making dhurries (small rugs).

City Palace, Udaipur: photo by Geri from Biel/Bienne, Schweiz

Day 14:  Udaipur, the Venice of India.

Indian Elephant at Jaipur: photo by Faraz Usmani.

Day 17-21 Jaipur. Here’s where the Elephant Festival will happen. Seriously, if I see anything like the above, I’ll wet myself!  Holi Festival is the day after the Elephant Festival.

Hawa Mahal Palace, Jaipur. Photo from Wikimedia.

Lots to see in Jaipur, also known as The Pink City. Side trip to Sanganer to see how textiles are block printed by hand.

Taj Mahal:  photo by Yann.

Day 23-24 Agra. Visit Taj Mahal and various forts and temples.