When I began writing this post it was December 2018. I am dedicating this post to my dad. This is to his spirit of going for it, his smile, wit and sense of humour. Looking back, I am so glad that I fought to stay back for a few more days with him and my family. I cannot believe that he is no more but his memories are so precious and are enough to keep me going.
I guess I am going to Kathmandu
The year is just about to end but before we turn the leaf, I want to tell you something which has all the elements of a blockbuster film. It is epic and adventurous, exciting, thrilling and nail biting. It is something that has accentuated my belief that life takes you in its own course and that has made me live the wonderful lines from Richard Bach’s classic book Jonathan Livingston Seagull. “There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts.” I want to tell you about my reliving Chandler’s (from FRIENDS) line ‘I guess I am going to Yemen’ moment. I landed up in Kathmandu recently and this post is all about it and I call it ‘I guess I am going to Kathmandu’.
I wanted to spend time with my dad and I was all excited to be in India for my brother’s engagement in December. It was the first time that I travelled with my three kids. It was an evening flight, we got the bassinet seat and my little one went to sleep straight away right on the take off. The flight had landed before time on the 14th of December. So far, smooth as a baby’s skin. We paced up towards the immigration. The older two, were on the escalator competing with each other. I was pushing the stroller laden with bags and jackets and everything one could possibly thought of hanging. The immigration line was long but an official came and asked us to join another line because I had children with me and it could be easily accessible. I jumped up with the prospect. Head held high, I looked at everybody else, giving them a mental ‘see ya later’ look. However, slowly I realised that it was a mistake. The line froze in eternity and by then my little one was no longer cute. He was screaming, middle one said ‘she was bored’ and the eldest one said that he was starving. At that point, I realised the importance of human resource. I asked my kids to stand in two different lines and I stood in that slow moving one with the age old belief of ‘just in case’. Anyways, the plan worked and very soon we were one step closer to board our domestic flight. We had OCI cards (Overseas Citizens of India), it is a lifelong visa for us. But our little one had e Visa and because of that another queue was on the cards.
E visa queue was fine but there was only one person checking it for around 25 people. It was tea break apparently. A very kind lady asked me to go ahead of her seeing my stroller fall for the second time. I thanked her and raced ahead. I handed over his passport and E visa paperwork to the immigration official. He looked at me and asked ‘so when are you planning to leave?’ I said on the 24th of Dec. He said, ‘but your son’s visa runs out on the 18th of Dec’. I was dumbfounded. I showed him the e visa and said look, it says till Feb 2019′. To that he showed me a page on my passport which said ‘visa expires on 18th Dec’. It was little one’s second entry on e Visa and validity of the 60 days rule from the date of first arrival had just knocked my head. You have to leave on the 18th or get special permission from Foreign office (FRRO) in Mumbai or Guwahati to extend his visa’. Crest fallen! I was completely gobsmacked. Utter disbelief! It wasn’t possible. How? Why? ‘You cannot be serious?’
My eldest one could comprehend and sense the fear and was scared to hear that. I think I was even more scared. Scared was an under statement. I was sobbing, inside though. I told them that it was all going to be fine and let’s grab our luggage for custom clearance. This time I didn’t have the spring on my foot. This time I didn’t have that happy smile on my face that normally comes to me in India. I didn’t want to visit the food court. I was dragging the stroller. I felt the weight of the stroller for the very first time. I called up my brother and explained my ordeal and decided to visit the FRRO in Guwahati. Till that moment, I had no idea that there was a foreign office in Guwahati.
Cut to Guwahati airport. My brother was waiting for us. It was so nice to see him and pass on some of my stress to my little brother. We headed towards the FRRO and came to know that official had gone for lunch and the lady who was sitting there gave me an important piece of information. ‘We do it online now.’ So that was it for us. After reluctantly eating my lunch, we set off for Jorhat.
I opened the car window and a gentle breeze touched my skin messing my hair. May be it sparked something in me, whispering to me that it’s all going to be fine and all I need is a plan. Just for a flicker of a second I went back to what the immigration officer said jokingly. ‘Madam, ya phir kahi bahar ja ke wapis aa jao’ meaning the visa needs an exit and a fresh one to enter. That’s it. I took a deep breath and tried to calm down. It wasn’t easy but when I looked at my kids’ faces who were sleeping blissfully unaware of the situation, I regained my composure (briefly). I called up my husband again, this time to let him know of the visa situation. I let him know the situation and asked him to apply for another e visa for the little one. It was going to be a cross country, cross continent project managing two time zones and emotions.
It was home. Mum’s hug, dad’s smile, cousin’s warmth, aunt’s laughter took away all the stress. Had an amazing dinner and a plethora of conversations around. I told myself that I was going to have fun at my brother’s engagement and will switch off and I did. I postponed my thoughts of anxiety and fear for a day. Brilliant plan it was!
However, when it was time to bid goodbye to the family members at the engagement ceremony, they all wanted me to visit their places. So the obvious question was ‘when are you leaving?’. The words just came out, ‘I have to go to Delhi to sort out little one’s visa and I will be able to tell you better after that’.
The following two days were a mixture of uncertainty with a tinge of hope. My husband managed the e visa and the flight tickets. The plan was to go to Kathmandu, Nepal. We exit India and re enter India the following day with a fresh new e Visa. I felt like the director, actor, writer – all in one. My husband being the overseas producer. When I told my parents about my plan, they were obviously taken aback. The idea of going to a totally different country and that too with a little baby was not welcomed with open arms. But I could also see in their eyes that if anybody could execute something like that, it was me.
There were no flights on the 17th. We had to go on the 18th. When I opened my eyes on the 18th morning, I could hear the sound of rain. ‘Rainfall, no, not today of all the days’, that’s what I felt like. I had so much stress anyways. I didn’t want anymore with any flight cancellation. But luckily the flight took off. I didn’t want to talk about my grand scheme of events before getting successful. On the flight to Delhi from Jorhat, I met one of my childhood friends. I told her that I was going to sort out visa stuff, which is completely true. The only thing I couldn’t tell was my trip to Kathmandu. I am sorry about that. I was relaxed talking about our childhood, our transition from little girls to mums and many more.
I bid goodbye to my friend and headed straight to the immigration for the exit. A huge sigh of relief. First part done. Boarded the flight to Kathmandu. It took 1 hour 10 minutes. It was visa on arrival. Sorted the Nepalese visa and reached our hotel. It was close to midnight and we went to sleep straight away.
I woke up with a feeling of liberation. Wow, I did it! My son and I had a nepalese breakfast and I decided to do some touristy things in Kathmandu. I hired a cab from the hotel itself and the two of us went on a sightseeing trip as our flight back home was in the evening.
I had heard of Pashupatinath temple. That was first on my list and ticked. Next went to Boudhanath (Boudha Stupa). I had an excellent guide in my driver. He took me to Bhudanilkantha, which is an open air temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The next on my list was Thamel. It is the heart of Kathmandu. Its very vibrant and colourful. Shopping and every thing touristy. We loved it. As a token of appreciation, I took my driver for lunch and asked him to order whatever he wanted to eat. I tried a vegetarian thali. It felt like an Assamese thali. The driver dropped me at the hotel to pick up my tiny bag. For the first time in my life, I had travelled light. The hotel got me cab to go to the airport.
The hotel staff, the visa guys, the lady police officer had only one question for me. Why did you come to Nepal, all the way from UK via India just for a day? I said, I came to see my friend Poonam Dhungana’s place. I do know Poonam though. They were not convinced but it was all ok.
I reached New Delhi, got his e visa entered and I was through. Back in India where my cousins were waiting for me. My cousin’s friend picked us from the airport and we went to her place. It was the first time in days that I breathed without panic. She made a fabulous dinner. And to my surprise they got me a cake as it was my birthday. I am so thankful for all the love and blessings in my life.
With birthday messages showering from across the world, I reached Jorhat on the 20th where my other two children were waiting for me with their handmade cards. Life can’t get better than this. All my relatives got me a cake. I had five birthday cakes in total. I sat on my couch and thought, ‘I am so glad I decided to stay back and went to Kathmandu’. This has taught me so many things other than the obvious details of visa.
- If you have a problem, there is a solution
- Never say never
- The list is endless
I am so grateful for all the beautiful people in my life. Here’s to courage, love and human spirit. I am thankful to my dad who had always encouraged me, had 100% belief in me and even when he was in pain, never for once, I had seen him complain. May be that’s the reason, I did it without complaining. I did all of that to spend a few more days with him. I miss him but when I look back at the memories, they make me laugh and cry at the same time. Here’s to my dad’s unbeatable spirit and everlasting smile!