It had been a few weeks since we had enjoyed a run-in with some Indian bureaucracy, so after our high-speed lake hopping day and a half on Inle, it was time for another clash. This was round 3 and we were already 2-nil behind.
Soe had a man on the inside of the Indian Consulate General in Mandalay. Our last chance to get a visa for India was here. 5 days after that, we would be chucked out of Myanmar into India (visa or not). Assuming this was not enough pressure, our man on the inside explained we must get to the Consulate General’s office before 12:30 to apply for the visa. Mandalay was situated 250km away to the north east. Estimated travel time was 6 hours. We awoke at 04:45 and left at first light. We left just as heavy rain began to fall.
It was pretty treacherous going over the initial hills and by the time we stopped for breakfast, we were soaked through. But this was early days and the rain had stopped. The next 5 hours were a desperate charge to get to Mandalay in time. Often we would shoot past the van to let them know we could go faster, even if we weren’t sure if they could. This worked to our advantage giving us time for a bladder stop as they passed us again. Nickiy kept an eye on our ETA which regularly spurred us on. Through dusty towns and closed carriageways we emerged, black with truck shit at the Consulate General’s office at 12:15. This 15 minute leeway gave us just enough time to wipe our faces. It also gave the little reception witch ample time to check our application forms. Then she motioned for us to enter his grand domain through an ornate wooden door. This was it, Visa Nirvana!
We were gestured onto a sofa and the CG began his pointless interview about our visit to India. We had a whole load of “not fake, not real” documents to support our ingress, lodgings and egress for the country. He asked if our flight out of India was confirmed. Can I get an unconfirmed e-ticket please? Of course it was confirmed; you spend money, you buy the ticket! He went on, only the Consulate in Yangon is allowed to give 6 month visas. He is only allowed to give 3 months. So he slashed his pen through 6 and wrote 3. And did we need multiple entry? We were hoping to visit Nepal on the way through, we said. So double entry is sufficient, he replied. And redacted Multiple and wrote Double. Come back on Friday, it only takes a few seconds to print the visa, he said.
As if these modifications weren’t insulting enough, the same price was still payable in US dollars. The same reception witch carefully examined EVERY dollar bill we gave her. And rejected some too. We left, unsure of what time on Friday we could collect our visas. The pickup time was critical as we still had to get to Bagan by Friday night.
This gave the team plenty of scope to beat the living tourist out of us and we saw some amazing sights in Mandalay. We zapped from monastery to temple to another gigantic Shan buffet. If you ever need to get a stone statue of your favourite Japanese forest spirit created, or perhaps a life-sized bronze figure of you riding on an elephant for your back garden, then we have found the place for all your needs. Mandalay has sections of the city devoted specifically to metalworking, wood carving and marble carving. It all happens in the street for everyone to see. Then of course there was the world’s longest teak bridge, the world’s largest brick pile and the world’s biggest book. Topped off with Mandalay hill (‘coz the city isn’t really called Mandalay is it, that was just another British oversight).
Oh and did I mention the crab ice cream?