Having decided to take our first trip to India, it was necessary to obtain our visas. Although it is possible to apply by post, several friends advised us it was best to attend in person at the embassy in Birmingham. Following this "good advice," we planned an early start to arrive at the embassy, in the heart of Birmingham’s jewellery centre, by 8:30am. This was a good half an hour before opening time, so we assumed we would achieve a good position in any queue.
We encountered significant delays en route and then missed turnoffs as we weaved our way through the maze of streets in the approach to Augusta Street. Parking was a nightmare, and on our second turn around, we fell lucky, as a car vacated a meter spot just ahead of us. We scurried from the car to the embassy - a drab, unimpressive building – and were greeted with a sign indicating that only the first 200 applications would be accepted on any one day. This limit was subject to the vagaries of the consulate staff and may change without notification. We were, however, optimistic as we climbed the staircase to the first floor, as it was only 9:30am and we could not envisage that there were more than 200 people at this hour. Wrong!
The reception room was crammed with applicants, and we were just grateful when issued with a ticket (numbered 427). We found two chairs tucked in the corner of this cavernous room and settled to wait. We’d put 3 hours on the meter and had been convinced that this was plenty of time. However, conversations with near neighbours would soon question that judgement. One woman was a regular visitor to the consulate, and she was about to regale us with non-reassuring statements about the efficiency of the visa-issuing operation. She started by telling us that we would need to wait (if we missed the call of our number, then our place would be lost for that day), and if we were lucky, our application would be taken by lunchtime. However, the visa would not be issued until late afternoon, and she "knew of people" who had returned to collect their visa stamped passports, only to be told that they would not be ready until the following day. This sounded like the beginnings of a long, hard day, and our worst fears were realised when we noticed the speed that the numbers were being processed. It took until 12:30pm for our application to be accepted, with a collection time of 4:30pm.
Returning earlier than our appointed time, a large queue had already formed outside the locked consulate. Thankfully it was a pleasant day, and when we finally entered at 3pm, we were reassured that the visas were issued speedily. By 3:30pm, both of ours were ready and 5 minutes later we were heading back home.
What a long day – longer than the flight time to our chosen destination of Kerela!