A Tourist Visa That Goes a Very Long Way (Incredible India)
As an unemployed person in self-imposed exile, I seek cheap countries where I can stay for an extended period of time without worrying about renewing my visa. Enter India to the rescue! India, where cost of living is low, and a US citizen such as myself can stay for 6 months.
I flew from Dubai to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with high hopes of crossing off a bunch of bucket-list items in the months to come. I had the perfect plan. The timing was right. It was the start of the cool season for the parts of Africa I was about to visit. I mapped out the safest route to see everything I wanted to see in Africa in six months time.
Upon arrival in Addis Ababa, reality set in. My luggage, as well as all the other passengers’ luggage, was lost. The conveyor belt ferried unclaimed baggage from the previous two days’ flights. In all my years of travel, never had my luggage gone missing. I began to panic. This harsh introduction to Africa foreshadowed a month-long series of misfortunes.
But, that is for another post. Suffice it to say that my abbreviated tour of Africa cost four or five times as much money as I had anticipated.
After an attempted coup in Addis led me to flee the country to Kenya, I was compelled to reassess my plans. It was becoming painfully obvious to me that I wouldn’t be able to afford other African countries if Ethiopia — a Third World country — depleted my savings with such ruthless vigor. Safaris and treks (to visit Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti, or to stalk gorillas in Rwanda, for instance) would cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. So, I had to reluctantly go with Plan B. But, I didn’t have a Plan B.
When I initially planned the African leg of my world tour I had, in the back of my mind, the thought that I might move on to India once I reached my final African destination, South Africa. After only getting as far as Ethiopia’s neighbor to the south, Kenya, I reluctantly accepted the fact that I couldn’t afford the unexpectedly exorbitant continent of Africa, and would have to head to South Asia five months early. I submitted my Indian E-Visa application, which was approved within a day, and before I knew it, I was disembarking a plane in Mumbai, weighed down by my backpack and a heavy feeling of disappointment.
I arrived in Mumbai in the middle of the monsoon season. I had traded the comfortable African winter (south of the equator) for nearly 100% humidity and an oppressive heat which was only mitigated by frequent and incessant torrential rains.
But, there are many advantages to being in India. Foremost among them is that the strain on my wallet has been greatly eased. I have found that “economy” hotels in India cost two or three times less than comparable hotels in Ethiopia and Kenya. (I require Wi-Fi, air-conditioning and a private bathroom with a hot shower). Such hotels cost between $8 and $14 per night in India and are usually much less run-down than those I found in Africa.
Given my current financial situation, India is the right place for me to stay while I try to sort out my work situation.
The Indian Tourist Visa is among the most generous one in the world. It permits a U.S. citizen (and I believe citizens of most other countries) to remain for a period of six months and allows multiple entries within a one-year period.
India, the second-most populous country in the world and the eighth largest in area, is also rare in that it has retained its cultural identity in the face of globalism and technological advances. There was a 20-year gap between my two visits to India and my assessment is that it has not changed drastically in those two decades.
True, Western attire is more common nowadays (though saris are still worn by many women), Indians have started to queue instead of shoving their way through the masses as they once did, there are fewer street urchins and beggars than in times past, and gone are the days that throngs of train-surfers clung to the roofs and sides of the railway cars. But, despite this, India remains one of the most exciting places to visit and offers the full spectrum of landscapes from paradise beaches to the Himalayas, and a range of activities from meditation, yoga, hiking and scuba diving to just letting yourself get swept up in a massive crowd in a seemingly spontaneous festival. (It seems there is always a festival going on.)
India is the perfect travel hub for touring Asia, the Middle East, and Africa as you will find reasonable flights to many destinations (especially departing from New Delhi). It is also a popular destination for medical tourists as there are numerous modern medical facilities with talented physicians at a fraction of the cost of health services in the U.S.
I think it’s fair to say that India is also a melting pot (or at least a stir fry), being home to Sikhs, Jains, Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims sharing the overpopulated cities along with a multitude of expats and visitors. (India is especially popular with young Israelis who have just completed their compulsory military service.) While the country offers so much for the foreign visitor, India doesn’t feel like a living museum as most other popular tourist destinations do. India’s culture has been retained because it is ingrained in the Indian DNA, it is not kept alive just to put on a show for tourists — though tourists can’t help but find it all so intriguing.
“Incredible India” is one marketing campaign slogan that is truth in advertising.