Onward Visa

Lahore Traffic
December 13, 2010

I had brought excessive quantities of everything that could possibly be necessary to apply for a visa to India:

When I arrived at the Indian High Comission in Islamabad a woman working at the visa office directed me to stand outside the building alongside a group of other men. After half an hour of nothing happening I noticed that I was the only one holding an application form. A few of the people waiting outside were clutching receipts. I realized that they must have already submitted their applications on some previous date and that this was the "line" to pick passports up.

Mall Road, Lahore
I again asked the woman who had initially directed me to wait in the wrong place. She ushered me inside and waved her hand toward a line leading up to a service window. There didn't appear to be too many others ahead of me: maybe 10 people. But after falling in line, I quickly calculated that, with each person taking between 5 and 20 minutes, I wouldn't make it to the front for a fair while. Over the time I stood in line I managed to finish Death in Venice, the last story in a book I had been reading since Urumqi.

Glancing around the lobby, I at first found it amusing that there were hundreds of 25-kg sacks of flour stacked along the walls of the waiting area. Coming up to a window to talk with an officer meant standing between parallel towers of flour. Then, I realized that the bags likely weren't stacked throughout the embassy on account of the disorganization common across the sub-continent. They were likely placed where they were to insulate against an attack or explosion.

My turn came. I slipped my application through the narrow space at the bottom of the window to the officer on the other side. He examined it for several minutes before telling me in a roundabout way that I would not be getting a visa to India:

"Can you wait two to three months?", he asked.

"No," I said.

"I advise you to apply in your home country. That is how long the background check will take."

"Is there anything that can be done?", I said.

"No," he said.

"Perhaps is there some other place? Or some other way I can apply for a visa from within Pakistan?"


So, I left the Indian High Commission. What other options did I have to continue my journey overland on from Pakistan? India was evidently not a possibility. I had just come from China. It didn't feel like a good time to be passing through Afghanistan. But... I had been hoping to include a tour through Iran on this trip.

Karakorum Sunset
I walked two minutes down the road and found the Iranian Embassy. It was standing literally just across the street from the Indian High Commission.

A sign pronounced consular hours as being between 9:00 and 12:00. It was 12:30. I rapped on the sheet of metal covering a service window, anyway. Somebody on the other side swung it open and thrust out two copies of a visa application. This seemed promising. Before he could shutter the window again, I asked if there was anybody I could refer visa questions to. Another man who could speak English well popped up on the other side of the window a minute later.

Unexpectedly, getting a visa for Iran seems like much less of a hassle than getting one for India. Applying for an Iranian visa won't be perfectly straightforward, either: I have to pay 5,750 Pakistan rupees ($67 USD) up-front. The fee is non-refundable even if they don't issue me a visa. After I apply, the Iranian Embassy will then contact authorities in Tehran who are the ones who will make the actual decision. That will take 15 days.

I think I'm going to take the gamble and submit my application, tomorrow. I may be out the fee and waste a couple weeks waiting for the decision. But, I am hoping that as I've traveled throughout Iran once before they'll actually issue me a visa. I hope.

Maybe what I ought to do is drop my restriction that this journey be entirely overland from Vietnam to Europe. It would be so much easier to continue along this trip by hopping on some flight to a country where I don't need a visa. But... somehow abiding by certain constraints makes for more interesting travels.