SJ Mobilità Travel Diaries

August 24, 2020

China, should you or should you not travel?

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 10:38 am

When you think of China, keeping in mind the current political tension and the little news that we hear are mostly being negative as these are just restricted to political news, I was not sure about China and I was completely ignorant about the country and didn’t have any encouraging news either with the limited news that media reports.

When my extended family decided to visit China for their annual international trip, only one question came to my mind, why China? But I didn’t have any say in the choice of the country, so I tagged along reluctantly.

But I was in for a surprise and my admiration and love for the country grew when I visited. I had read about stories of business men/women who, when became successful in their venture, started giving back to the society where they came from, they never forgot their roots even though they shifted to the cities for their business. They helped their own town/village with better housing, employment etc to help their old neighbours to make a better living. The lovely rose garden on the side and middle of the roads, skyscrapers beating one from another with their architecture, amazing hospitality, just made us feel awe of the country. The rich history, beautiful temples are mesmerizing. I also heard every new building that gets built cannot be the same from the exisiting one and it has to beat the current ones in every possible way. Hence people are pushed to their limits to bring the best in their field. I wished we could have spent more time as it was never enough to explore the places and hear more about inspiring stories around and how the country had built by themselves. My respect for the people of China and am glad I visited in person so now I can proudly say, please visit whenever things become better after the Covid. Leave the politics aside for politicians and let us become ambassadors of peace and spread the love and happiness wherever we travel.

About China:

China officially the People’s Republic of China, is a country in East Asia. It is the world’s most populous country, with a population of around 1.4 billion in 2019. Covering approximately 9.6 million square kilometres, it is the world’s third or fourth-largest country by area.

Visa:

In India, you can apply from Mumbai or New Delhi, however it depends on the consular jurisdiction as well. So do follow the jurisdiction.

Mumbai – West & South Region

New Delhi – North & East Region

Below link will help you to download the visa application form (same form applies for both Mumbai and New Delhi consulate), also help you with the fees and checklist

http://in.china-embassy.org/eng/lsfw/qz/

Checklist:

Document checklist are mostly the same for both Delhi and Mumbai except the bank statement requirement. Do find below the documents for reference, however before applying do verify the exact requirements as per the consulate requirement as it varies time to time.

Passport (minimum 6 months validity) and at least 2-3 blank pages for the visa stamp,

Filled application form,

2 colour photograph with white background,

Self-attested letter detailing the purpose of visit, itinerary etc (complete travel details),

NOC letter from employer,

confirmed air ticket,

hotel confirmation,

original bank statement with minimum balance of Rs. 160,000 (per person) in the bank account (not required for New Delhi)

Travel Itinerary:

Beijing:

We were glad that we chose Cathay Pacific Airlines and I was impressed with the service and the quality of food since this was my first experience with Cathay.

After a stopover in Hong Kong, we landed in Beijing and headed to the hotel which is in close proximity to Tian’anmen Square. I also had an amazing small bar cum restaurant close by, which helped me to sneak out in the evening to explore the Non-veg food since my extended family is strictly Hindu vegetarians. They had one of the best pork dishes and I didn’t get tired of eating it every day for dinner while in Beijing. Beijing is best known for roasted duck which I missed as this restaurant didn’t have it and were available at other restaurants during lunch time when we were exploring the city and I couldn’t try with the family due to their food restrictions. Finally I was in for a surprise when the return flight had the same menu and I was relieved that I got to taste and just loved it. So airline made up for me which I missed in Beijing. Thank you Cathay Pacific.

If you are in Beijing, do not miss out the below sightseeings: –

Great Wall of China:

The Great Wall of China is an ancient wall in China. The wall is made of cement, rocks, bricks, and powdered dirt. It was finished in 1878 and it was meant to protect the north of the empire of China from enemy attacks. It is the longest structure humans have ever built.

It’s a good walk in morning and walking through one of the historical place is mind blowing. There are lot of viewpoints and you can just sit and chill out and be proud to have visited this place and admire the manmade wonder. This is pretty long and you can return whenever you feel tired as the stretch is never ending.

When you visit Great Wall of China, do head to the Great Wall section of Mutianyu. Here, you can take a cable car to the top, and hop on a Toboggan (luge) ride to get back down to the bottom. We loved it so much and some of my family members went for a second ride as well. This remained one of the memorable experiences.

Forbidden City:

The Forbidden City  is a palace complex in central Beijing, China. It houses the Palace Museum, and was the former Chinese imperial palace and state residence of the Emperor of China from the Ming dynasty (since the Yongle Emperor) to the end of the Qing dynasty, between 1420 and 1924.

These are architectural wonders and there are no words to explain as you have to be there in person. It’a a huge palace and you can spend almost half a day there going around admiring the beauty and the great work.

Temple of heaven:

The Temple of Heaven is an imperial complex of religious buildings situated in the south eastern part of central Beijing. The complex was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for a good harvest.

So this is one of the must visit place to come and pray for any wish that you might have to seek God for. Do not forget to enjoy the local ice creams from the vendors. I think we spent more time in trying out various ice candies and ice cream than praying here.

Tian’anmen Square

Tiananmen Square or Tian’anmen Square is a city square in the centre of Beijing, China, named after the Tiananmen (‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’) located to its north, separating it from the Forbidden City. The square contains the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. Tiananmen Square is within the top ten largest city squares in the world. It has great cultural significance as it was the site of several important events in Chinese history. Outside China, the square is best known for the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests that ended with a military crackdown, which is also known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre or June Fourth Massacre.

This is a historical place and we ended up being there during one of the anniversaries, so there were lot of security beefed up to ensure there are no protests or anything. We just sat there, remembering People’s heroes, enjoying the views, garden etc. Ideal to visit in the evening as it would be very warm in the afternoon under open sun.

Summer Palace

The Summer Palace is a vast ensemble of lakes, gardens and palaces in Beijing. It was an imperial garden in the Qing dynasty. Mainly dominated by Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, it covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometres, three-quarters of which is water.

It was a place to enjoy the scenery and lake. We were blessed with a nice shower while we were strolling near the lake so had to rush out quickly without getting drenched. 

Beijing Zoo

The Beijing Zoo is a zoological park in Beijing, the capital of the China. Founded in 1906 during the late Qing dynasty, it is the oldest zoo in China and oldest public park in northern China. The zoo is also a center of zoological research that studies and breeds rare animals from various continents.

The popular animal here is giant pandas and that is the crowd puller as well. This is must especially for kids, they would just love it.

Qinglianggu Valley Glass bridge:

This is for adrenaline junkies and it’s fun to walk on the glass bridge along the valley and it’s an another memorable experiences. It does scare you if you look down and you will also have a laughing riot when you watch others getting scared and you are trying to be brave to ensure others don’t laugh at you with all the screams and noises. You can trek both ways but also cable car is available to go on top and to come down. The day we reached return cable was not working so we only used cable one way to go up and had to trek to come down. Even if you are taking the cable both ways, you have a little climb to do, hence be prepared with a good footwear for a walk which is little steep. Since it’s a valley with lots and lots of trees, it’s fun to trek and enroute we had picked up ice creams from the small stalls to give us company. There was a temple once we reached the ground, visited, said a prayer and headed back to the hotel as it was getting dark.

Lama Temple:

The Yonghe Temple also known as the Yonghe Lamasery, or popularly as the Lama Temple, is a temple and monastery of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism located in Dongcheng District, Beijing, China. The building and artwork of the temple is a combination of Han Chinese and Tibetan styles.

This is the place must visit for students as it has an academic significance as there is a statue of the Geluk school founder is there.

Pearl Market (Hongqiao Market)

This is one of the largest shopping complex and each floor has different items for sale, from pearls, accessories, luggage, clothes, tea and many of the things that you might want to buy for. This is the best place to try out your bargaining skills as most of them have to be bargained for a better deal.

You can spend almost a day if you love shopping and most of the things that got picked up were in good quality. Also the sales people (most of them were young and beautiful girls) very friendly and warm and they were very happy to help since we didn’t know Mandarin. Bargaining with them was fun and it was more of a friendly banter and yes, it worked as well.

I had noticed in China, there were hot water dispensers everywhere and hardly I found lukewarm water dispensers. Then I realized most of the locals were flowering tea lovers as every one walked with transparent flask and we could see flower inside, they were filling up with hot water and were sipping constantly. Except in star bucks, hardly saw anyone drinking coffee. No wonder most of them looked healthier and hardly found any obese people. This is a big takeaway for a healthy living and yes, I did go and pick up few flowering teas to try out and it was great.

Flowering tea or blooming tea  consists of a bundle of dried tea leaves wrapped around one or more dried flowers. These are made by binding tea leaves and flowers together into a bulb, then setting them to dry. When steeped, the bundle expands and unfurls in a process that emulates a blooming flower, and the flowers inside emerge as the centerpiece. Typically they are sourced from the Yunnan province of China. Flowers commonly used in flowering teas include globe amaranth, chrysanthemum, jasmine, lily, hibiscus, and osmanthus. Flowering tea may be either a modern creation or a much older Chinese invention. Flowering tea is generally served in containers made of glass or similar transparent materials so that the flowering effect can be seen. The bundles can usually be reused two or three times without the tea becoming bitter.

If you are a coffee lover, do carry your own coffes sachets unless you are ok with star bucks as very few shops sell coffee or coffee sachets, thankfully we found one small grocery store and we picked up the entire coffee sachet carton as most of us were coffee lovers, that helped for the entire stay in China.

Do sample the local delicacies and also if you are a vegetarian, don’t worry, every meal has enough fresh vegetables served along with the main. For an Indian palate, Beijing doesn’t disappoint as their food has little spiciness and that is a comfort. Try out evening stalls which has lots of local delicacies from seafood, to meat and other stuffs. Since I was the only non-vegetarian in the group, when I tried the seafood especially octopus, every one ran away from me as they felt creepy and I had a laugh and enjoyed my food and then I had to give away ordering non-veg food while eating with them so that they don’t feel uncomfortable.

Xi’an:

If Beijing is actual capital for China, Xi’an is a historical capital. We travelled from Beijing to Xian by train. This itself was a different experience, if you get a chance do take the train. We felt we were in the flight as the cleanliness and hygiene was at par. We did have a stewardess who was making sure we had help in case we needed any. As usual you needn’t carry a hot water in case you need it, as hot water dispenser are available everywhere including in the train and there were snacks available on sale. We were so impressed with the hospitality and cleanliness. We just spent a day and that was a biggest mistake, since this place had lot to explore with rich history. don’t ever make a mistake that we did, do spend few days otherwise you won’t do justice to Xi’an.

We had booked a guide in Xian, as that would help us to explore as much as possible since we just had a day and then had to head back to Shanghai in the evening

Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang

The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor is located in Lintong District, Xi’an, Shaanxi province of China. This mausoleum was constructed over 38 years, from 246 to 208 BC, and is situated underneath a 76-meter-tall tomb mound shaped like a truncated pyramid.

During excavation, they found various pits with the status of hundreds and hundreds of terracotta warriors, the work is still in progress and it’s amazing to hear the story, why there were these statues were created in the pit. This is a must visit and it’s historical findings. The place has lot of greenery around and we enjoyed the shower as it as raining the whole day.

Giant Wild Goose Pagoda

Giant Wild Goose Pagoda or Big Wild Goose Pagoda, is a Buddhist pagoda located in southern Xi’an, Shaanxi, China. It was built in 652 during the Tang dynasty and originally had five stories. The structure was rebuilt in 704 during the reign of Empress Wu Zetian and its exterior brick facade was renovated during the Ming dynasty. One of the pagoda’s many functions was to hold sutras and figurines of Gautama Buddha that were brought to China from India by the seventh-century Buddhist monk, scholar, traveller, and translator Xuanzang. Today, the interior walls of the pagoda feature engraved statues of Buddha by the renowned artist Yan Liben

This is another architecture marvel and a place of worship and do say a prayer here.

Then we headed for lunch and we asked the guide to take us to local good Chinese restaurant, she was surprised as we were the only Indians who said we were ok with local cuisine and not insisting for Indian restaurant. So we had to tell her, we came all the way to China to try their cuisine as we have enough time to try our dishes in India. My request to all of the tourists, do try out the local cuisine, I understand some of you would have food restrictions like being vegetarians etc. which gives you limited options and let me reassure you with my personal experience that you will find your kind of food and you might end up finding another delicious dish which you may not get in your country.

Shanghai:

It’a financial capital of China and you would see lots and lots of high-rise building, beating one after another with their design, architecture and innovation.

The Bund:

We stayed close to the bund hence it was nice evening walk to go around the bund. This is the place near Huangpu River, to view the skyscrapers and the best is in the evening with the lightings it looks spectacular. Do try out lots and lots of food stalls near the bund specially momos, local delicacies and it does have other options like star bucks, sub way etc. Later for other attractions we had used hop in hop on buses which takes you almost very major attractions.

Oriental Pearl TV Tower

This is the highest observatory level for the skyline view, we were too lazy to go up and hence just lazed around viewing from the ground before we headed to the next place.

Shanghai tower:

This is the highest building in China and second tallest building and it also has fastest elevator in the world which takes to 119 floor, this is a must visit and inspite of going to such elevation, there is no jerk movement or anything in the lift. It was one smooth ride and before we realize, we reached the 119 floor.

Yu Garden:

Yu Garden or Yuyuan Garden is an extensive Chinese garden located beside the City God Temple in the northeast of the Old City of Shanghai at Huangpu Qu, Shanghai Shi. It abuts the Yuyuan Tourist Mart, the Huxinting Teahouse and the Yu Garden Bazaar.

This is one of the beautiful gardens with lots of lots of flowers, trees, lake, fishes etc. It felt like some movie shoot locations which was done so beautifully and every place was picture perfect.

Nanjing Road:

This is the main shopping street of Shanghai and you can get almost anything. Also there is few old malls which has mostly wholesale items and you couldn’t bargain and not very friendly comparing to Beijing, so we didn’t spend much time.

Also this has lot of other options including items with fixed price which was reasonable and you could spend the entire day to shop until you feel satisfied. There were few friendly independent stalls where we ended up chatting, bargaining and shopped until the family was satisfied.

Shanghai food was a little let down for us as we love spicy food, but other members of the family enjoyed as they have zero tolerance towards spice. It was less spicy among other 2 cities and it was almost bland however had good options like momos and other local delicacies.

The Shanghai Maglev

China has the world’s fastest commercial maglev service. The Shanghai Maglev, with a top operational speed of 431 km/h, has been carrying passengers on a 30 km stretch between Shanghai’s Pudong airport and the city centre since 2003.

The best experience in Shanghai is getting onto this train to reach the airport, you never feel like you are in the fastest train except the speed reading that gets displayed in the screen. It’s a smooth ride and one of the best experiences. We wanted to do more rides but we had to rush for our flights.

The awesome China trip came to an end and we as a family inspite of our differences, had a blast and this trip made the family bond stronger.

Do appreciate the local culture, food, people and do not afraid to give a try on their local cuisine. You will thank me later.

Stay Safe, Stay happy.

 

 

July 24, 2020

Have you been to the Tropical Paradise – Sri Lanka?

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 5:31 pm

My first flight was an international trip to Sri Lanka (SL) and it was a very nervous experience as I was flying for the first time. Even though I was accompanied by the UK diplomat it was a lonely experience as we didn’t know each other. I did visit SL 2-3 times on official trip, however since I travelled alone most of the time, I was too scared to step out, it was just the room service at Cinnamon Grand (CG) where we were staying and my office.

Luckily during one of the trips my team lead had accompanied me, it was such a relief as we explored the seafood restaurant (The Lagoon). Being a seafood lover, I had the best sea food and had an excellent service, other than the cutlerys’ being too heavy.
If you are in CG do go to the Sri Lanka cuisine restaurant (Nuga Gama) in CG. The set up is so beautiful. You don’t feel you are in CG, the set up is done like a typical SL village and the locals were serving the authentic cuisine, it’s an amazing experience.

Since I never got to explore it properly even after 3 visits earlier, a year ago we planned a vacation to SL with two of my friends.

The beauty of SL is that you don’t feel you are entering another country as it’s too close to India and it’s very much similar. There are times immigration officers tell me that I look like a Sri Lankan and then when I hand over the Indian Passport they look surprised. The people are extremely friendly and here again I had to take the help of Santosh to help us arrange and now I trust him blindly after such an amazing Bhutan trip. Since we were just three, he arranged someone locally (Mr. Gayan) to take care of everything. We were lucky to have him and as usual I would credit, such a beautiful experience and memories to Santosh from Exotic Expeditions (EE) for making this trip so beautiful and memorable. His contact details are as below

Santosh Nair – +91 9986450370 – contact@exoticexpeditions.org – www.exoticexpeditions.org

Special thanks to Gayan, our local guide in making sure everything was taken care of and ensuring we had an memorable experience.

About Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is an island country in South Asia, located in the Indian Ocean southwest of the Bay of Bengal and southeast of the Arabian Sea. It is geographically separated from the Indian subcontinent by the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait. Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte is its legislative capital, and Colombo is its largest city and centre of commerce.

Visa:

Apply ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) through the following website –

http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/

Travel Itinerary:

Day 1: We arrived in Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo and Gayan was already waiting for us. After a few hours of drive, we headed to Golden Rock Cave temple, in Dambulla which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Recognized as a sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries, this cave monastery, a vast isolated rock mass with its five caverns is the largest best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. The Buddhist mural paintings (covering an area of 2,100 sq. meters) are of particular importance as are the 157 statues including a 47-foot long statue of the recumbent Buddha. Be prepared for steps which are thin, steep and might be slippery especially when you come down, you need to be extremely careful. Then we headed for a lunch buffet closeby and even though I am not a big fan of vegetarian food, I have to still credit for the fresh vegetables and spinach that were served. It was so fresh and delicious. I just loved the vegetarian fare buffet there which was served in a clay pot, which enhanced the flavor more.

Then we headed to our beautiful home stay, where I felt like I was in Kerala, as it was an independent house with lots of greenery around and had a beautiful garden as well. The homestay, we felt at home and the staff was extremely friendly and hospitable. After dumping the luggage in the room we headed for Minneriya National Park. It was an awesome jeep ride and this place you can spent hours and hours as you would see lot of elephants, elephants and elephants. Also you have a view point with a lake nearby and you won’t know how the time flies. When we returned we stopped at a local dessert shop to pick up some local snack items and then headed back to the homestay, had dinner and rested.

Day 2: After breakfast we headed to Sigriya, a 5th Century “Fortress in the Sky”. Built by King Kassapa the fortress was a Royal Citadel for more than 18 years be prepared for a nice hike and lots of lots of stairs, monkeys etc. Don’t be disappointed if you had to climb all the way and find just a painting of a woman topless. We did hear a foreigner saying, did I come here all the way to see boobies and even that doesn’t look good. Remember this is an old historic painting. Let’s respect that as painting fades as time flies. Then after a short break in between, we had a further climb, which is called Lion’s Paw. The majestic Lion’s Paw picturesquely guards the stairway of the palace on the summit. My friends ditched me here, as they were too tired, hence I had to climb alone and the stairs are well done, and the summit point had a beautiful view.

Enroute we visited the Spice Garden in Matale, we spent few hours learning the benefits of various herbs, did a shopping of herbal products. By then we were too hungry and found some place on the way as spice garden luncheon was shut as it was late and we had to grab a quick leftovers from lunch buffet closeby as they were about to shut as well.

We reached the hotel, had a tea break and then headed to a nearby Buddha temple in the night. It looked so beautiful as the Buddha statue was white in color and with the moon light, we could see even from far. It’s a little on a slope. So we spent an hour there, observing the monks, spent some time in the temple campus and we left.

Day 3: After breakfast we left for Kandy, enroute, we headed to The Kandy Lake built in 1807 and the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, which are some of the key jewels of the town that elevate its magnificence. It’s a huge place and worth visiting. After a good lunch close to the botanical garden, we went to visit the famous Temple of the Tooth which houses the most sacred religious relic, the tooth of the Buddha. This is the place never to be missed and the serenity of the place and all around people praying, is a site you just feel one with God, no matter which ever religion/god that you follow/worship.

Day 4: After breakfast we went for a shopping to pick up Sri Lankan saree and after a quick lunch, we went to to catch the train to Nuwara Eliya, however since it was too crowded we couldn’t succeed in getting in. This was recommended by Santosh as train ride to this place would be the best experience. My suggestion, do pre book the tickets, otherwise it’s tough to get in, it was a situation similar to Mumbai local trains. Then we visted Hanuman temple on the way and Sumathi was trying to get an gift accessory of Ravan, but she couldn’t as she was surprised how the country of Ravan didn’t have one. Then we drove to Nuwara Eliya, we reached late night to a beautiful hill station. It was cold comparing to other places. We stepped out for lunch, however many were shut due to the holiday season, grabbed a quick meal from a shady place and we headed to the hotel.

Day 5: After breakfast, we headed to Mirissa, enroute we had stopped at Sita Temple, passed through beautiful hill town of Ella and Bandarawale. We did stop to buy good tea around. Late evening we reached Mirissa. This was beautiful and got an amazing room with a huge balcony. We had a quick dinner and rested.

Day 6: After breakfast, we went for a whale watching boat trip and it was worth doing that, we did see 2-3 whales and enjoyed the beach a little, then had a little break, found an amazing seafood restaurant and finally I was glad that I found the right place where the tables were placed near the beach and enjoyed a delicious sea food platter. I expected every where there would be sea food then I realized, the sea food is more in Mirissa and other places mostly its fresh vegetables.

Day 7: After breakfast, we went to Weligama Fort and then in the afternoon went for a river safari, we stopped to see how cinnamon barks are prepared for commercial purpose, got some cinnamon oils (apparently it has lot of health benefits) and stopped for a fish spa. That was a funny experience and more embarrassing for me as my friends started to giggle and laugh loudly with funny sounds as it was tigglish. I was trying not look at the guide’s face as they were laughing looking at these two’s expression. After that wonderful experience, we headed back to the room and rested.

Day 8: After breakfast we left for Colombo, enroute stopped at Bentota beach, which is the famous beach and more commercial one, we did visit few churches as it was a Good Friday and then reached the hotel. Once we checked in, we went to Galle beach, enjoyed the night food market (lots and lots of snacks made of sea food etc) near the beach. We had fun and then went back to the hotel and rested.

Day 9: After breakfast we checked out, went to Independence square and then went to the mall close by to do a quick shopping and grabbed our lunch. Judy was insisting to visit a church as it was Holy Saturday, so we stopped a church nearby, said our prayers and left from there. It started raining badly, so we had to rush to the airport to avoid any delay. Finally we reached the airport in the evening amidst a heavy rain. We boarded the flight late night and reached Bangalore early morning of Easter Sunday since Judy wanted to spend the Easter with her parents. So Sur also ensured to reach by Sunday early morning from Paris as he had been there for an official visit. By the time we hit the bed it was 4 AM.

My phone started ringing so early on a Sunday and I was surprised to see my ex colleagues calling me continuously which was unusual, finally I had to take the calls as it was ringing non-stop from friends asking me where I am and whether we were ok. When I informed them we were back from SL early morning they were relieved as they conveyed the message of bomb blast in SL on Easter Sunday. It just broke my heart, thinking how could someone think of destroying the peace of such a peace loving country and took the lives of innocent ones, leaving many of them in sorrow on a Easter Sunday. I was angry at the people who had done this evil act. However my heart went out for those who lost their loved ones and I had to console myself and say a prayer for all the people who lost their loved ones and pray for the departed souls to rest in peace. I just prayed for the country and it’s people to come out of this tragedy and be back to the peace loving people and country as they always have been.

Sri Lanka is home away from home. The people are peace loving and so warm. Even though the trip to SL will feel like you have not stepped out of India, this tropical paradise is quite different in their culture, values and people are warm and peace loving. If you have not visited, do that as soon as the borders are open after the Covid. You will be taken to another paradise. Don’t miss this tropical paradise ever.

Until then Stay Safe…………..

July 17, 2020

Why should you travel to Bhutan, the Happiest and Safest Country in the World?

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 5:25 pm

When the travel bug bit me, the first country that I visited for a vacation was Bhutan. I was in love with Bhutan from the time I read about it and later when I visited and experienced myself, the love was justified. The Royal family, their leaders and it’s people work together as one family to ensure that the country remains the happiest in the world. This is also the only Carbon Negative country in the world due to their various initiatives to save and retain their environment. My admiration grew multifold when I read about the current King (Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck) how he ensures to meet each person from the country during the tea break, to hear their concerns and find a solution to ensure every citizen in their country is taken care of. Bhutan people are lucky to have such a humble King, his family and his team whose only intention is to take care of his people. My love and prayers are with them.

Bhutan people are very warm and hospitable and I have never even heard anyone raising their voice or being hyper. I did have an experience where I was so annoyed when I got an used towel in a hotel but after looking at their smiling face with their apologies I just couldn’t say anything or stay angry with them. I just accepted the apology and returned. Till now I don’t know how did I act so cool at that situation as I knew how annoyed I was. That’s the impact of Bhutan and it just makes you one like them.

I get over paranoid while traveling cause I worry about women safety, this is the country which gave me 100% confidence that you have nothing to worry about. The people behave so responsibly and never take advantage of any situation. They try to help you out of their way. They are not just beautiful outside, they are amazing and beautiful inside too. That’s what sets them apart.

My apologies to the people of Bhutan, this is for the incident where Indian bikers had climbed on a memorial which was a worshipping place for Bhutanese. On behalf of India, my sincere apologies.

My request to every person who travels to this country – people in Bhutan are so warm, full of love and extremely hospitable. Don’t ever take advantage of them and try to hurt in anyway. Be respectful and if you are not sure just ask them, they would be happy to help. But please don’t hurt such beautiful people of Bhutan, instead learn from them to respect, love and welcome everyone with open arms and they ensure everyone has a safe, pleasant and memorable stay in Bhutan.

This would go on and on and I wouldn’t be able to stop writing about them…..So let me put a forceful full stop and discuss other things about Bhutan which I would like to write about.

About Bhutan:

Bhutan, officially known as the Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country in South Asia. Thimphu is its capital and the largest city, while Phuntsholing is its financial center. It’s a land of snow capped mountains, deep, broad valleys with fertile rice paddies and orchards, tiny villages and bustling market towns. Yet the south is covered in jungle and more reminiscent of India than the Himalayas.

Bhutan is a thoroughly exotic country that stimulates all of the senses. Anyone who visits this Himalayan heaven marvels at its untouched natural beauty and unique culture. Bhutan is mainly Buddhist, as is evident from the many dzongs (monasteries), chortens (stupa’s) and prayer flags scattered all across the country. Bhutan opened to modern development only very recently and tourism is permitted only to the extent that it does not endanger the kingdom’s traditional culture and society. Therefore only a few thousand visitors visit the mountain kingdom every year. In Bhutan, “gross national happiness” takes precedence over economic considerations.

I had traveled to Bhutan few years back through Exotic Expeditions (EE). The entire credit goes to Santosh from EE for making this trip so beautiful and memorable. His contact details are as below..

Santosh Nair – +91 9986450370 – contact@exoticexpeditions.org

(www.exoticexpeditions.org)

Visa formalities:

Indian nationals intending to visit Bhutan are required to carry any of the two valid ‘Travel Documents’ (a) Valid Indian Passport having validity of minimum 6 months; and/or (b) Voter Identity Card, issued by the Election Commission of India. No Visa is required to visit Bhutan.

Indians coming to Bhutan by road are required to obtain an ‘Entry Permit’ on the basis of valid Travel Document from the Immigration Office of Royal Government of Bhutan at Phuentsholing, located on the Indo-Bhutan border opposite Jaigaon, West Bengal. Similarly, Indians coming by air must posses any one of the above mentioned Travel Document and get the Entry Permit at the Paro International Airport. The ‘entry permit’ allows an Indian tourist to visit Thimphu and Paro only.

However, any tourist going beyond Thimphu and Paro need to acquire a ‘special area permit’ from the RGoB Immigration Office at Thimphu on any working days (Monday to Friday).

Their application is one of the easiest visa application form and you can fill it up directly at the Immigration office (hardly you would take a minute) and wait for your biometrics taken and your approval permit is granted immediately. I don’t think any other country has such an easier and faster process.

Note: Immigration policies keeps getting changed, hence do check for the recent updates before you travel. For few nationalities it’s recommended to book through licensed operator in Bhutan only and they would take care of your permit as well. Always go through the right person, there is no short cuts for being compliant and ensuring you have a safe travel.

Travel Itinerary

Day 1 : We were a group of 13-15 for this trip. The group from Bangalore had booked an Air India flight before we booked, hence we had to book the same to make it easier for Santosh to pick us all together in Bagdogra. As usual after much delay from AI and we finally arrived in Bagdogra (West Bengal) in the afternoon. Santosh was waiting to receive us in 4 Innovas and we started our journey. From Bagdogra to Jaigaon (Indian side of the border), the roads were bumpy and in poor condition.

After a few hours of drive, we stopped for tea and snacks on the way before we hit the road again to reach Jaigoan. Finally late evening we reached Jaigoan and we could see Bhutan Gate lighted up so beautifully and it just felt like we were receiving a warm welcome. As we entered Phuntsholing, it was quieter and more orderly than Jaigaon which was bustling and loud. We reached the hotel at night and had a quick dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 2: After breakfast, we had to go to the immigration office in Phuntsholing as we needed the permit to go further which was walkable distance from the hotel. We reached, finished the process quickly. The staffs at the Immigration were so supportive and helpful that made the process even quicker. Then we left to explore the town as Santosh had to get permits for the drivers and vehicles which took a little longer.

So we returned and started walking around the street near the hotel. We entered the grocery shops and then we found the peach wine in Bhutan, we just couldn’t stop drinking as it was too good. We went around to visit Zangto Pelri Lhakhang, which is a Bhuddist temple in Phuntsholing. We had checked out of the hotel, loaded the luggage in the cars and started towards Thimphu (Capital of Bhutan) for the next 5 hours drive.

Since the weather was cold, we had to stop in multiple places for the Suja (butter tea) and then we also got to try Ema Datshi (Chilli & Cheese), Lom (turnip leaves), Momos, Chogo (dried yak cheese, more like rock which is an acquired taste) on our journey.

As we were reaching Thimbu, we wanted to stop for a tea break and it was so foggy and we couldn’t find many pitstops, there was just one house which had a light and when we entered there was a lady and her children. They got us some tea and we picked up some snacks from their little shop which was inside their house. I was shocked that the shop was part of their house, tea was made in their own kitchen, the little grocery shop was set up in their living room itself. I was surprised how could they allow strangers in their house late night  and the house was alone and only women. Also we found men who stopped there for a drink, they just had a shot and walked out so gracefully, also few stopped for tea and snacks.

This is what I love about them, the respect, love and how they take care of each other. Then I realized we were in Bhutan and I wouldn’t have experienced such a safe experience anywhere and I know now, and I convincingly can say Bhutan is the safest country in the world.

After such a wow experience we reached Thimbhu and then I find my suitcase was missing as somehow it got left behind in our previous hotel. So I had to rush to the shop to get the toiletries and other emergency items as it was too late, the shops just had 15 minutes to close and even though we couldn’t communicate due to language barrier, we still picked up and the staff were waiting for us to finish the shopping and they didn’t even show that they are in a hurry to shut the shop and they also helped us by getting us things not available in their shop from the neighboring shops and then had to borrow some clothes from Sur (Friend and now my partner). In the meantime Santosh was trying to figure out how did my suitcase went missing and he assured me nothing will go missing in Bhutan. As he said we later got to know that the suitcase was in the same hotel lobby, as all our luggage were together, this suitcase went behind a vase and got hidden, when we were all trying to load in the vehicles we just assumed all the luggage were taken and then later it got arranged to get back in Paro.

Then came to the room and we discover the dirty towel had been folded and kept and I was so annoyed, it happened for two of us and I had to give a piece of mind to the reception as it was late and only they were available and I had to confront them. I went and complained and there were only two teenagers who was there during the night shift. They started apologising with such a warm smile, I don’t remember how my annoyance disappeared and I accepted their apologies and got a fresh towel and returned to the room. So this is the impact that Bhutan has on you, as people in Bhutan are warm and patient and I have never heard anyone raising their voice and it makes you one like them.

Day 3 : After breakfast we explored the sights of Thimphu visiting the Buddha Dordenma – gigantic Buddha statue, which is world’s largest sitting Bhuddha, that overlooks the city. Then we visited Thimphu National Memorial Chorten, Clock tower square, and then headed to Motitang Takin Preserve to see the rare and unique national animal of Bhutan, the Takin. It’s a small place, so don’t except to see so many animals.

Just out of Thimphu, the road begins a steep, twisty climb to the Dochu La pass at 3,450 meters. We stopped on top of Dochu-La pass  for the breathtaking views of the eastern Himalayas, 108 memorial chortens or stupas known as “Druk Wangyal Chortens” which had been built by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, the eldest Queen Mother of the country. The top of the pass is visibly marked by a large Bhutanese chorten and prayer flags, an ideal place for photography and such a beautiful place. The road down from Dochu La into the Punakha Valley and on to Wangdi Phodrang goes on for some distance, descending 1,700 meters to the valley floor. We reached Punakha by late evening after 2.5 hrs drive and the hotel was such a beautiful place. Had a great dinner and got some rest.

Day 4 : After breakfast we visited Chimi Lhakhang, a fertility temple built in 1499 by lama Drukpa Kunley. A short but beautiful walk through the villages and fields takes you to Chimi Lakhang. This city will make you smile, because you would see everywhere the murals of phalluses and the facades are filled with the painting of gigantic phalluses with the spray of sperms which was interesting. You also have accessories with the same which you buy and even the restaurants had a wooden phallus at the entrance where we stopped for lunch, which was overlooking the field. Here again we had lost patience as the food was taking hours and hours to reach the table. Sometimes the main came and the side dish was missing. After 2-3 hours we had to rush out with whatever was given as we were getting late. So I had to go to the kitchen and tell them to hurry up. The only consolation here was beautiful overview of the field.

Later we visited Punakha Dzong, arguably the most beautiful Dzong in Bhutan located between two rivers and surrounded by jacaranda trees is a delight to watch. It just feels amazing to walk on that road and awesome place for picture perfect photographs as well.

Also we took a walk across the largest walking bridge in Bhutan. This suspension bridge is beautiful and set amidst the mountains and the flowing river beneath and we also had our snacks break on the other side of the bridge and returned back. After 4 hrs of drive we reached Paro by evening.

Day 5 : After breakfast we drove to the starting point and prepared for our hike to the legendary Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) – a magnificent monastery. You can hire a horse half way and then you can hike the remaining distance. Since we wanted to hike the whole way, we didn’t take the horse. Sur was hiking along with me and there was a horse which was coming down, I think it just felt of stretching the leg without any provocation and it kicked Sur on the thigh and by the time we realized what just happened horse went down as usual. Sur somehow managed to hike with his painful leg. It was a very relaxed trek and the monastery was so beautiful and had stunning views. Midway we stopped for lunch and we saw quite a few beautiful birds and then returned back by evening. Then headed to National Museum and went back to the hotel. There I got the good news that my suitcase had finally arrived intact.

Day 6 : After Breakfast we travelled for 3 hours to the beautiful Haa Valley . The drive to Haa valley crosses 3988m Chele-la pass, from where you have a superb views of Mount. Jhomolhari & Jichu Drakey. The quaint valley is enchanting with mountains and apple orchards. It’s like a small township, but a really charming place with traditional Bhutanese houses. We visited the 7th century Lhakhang Karpo (White temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo  (Black temple) at the foothills of a venerated three brotherly mountains known as Meri Puensum and then headed back to the homestay, which was a traditional Bhutanese house, it was run by an old couple and we had an amazing hospitality. We went around and everyone was inviting us to sit and spend time with them, was offered tea without even asking us. Mostly there were senior citizens. We just felt we were with the our own grandparents and felt home. After an delicious lunch, laughter, fun and talk we went to rest late night.

Day 7 : We woke up to the beautiful and stunning  apple orchards around. After breakfast we drove back to Siliguri (West Bengal) through the mountains of Bhutan and then got down to the plains of north Bengal. We just chilled and rested for the night.

Day 8 : After breakfast we were dropped at Bagdogra Airport to return home.

Our beautiful and memorable Bhutan trip ended, but every moment we spent there remains a life time experience. If you have already visited, you are lucky, if not make a plan as soon the Bhutan opens it’s borders after the Covid.

Praying for you and your family’s good health. This too shall pass and we will soon be back to traveling. Until then STAY SAFE…..

July 3, 2020

How to Read Different Visas

Filed under: Visa — jani @ 12:50 pm

There are visas which are read in different ways depending on the countries:

1st –  These are Straightforward Visas. For example UK, USA visas, where you have a visa validity start (Valid from) and end date (Valid Until) which is self-explanatory. The visa is valid for a specific period of time and you have to travel and return within that period.

2nd  – These are similar to Schengen visas, where you have a start and end date of validity (Valid From and To) and also there is duration of stay in Days along with number of entries. This means you can travel within that specific period of time but the duration cannot exceed the total number of days granted. For Example, Duration (start and end date) might be granted for 6 months and days might be given only 30 days, which means within that 6 month period, you can stay in the country only for 30 days only.

Besides you also have to check the number of entries granted. It can be single, double or MULT (multiple), so if there is single entry issued then you can travel only once and your stay cannot exceed 30 days. If double entry is granted, you can make 2 trips and the duration combining both travels cannot exceed 30 days. For multiple you can make multiple trips but cumulative duration of stay cannot exceed 30 days.

3rd  – These are entry visas, where you have a start and end date (issue and expiry date) and there is also remarks where specific duration is granted, most of the time it’s issued for 30 days or more, depending on the country. In this case, you can travel any day as long as, it’s within the validity period, however you can return even after the expiry date of the visa and you cannot exceed 30 days or the number of days granted. In short you need to land in the destination within the validity period but return can be before or after the visa expiry date, but ensure to comply with the duration granted for the trip.

In brief when you travel, please don’t stay in the country till the last day of the expiry date, always keep few days buffer to keep any natural calamities/delay. If you end up on the last expiry date and you are stuck at the airport, do remember being a foreign national you have to procure an emergency visa and then travel, this is going to complicate the situation further.

If you need any further advice, am just an e-mail away, do reach out to me at jani.jermans@sjmobilita.com

July 2, 2020

Schengen Visa Compliance

Filed under: Visa — jani @ 5:55 pm

Many of us are aware that the short term visit visa (Tourist/Business) which is issued by any of the Schengen countries can be used to travel to other Schengen countries as well. The following countries come under the Schengen Region: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

There is also a Schengen visa compliance that needs to kept in mind before you choose to apply for visa.

  • First apply to the particular Schengen country where you intend to visit.
  • 2nd point – if you happen to travel to multiple Schengen countries on a same visit, then choose the country where you are spending most number of days.
  • 3rd point – if you are travelling to multiple countries and duration for each country is the same, then apply to the country where you are landing first.

The greatest mistake that most of the applicants make is to apply for the country that has less processing time than the actual country that you wish to travel. This is the biggest mistake that you can make and it’s a Non-Compliance to the Schengen visa policies. Please never do that. Make the right decision and apply at the right consulate for a safe and compliant travel.

Good luck.

If you need any help, do reach out to jani.jermans@sjmobilita.com.

July 1, 2020

Why should you Re-Validate before Signing the Visa Application

Filed under: Visa — jani @ 6:07 pm

This is an article for all those who have assistants to help you out with your application like corporate honchos/celebrities. Many of the times I have noticed that you sign the application but don’t verify whether the application details are filled out correctly by your assistants.

Mostly we have seen that the Previous Travel or Rejection history of the applicant gets missed out or is incorrect. Even though the mistake is not intentional, if the application is submitted with incorrect details it can get you banned. There is no apology or sorry that will help you to get the ban revoked.

To give an example, Once there was a top management employee whose application got rejected because he didn’t disclose that his previous application for the same country had been rejected earlier. His secretary filled up the form. She wasn’t aware of the fact and missed disclosing the previous rejection details. During the verification of the application the consulate found evidence of the earlier rejection and his application got rejected again due to incorrect/false information being provided.

My advice, please fill up your application by yourself, if not at least verify the details before signing if it is filled by someone else. When you sign the application, you are certifying that you have checked that the application details are correct, accurate and no false details are provided. Treat it like a legal contract, you would never sign a contract without reading it and the same is the case with your application.

If you need any help, am just an e-mail away, do reach out to me at jani.jermans@sjmobilita.com.

June 30, 2020

Can I Reapply if my Visa Application is Rejected?

Filed under: Visa — jani @ 5:24 pm

Many of the applicants have one and the same question when their application is rejected by the consulate. Can I reapply? Or When can I reapply?

The answer is, it depends on which category of visa that you had applied and the reason why it got rejected. Most of the tourist/business visa application gets rejected due to lack of sufficient  documents as per the checklist. If that is the case, then you always can reapply by providing the missing documents along with all the documents that you had submitted earlier. Yes, you have to reapply as fresh application and yes, you need to pay your fees again and your earlier fees are not going to be refunded. Hence ensure that you validate and verify before submitting the application to avoid such rejections.

If the application gets rejected for work permit cases, few can be reapplied immediately and there are few where you have to wait for a certain period (ex: cool off period of 1 year). The cool off period varies from country to country.

The third and final scenario, when your application gets rejected because you have given the false information. There are times it may be intentional or sometimes it might have been a overlooked mistake. Irrespective of that, if the rejection is due to false details, whether it’s intentional or not, Sorry you cannot reapply as you might have got banned. The ban period depends on the country, for example UK bans for 10 years. Yes, 10 YEARS.

Hence my advice, ensure NEVER, EVER submit a fraudulent application or provide any false details. Please don’t think you will escape the eyes of the consular officers. They are trained well enough to pick up those.

Be honest with your application, that’s going to help you with a good track record for your future visa applications with a positive outcome

Best of luck

If you need any help, am just an e-mail away, I can be reached at jani.jermans@sjmobilita.com

June 29, 2020

Importance of complying with Consular Checklist

Filed under: Visa — jani @ 4:33 pm

Consulate requires different documents for different categories of visas. There are some countries where  the consulate checklist differs with the jurisdiction. Hence it’s important to ensure to comply by the consular checklist as per the respective jurisdiction.

There are multiple concerns raised by the applicants in terms of sharing the documents

  • Why does the consulate need these many documents?
  • I am a corporate honcho and I don’t want to share my financial documents
  • Sense of entitlement that the consulate has to approve
  • Celebrities from different fields refusing to share any documents thinking they are entitled for a blanket approval

You might be a VVIP in your country, but remember consular officers do not know who you are as they are from different country, don’t expect everyone to know about you even in your own country

To make it simpler, no matter who you are, share all the documents requested by the consulate as you do not want to get a rejection due to that

You are not entitled for any visas unless you comply with the country guidelines and consular requirements, hence ensure to share as much as relevant detail possible to get the positive outcome

The officer has every right to reject an application if you have not provided the documents as per the required checklist

If you need help in terms of the right document , do reach out to jani.jermans@sjmobilita.com

June 26, 2020

Importance of Self Supporting Letter with a Personal Visa Application

Filed under: Visa — jani @ 5:15 am

The common thing that I notice with most of the applicants are the fear of rejection when applying and then anger if the application is rejected.

Usually people are more worried/fearful when applying for a visa to US/UK & Europe rather than Asian countries.

But you need not fear if your application is genuine. If it’s not genuine then don’t even bother to apply for the visa. If you think you will get away with it, you are mistaken. The consular officers are trained to identify such fradulent applications.

There are times however when the documents may not be able to give a clear picture to them to justify why the application should be approved. That’s why it helps if you can add more details in a self supporting letter that gives a clear picture of why the application should be approved.

The self supporting letter should include the below details:

  • Passport details
  • Employment details Evidence (Employment id/HR letter)
  • Financial Supporting Documents (Pay slips/bank statement where salary is credited)
  • Day wise itinerary (from the day you land till the day you depart at the destination)
  • Flight booking confirmation
  • Hotel booking confirmation for all the days
  • Medical Insurance for the entire duration (Recommended)
  • If you are invited by someone locally, then share their passport/visa details and their credentials along with their contact number
  • Sponsorship letter if the local sponsor is sponsoring your trips.

Please note that the supporting letter should only include relevant details and not become too long and unreadable. There are also people who are hesitant to share the flight/hotel confirmation as they don’t want to book before the visa issuance. My advice is that if you are actually planning to travel then please go ahead and book but ensure you apply for a visa at least before 90 days, so that you have time to react in case of delays etc or reapply in case your application gets rejected. It is always recommended that you book flights that allow schedule changes or cancellation in case you need to make changes.

If you need help to prepare the supporting letter , do reach out to jani.jermans@sjmobilita.com

June 25, 2020

Facing US Consular interview

Filed under: Visa — jani @ 2:25 pm

Many of us are petrified to go to the US consulate for a visa interview as there are many horror stories about the questions asked and how difficult the whole process is. But that is not the case, as long as you are applying for a genuine reason and are not falsifying any data then you have a good chance.

The criteria of approval is actually very simple, basically they check if you are going to the US for the reason you gave and can support yourself while you are interviewed by the consular officer. For non-immigrant visa’s they also look at how likely you are to return and not overstay your visa.

You should be prepared to answer the following questions about your trip and yourself before you visit the consulate:

  • Employer name
  • Your designation
  • Purpose of travel
  • Annual Salary
  • Which visa category you are applying under?
  • Where are you going? (City & State not USA, the officer knows you are going to US that’s the  reason you are at the US consulate)
  • Duration – Be precise with the dates
  • Why is it important for you to travel?
  • Will you be getting paid in US?
  • If you are visiting the client, then their details
  • Who is sponsoring the trip and their details

Important notes to keep in mind during the interview:

  • Concentrate on the questions asked.
  •  Answer the questions clearly.
  •  Keep it short & to the point while ensuring you provide all relevant details
  •  Respect their time
  •  Be genuine
  •  Be transparent
  •  Be honest

Being prepared with the above details will help you to get a positive outcome

Best of luck.

If you need help how to help the employees for the consular interview, do reach out to jani.jermans@sjmobilita.com

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