Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Embassy Day 2
Today is the day. Today is the day that Manu becomes eligible to enter the United States as a legal resident; assuming he passes his citizenship test, LOL. This morning started off like the last few mornings: Manu cries at 5am, daddy and mommy cry too! This morning we were actually better prepared, so things went smoothly. Instead of eating in the hotel restaurant we decided to order coffee from room service and eat some power bars that we brought with us. Manu was getting along fine, even allowing us to dress him without too much of a fuss. We headed out to meet our driver at 8am and headed to the Embassy.
This time we knew the routine, so we went through security (the guard made me open two sealed power bars that were in our backpack; they were there yesterday and got by him with no problems.) We took our sealed medical information back to window 16 where we left off yesterday. They asked us to take a seat and wait to be called back. A few minutes goes by and we are called back to Window 17 (lots and lots of windows in this place) where we are asked for some more paperwork. We are then sent to Window 6, the cashier, to pay for his Visa, another $400...this kid better like me! Then we take our receipt back to Window 16 and are then told to go wait again. After about 15 minutes we hear over the intercom, "Manu, please bring your parents to Window 14." There a nice gentleman performed our Visa interview, basically wanting to know how the process went for us and if we had any concerns with either our agency or Ashraya. We had none. He told us there would be about a half-hour wait for the Visa, and to go wait in a different waiting room. Finally we were called to Window 21 where we were given back Manu's passport, now containing his US Visa, and a large envelope that says in no uncertain terms, "Do not Open. To be opened only by the US consular at the point of entry," Chicago I assume. It also says, "do not pack, hand carry only." Probably another fraud control measure, but if that envelope gets opened before we get back to the States, we have to begin the whole Visa process again, so it won't get opened! So that was it, Manu is now legal and we can leave the country with him whenever we want. The process was really quite painless, if a little confusing with all of the windows and different forms. We left the Embassy, relieved that the real work was now behind us, and that we can concentrate on enjoying our last few days in India. We called the driver and headed back to hotel to deposit this information in the room safe, change Manu, and we were back out with the driver in 20 minutes.
First we headed for the historic Red Fort, built by the 5th Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1648, the same Emperor who also built the Taj Mahal. This is located in what is know an Old Delhi, the portion of Delhi that wasn't as influenced by the British during their control of the city. Bustling streets and shops, street vendors and traffic like you have never seen in your life. Our driver dropped us off about 2 blocks from the entrance to the Fort, so we walked through the people, along side donkeys and cows, and finally found our way to the entrance. Inside this fort are beautiful examples of ancient Indian architecture, with what would have been elaborate fountains, buildings, and grounds in their day. We walked around the complex for about an hour taking it all in. Of course like all attractions in India, someone is always trying to sell you something. I was approached by a man who handed me a "guide book" and then asked me for 100 rupees. Knowing that the first rule of street negotiation is, "you touch it, you bought it" I figured I would give in and take it. He also had a pack of pictorial postcards for 50 rupees. I told him I would take them and he said "200 for both." I told him I would give him the 150 that he quoted, and he smiled, as if he was impressed that I wasn't that stupid. I figure it was $3 well spent just for the experience. After we were finished we headed back to the streets of old Delhi and called our driver. Traffic was terrible, and it took him about 15 minutes to get back to us, meanwhile we patiently observed all that was going on around us. It's a strange feeling being on a foreign street surrounded by thousands of people knowing that if something happened to our driver, we would have know way of getting back or knowing anything about our surroundings. It is unnerving and exhilarating at the same time.
Our next stop was to be the State Emporium, where merchants sell Indian goods at government controlled prices, so no haggling. But on our way to the Emporium we were driving past the India Gate, India's answer to the Arc de Triumph in Paris. This one is to commemorate the Indian lives lost during WWI. We decided to drive up to it and get out. It was really impressive, and when viewed through one side, perfectly framed the President's house down the road. It was quite massive in size, and attracted lots of visitors. After we left we finally headed to the State Emporium where we bought a few things and headed back to the hotel. Traffic was unbelievable, and it took a long time to get back. Manu had about had it and was quite fussy. We discovered a wet diaper and changed him in the back seat of the car, and that seemed to settle him a bit. We returned to the hotel, unpacked our things, fed Manu, changed yet another dirty diaper and ordered a late lunch. Afterwords we headed down to the Lobby to inquire about a trip to Agra tomorrow to visit the Taj Mahal and other monuments in the area. We're planning for all Manu-related contingencies, and we think he'll handle the drive OK. The trip should take about 3 hours each way, and probably 3-4 hours while there. We'll have a driver take us, and a private guide for a tour. It turned out to be a little more expensive than we thought, but how many times are you in Delhi, and people spend a lot more planning vacations centered around the Taj, so that's what we'll be doing tomorrow. We're getting up at 5am, as if we haven't been anyway, so we're calling it a night!