Skip to navigation

Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

India: The High Commission

The visa queue at the Indian High Commission, London
The visa queue, stretching all the way around Aldwych

I hadn't expected my second visit to India to start a month before I flew there, but it did, and in true Indian style. Welcome to the wonderful world of the Indian High Commission in London.

The Queue

It starts off with the queue, which snakes out of the High Commission's visa application door, across India Place, onto the curve of Aldwych, past the front door of India House, past the front door of the BBC World Service, and if you're lucky enough to witness a really healthy queue, all the way to the back doors of Australia House. Luckily this part of the visa process is most definitely on British soil, so the queue is orderly, tidy and almost smug in the knowledge that, despite the sight of people stretching out as far as the eye can see, everyone is perfectly happy to stand in line, waiting for things to move along. Sure, there's the odd person who joins the end and can't quite believe that this really is the queue for tourist visas, but any frustrations are short-lived, because even out here, the helpless resignation one feels when confronted with Indian bureaucracy starts to creep in. Happily, it's also where the fun starts.

The Crowd

The visa queue at the Indian High Commission, London
The queue curves all the way past the BBC World Service... and then some

The tickets the man had given me – one for each passport – contained two numbers, D6 and D7, and said that my applications would be processed between 10.30am and 11.00am. They didn't say quite how this process would occur, but my friends and I followed the queue upstairs and into a doorway, where the madness of what would be our home for the next few hours revealed itself. For on the other side of this doorway was what can only be described as bedlam.

To the Counter

On the way in, I'd noticed a dull ache in my stomach that I vaguely recognised, but it wasn't until I was being buffeted around by the crowd that I realised I was trying hard not to laugh. The sides of my mouth involuntarily twitched upwards, and a familiar feeling from my last visit to India crept up on me. There's a wonderful release that occurs when you realise the path of least resistance is the only sane option, and once you decide to float along the river instead of trying to swim upstream, life suddenly makes much more sense.

Mission Accomplished

The minutes continued to tick by, even though the clock on the wall still insisted that it was five past four. The crowds grew and shrank, and the parade of confused and bewildered visa-seekers continued to pour into the room, all of them going through exactly the same process that I'd gone through an hour-and-a-half before. People scribbled on visa forms – I was very glad I'd downloaded my forms from the High Commission's website and filled them in at home – and others joined the small queue at the first counter, only to get yelled at to 'take a seat.' It appeared to be mayhem, but underlying the mayhem, there was clearly a method at work, even if the method felt more like madness.