This travelling lark is not always what it is cracked up to be. We may be swanning around free-as-a-bird, but there are still restrictions. Visas. At the moment, our lives are dictated by them.
Last week was a complete nightmare for us. The first setback on our meticulously planned trip.
When we applied for our Indian Visas back in February, we requested that the High Commission of India in London add an endorsement to our visas that would allow us to re-enter the country from Nepal or Thailand within a 60-day period of our last visit (as we only intended being in Nepal for 30 days before returning to India). In the event, due to the high temperatures in India, we headed straight to Thailand instead.
Indian visa rules state that you cannot re-enter the country - on a tourist visa - within 60-days of your last visit. The intention of this rule is to stop people doing 'visa runs'. We have triple-entry, 12-month tourist visas. Even with a 12-month visa, you may only stay in the country for a maximum of 180-days (6 months) in one stretch.
The 180-day rule hasn't affected us as we never intended to stay in the country for that period of time, however, with the 60-day re-entry rule designed to stop people nipping over a border in order to get around the 180-day-stay rule, we needed the endorsement. It's complicated...
So, when we got our passports back from the Indian High Commission before we left, our visas contained an endorsement that stated 're-entry from Nepal Thailand'. Great, we thought, just what was needed.
Last Sunday, when we arrived at Colombo International Airport to board our Sri Lankan Airlines flight to Chennai, their check-in staff noticed the endorsement and interpreted it as meaning we could only re-enter India from Nepal or Thailand! Incredibly, they refused us permission to board the flight.
This was the day our Sri Lankan visas expired, so, as of the next day, we would be in the country illegally and Sri Lankan Immigration don't take too kindly to 'over-stayers'. We spent the next four days traipsing around Colombo - to the Indian High Commission and Sri Lankan Immigration - to try and straighten out the situation. This proved harder than we thought.
We received no sympathy from Sri Lankan Immigration and were informed we would need to apply for a visa extension at a cost of 7000 rupees (£35) each or pay the equivalent sum as a fine as we exited the country.
The Indian High Commission, whilst confirming that there was nothing wrong with our visas, suggested we complete 'permission to re-enter' forms at a cost of 1400 rupees each (£7). This was fine except for that fact that in order to submit the forms, we would need to provide copies of our flight tickets in and out of the country.
We didn't really want to do this as we didn't know when, or where, we wanted to go to after India. However, we felt there was little alternative so went ahead and booked return flights to Chennai with SpiceJet. The forms would take two days to process so we submitted them on Tuesday with the flight being on Thursday. When we came to submit the forms, we were informed that the High Commission was closed on Wednesday due to a public holiday! It seemed that everything that could conspire against was.
Our flight was at 15:25 so we would need to be at the airport by 13:25 allowing around one and a half hours to get there from central Colombo. We had been promised our passports back at 10am on Thursday morning so we went straight there on the morning of our flight, and, luckily they were ready in good time for us to get to the airport.
When we arrived at the SpiceJet check-in desk, they also closely scrutinized our visas and, for a moment, it looked like they were not going to let us fly. We were at the end of our tether by this point and nearly decided not to go back to India at all (and miss four test matches we had been looking forward to).
After some discussion they agreed that, provided we got through Sri Lankan Immigration okay, they would let us go. Great news. The next step was getting through Sri Lankan Immigration as four-day 'overstayers'.
Unsurprisingly, when our passports were scanned, their computer systems flashed up an warning and we were promptly marched off to the Chief Immigration Officer's office.
He was a stern man who didn't even want to hear our excuses. In fact, his words were "that's what they always say". He explained that we would need to pay the fine or we would be blacklisted from ever visiting the country again. He also went on to say that if we were sent back from Chennai, they would put us on the next flight to London!
Remember, this all came about because of an endorsement I had asked for on our visas back in February. Just a few small words....
We really didn't know what to do. Board the flight and risk being sent back to Colombo and then London, take our chances with Indian Immigration or stay in Sri Lanka?
Deep down, we knew our visas were fine and the fact that the airline had let us board the plane gave us confidence but we were still nervous wrecks when we landed in Chennai.
We needn't have worried. Indian Immigration didn't even look at the endorsement (or the stamp we had gone to great lengths and cost to arrange) and we were promptly stamped into the country no questions asked.
The whole episode was very costly and caused us untold amount of hassle and anguish. Needless to say, I have sent a complaint letter to Sri Lankan Airlines.
Anyway, we're in India now and back on track - just very much out of pocket.
Mosquitoes. They are a constant threat wherever we go. There is no escaping them. They are sly, seemingly-intelligent and relentless in their pursuit of us. Let our guard down for just a moment, and we can be sure to be scratching at a bite before long.
When we arrived in India we headed straight for Mahabalipuram, 50km South of Chennai, and to a hotel we like there. The mosquitoes here are the worst we have encountered so far. Probably due to a lot of standing water following the monsoon.
We took the cheapest room at the hotel and it was infested with the little blighters. Over the first couple of nights, I managed to get bitten about fifty times and Teresa didn't escape unharmed either. When a room is not sealed and if the hotel doesn't provide mosquito nets - which this one doesn't - we are sitting-ducks as we sleep. The bites themselves, whilst unsightly, are not too much of problem. Dengue Fever is, however, and there is no inoculation against it. It can, and does, kill.
Luckily, we both seem to be in excellent health at the moment so hopefully we have avoided anything too nasty. But it is always at the back of our minds.
Anyway, we have one other, more immediate, thing to worry about - Cyclone Nilam - which is a low pressure system out in the Bay of Bengal. The centre of the storm is due to hit the coast south of Chennai tomorrow evening at 20:30. Fishermen are being told not to go out to sea and schools have been shutting up shop in Chennai.
It's hammering down today but nothing too threatening. Tomorrow, though, should be interesting.
I will post an update if there is anything of note to report.