Sometimes you spontaneously think of something fun to do, like ‘hey, let’s go shopping’, or even ‘let’s go online shopping’. Which is exactly how one morning, out of the blue, my mum and I booked us an exotic trip abroad. It was raining outside, we had to cancel our plans for the day, and then… we went online. We stumbled upon a website advertising sunny deals to escape the miserable weather and it was just – so – appealing. Soon I would finish my second masters’ degree and officially say goodbye to the student life and start life as a working lady. In fact there would be only ten days in between my last day at university and the start of my first real job as a therapist, which for me was the perfect excuse for a last minute getaway. Knowing that to really get good sun exposure in January we would have to travel as far as the Canary Islands, not the cheapest destination, we initially laughed the whole idea off. Then another thought popped up. India… exotic land, place of spirituality and relaxation, ideal to recharge before taking on the working lifestyle! India is not exactly around the corner either, bút we reasoned that once we got there, it’d actually be quite affordable to get around. Good thinking right, well hmm… getting there turned out to be easier said than done.
Right after confirming our tickets we received an e-mail which took us to a website regarding obtaining our travel visas. That’s one thing we forgot to consider within those two hours that the idea of going to India was born. We realised we had not thought things through properly at all, but then again, we were motivated, upbeat and also very eager to see one of my closest friends and ex-roommate again who lives in Mumbai. So, we started filling out our application forms patiently.
After working through papers and papers of administrative stuff, which enquired information such as whether we had any grandfathers living in Pakistan at all, and uploading proofs of identification, bank accounts and what not, we received a message that we now only had to pay 200 dollars to complete our application. Two hundred dollars! That money alone was basically half a ticket to India already! But we had come so far with regards to filling out all the forms, plus we had our flights booked, that we felt we didn’t really have a choice. After paying we expected to receive the Visas directly into our e-mail accounts, just like the deal was with the USA and Canada, but that was naïve. Instead, we received an e-mail saying that we ‘could now go to the embassy in the Netherlands to ask for a Visa’. We were slightly confused because we thought that that was exactly what we had been asking for the whole time! But no, actually we got ripped off by the website, which turned out to be dedicated to make use of unwitting tourists. The next day at the embassy we heard that all of it had been absolutely unnecessary and could all have been arranged at the embassy for no extra costs!
No extra costs, but most definitely extra time. When we got to the embassy, we shared the lift going up to the third floor with a friendly elderly couple. The minute the doors opened they pushed us aside and hurried to the room were the Visa’s could be obtained. How incredibly rude, I remember thinking. But, they knew what they were doing because there was only one person working behind the desk. With each application taking at least 30 to 45 minutes, and more than 10 people waiting in line already, we absolutely had no chance of getting a Visa that day. The next morning we returned before the official opening hours and waited at the entrance of the building. Once the doors opened, we ran up the stairs (rather than taking the lift) and shamelessly took on the role of ‘rude people’ ourselves. We got our fingerprints and pictures taken straight away, and were ready to forget all about how ignorant we had been thinking that planning a trip to India would be easy and cheap. Luckily enough, we would soon find out that we were in for one of the best holidays of a lifetime and it had all been worth it!
Our trip started off great already. We would make a stop at Dubai Airport before taking off to Mumbai and I had always wanted to know what it was like to travel with Emirates Airlines. Many times I had seen their massive adverts, of the most beautiful air hostesses wearing very stylish red headpieces and elegant white scarfs, so I was very excited. They sure know how to portray luxury. The design of the interior of the plane didn’t disappoint either. Within the plane there was a huge wooden stairwell accented with golden colours, leading to a second floor full of rows and rows of seats. We took place in our allocated spots and enjoyed the fine service throughout the flight. The hostesses enjoyed the service a little too much themselves too, because they kept waking us op for food when we really just wanted to sleep. However, being awake most of the trip did allow me to eavesdrop on my neighbours, locals who were sharing some interesting facts about Dubai. For example, they mentioned that one cannot open a shop in Dubai without having an Arab as a business partner, there is supposedly a 0% income tax, and Dubai is also referred to as “the City of Gold”. Another interesting non-Dubai related fact I picked up on is that in some countries air hostesses are not allowed to testify in court within 2 years after their last flight, because their memory gets so bad from the oxygen levels on the plane and all the jet-lags they go through! (Disclaimer: this information has not been checked and might be fake news ; ) ).
Arriving at Dubai Airport was definitely a bling-bling start to an exceptional holiday. Everything around us was shiny, flashy and sparkly clean. The floor looked like it was meant for ice-skating and the massive pillars all around us were coated with glitter.
To me though, it felt like the sort of (vulgar) display of wealth that you would find at Trump Tower. The whole place was so big that we had to take both a train and a bus within the airport to get to our gate. There, we were treated to an epic view of the Dubai Skyline, with a panorama of tall skyscrapers and extravagant buildings. Businessmen were making phone calls in front of the windows in long white robes and headscarves. We looked around us in fascination and the time went by really quickly before we were called to board the plane to Mumbai, where my friend was waiting to pick us up.