Bangalore World University

In about six hours I’ll be hopping on board a taxi that will begin a magical journey to Bangalore (in south India), taking in Heathrow, Zurich and Mumbai. Oh, when I say ‘magical’, what I mean is ‘excessively long, unexciting and very likely stressful and unclean’. Once I get to Bangalore and meet my friend there things should get better pretty quickly.

I’m only visiting for a week, which is a rather short amount of time to ‘do India’ and in any case I’m only staying around the Bangalore area, so I’m under no illusions of actually seeing the whole country. Still, I’m sure there’ll be plenty for me to see, and more importantly, eat.

The friend I’m visiting informed me that it’d be pretty cold in Bangalore this time of year so I’d better pack warm clothes and a coat. I naively thought this was true, and so only checked a weather report this morning. Unsurprisingly it totally contradicted my friend by saying the temperature right now hovers around the mid to high 20s; in other words, a warm summer’s day. Certainly cuts down on the amount of clothes I’ll have to take, to be sure.

How to obtain a visa for India in London

Update: Much of the information below is now wrong! Visas take much longer to get – the queues are longer, and if you don’t arrive really early, you’ll be given a ticket to come back at a later date. The best way to learn more is to look through the comments that other people have helpfully supplied – check the most recent ones.

If you ever decide to visit India, you’ll discover at the travel agent that you have to get a visa. At this point you’ll go through several well-defined stages; shock, anger, fear, irritation and acceptance. Then you’ll find out that you have to make the trip to an Indian Consulate (in my case, India House on Aldwych in London), and you’ll go through them all over again. This is a brief guide on how to get a visa for India and what’s involved. This was all applicable in November 2004 – things may have changed by the time you read this and I advise you not to just rely on this guide, just in case.

Quick Facts

1) Don’t worry, it’s not actually that difficult
2) You can be in and out within two hours
3) If you make sure you clearly and fully complete your application form, then things will go much quicker
4) Bring a magazine or a book

Before you go

I’m going to assume that you have already visited the High Commission of India’s website, downloaded the visa form and decided on when to go to the commission. The website also has a list of official holidays at the commission when they’ll be closed – check this because they have a number of holidays and you’ll feel really stupid if you turn up and no-one’s home.

Fill in your form, check it and double-check it. Get two passport-sized photos and make sure you have the correct amount of money for the application fee in cash – they don’t take cheques or credit cards.

When you decide on when you’re going to go get your visa, you might want to consider if there are any holidays around when you go. For example, I visited the commission after two days of holiday (Diwali). As a result, I suspect the queues were longer.

How can I find the commission at Aldwych?

It’s the thing with a huge queue of people snaking out from it (unless you get there absurdly early). It’s hard to miss. The really long queue is the one for visas, the short one is for people with Indian passport enquiries (i.e. not you).


The start of the first queue, disappearing into the distance.


The end of the first queue (you can see the window at the end of the curve)

What time should I turn up?

The commission in London opens at 8:30am. I arrived at 8:35am and there were already over 150 people in the queue in front of me. I think people start queueing up as early as 7:30am, and I talked to a girl who’d been queueing since 7:45am and she got out at 9:45am (i.e. two hours all told). The problem with turning up that early is that while there are fewer people in front of you, you still have to wait for the place to open.

As a result, I think that if you turn up at any time before, say, 9am, it’ll probably take you around two hours altogether. If you leave it any later, you’ll have to wait longer. I really don’t recommend turning up any later than 9:30am since there’s a good chance you won’t be able to pick up your visa that day, or at least you’ll have to wait for much longer than two hours.

What’s the process when I get there?

I heard many people in the queue criticising the commission for an illogical system. That’s not true – it’s perfectly logical and it even is vaguely organised. The only problem is that they seem to have no desire to inform anyone of how it works. Luckily, I do.

The process has three steps; queueing to get a queue number, queueing to hand in your visa application, and waiting to get your completed visa. You’ll notice there’s a lot of queueing involved.

The First Queue: Getting a Queue Number

This is the one outside of India House. I arrived at 8:35am and spent a little under an hour in this queue. It moves along quite regularly. The point of this queue is to show a guy in a window that you have a passport and then to collect a piece of paper with a queue number (or numbers, depending on how many passports and visa applications you’re making). The queue number you collect here (e.g. B69) is for the second queue, inside.

The Second Queue: Handing in your visa appplication

After you collect your queue number, you’ll be allowed inside and walk upstairs to a room with a bunch of commission staff behind windows. There are a lot of seats here and in a side room that also has vending machines.

Once you get upstairs, do not loiter around in front of window 1, which will be directly in front of you when you go through the door at the top of the stairs. Window 1 is for people collecting their completed visas and right now, that’s not you. Instead, go and wait in the main room and get a seat if you can. There’s a display in the corner of the room with the current queue number. Notice that a letter from A to E is also highlighted below the number. The queue number cycles through the letters and goes from A1 to E99, so do not make the all-too-typical mistake of going to a window when it’s your number but not your letter; the staff won’t be impressed.

Since many people there are submitting multiple visa applications (e.g. for friends or family) the queue number tends to go in bursts. I got inside at around 9:30am and the queue number was A77. My number, B69, took about 40 minutes to come up. When it’s your number, go straight to the next free window; don’t worry if they seem to have skipped past your number.

Once you’re at the window, hand over your application, passport, passport photos and money. Do not waste everyone’s time by searching through bags and wallets for the necessary stuff; you just spent at least an hour queueing before this so you don’t have an excuse. This bit only took me a couple of minutes because I’d filled in my form properly and hadn’t been denied a visa in the past. After she’s taken all your stuff, she’ll give you a receipt with your queue number (the same one as before) written on it. She will keep your passport – they need it to process your visa.

Waiting to get your completed visa

They hand out visas at window 1. For some inexplicable reason, there are always loads of people rammed up against this window despite the fact that there can be an hour long wait and also they always call out your number multiple times when they have your visa ready. Who knows why people do this – it certainly doesn’t speed things up.

The staff member who gave you your receipt will tell you how long you can expect to wait if you ask her. I was told it’d be 45 minutes; instead it was only 20 minutes. I put this down to my charming personality, or more likely, the fact that there weren’t any issues with my passport or application. You might as well sit down again at this point and wait for your number to be called out. Don’t fall asleep or listen to music, even if it seems it’ll take ages based on what numbers they’re calling out at the moment; they tend to skip around numbers a lot so they might be calling out B1 in one minute and B60 in the next.

When they call out your number, fight your way through the silly huddle of people around the window and get your passport with your visa inside. They’ll tell you to check it – do it! You are checking to make sure that they’ve gotten your passport number correct, and that the valid dates are correct for when you want to visit (they’ll actually be valid for ages longer than you’ll typically need it).

And then you can leave, all done! Like I said, it took me two hours altogether and I suspect it would be even quicker if I hadn’t gone through after two days of holiday.

Other Questions

Is there a toilet?

While I have not seen it myself I’m told there is one downstairs.

You’re wrong about x

Perhaps I am, I only went there once and things may have changed. Please do not rely on this guide for anything really urgent.

I can’t be bothered queueing up, is there some way I can mail my application in?

You can mail it directly to the commission, or you can use a visa service. The visa services are often much quicker and more expensive. Whether or not you want to use them depends on how much you value your time. I don’t know anything more about them so don’t ask me to recommend one.

Why did you bother writing this?

I estimate that at least 400 people go to the commission every day. That’s up to 100,000 per year. I was not been able to find anything decent online about the actual process of getting a visa before I visited, and for many of the people there, it’s quite a stressful and anxious procedure. I decided that a guide explaining all of the steps involved would make it a little clearer and more understandable for all concerned. Perhaps it might even speed things up!

Will you update this guide?

I sorely doubt it, unless there happens to be a good reason.

I would like to reprint this guide

Email me. There’s a link at the top of this page.

Space Odyssey

When you think of big budget BBC documentaries, Walking with Dinosaurs normally comes up top. While it was a big hit, I wasn’t too fond of it because I didn’t think the CGI looked quite as good as Jurassic Park and hence looked a bit too shiny and unrealistic. However, their latest documentary, Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets, is very impressive, on par with Apollo 13 in terms of cinematic quality. This is hardly surprising since spaceships are easier to do than dinosaurs, but they still deserve a lot of praise for getting it right.

Space Odyssey is one of those strange beasts, a fake documentary of a real six-year ‘grand tour’ of the solar system, taking in Venus, Mars, Jupiter and other planets on the spaceship Pegasus. It works well – I’ve always been of the opinion that in order to get people’s attention, you need to tell a story. You can have all the lush visuals in the world, you can even have poetic dialogue, but there’s something lacking without a sense of drama and personal involvement. Hence Space Odyssey, with its banter between the astronauts and conflicts in mission control, makes the whole production a lot more compelling.

The science can’t be faulted either. The producers have made the wise decision of not trying to cram too many facts in and instead concentrated on the salient points, e.g. Venus is so hot you couldn’t stay there for long, solar flares are really dangerous, the Martian atmosphere is very thin, etc etc. Granted, it is rather unlikely that if you conducted a grand tour of the system you’d spend a little more than the few days on Mars that the crew of the Pegasus did, but to be fair, you have to balance scientific accuracy with the very real chance your audience might fall asleep. Besides, I think there’s a real opportunity to make a big budget fake Mars mission documentary in the future.

My website New Mars has a great interview by Stu Atkinson with the producer of Space Odyssey, Chris Riley, about the show. It’s a good thorough read and goes into much more depth than any other interview you’ll find about the programme.

Fight the good fight

I’ve often wondered what it is I’d like to do in my life. Science, Mars, politics (of the non-traditional sort), education, alternate reality games have all appealed and continue to appeal. But perhaps one of the things I feel most passionately about is intelligent thinking and rational thought – science and the enlightenment, in short. Reading an article at the Columbia Journalism Review about how journalists feel the need to conduct ‘balanced’ reporting of things like creationism and abortion when empirically they are not balanced whatsoever simply makes me furious.

I don’t believe that all ideas and beliefs are equal to each other. I believe that there are such things as facts, and that there are competing positions – like creationism and evolution – that are by no means balanced in terms of factual evidence and theoretical underpinnings. Yet a good proportion of people who’ve had secondary or even university education – even a majority – would not agree, or even care. The notion that a handful (at most) of agenda-motivated scientists who say that smoking is not harmful, or that creationism should be taught alongside evolution, or that the MMR vaccine is not safe, are deserved equal time and consideration as the rest of the entire scientific community, backed by countless peer-reviewed, top-tier studies, is not even laughable. It’s disgusting. It’s even more horrific that most people don’t even give a shit, despite the fact that these issues affect them on a deeply personal level.

The typical and tired response to what I’m saying is, ‘Well, how can you say they’re wrong? No-one believed the Earth was round, etc etc.’ That sort of response is ridiculous. Firstly, science today is not the same as science as it was centuries ago, or even decades ago. Secondly, there is no scientific conspiracy to keep new theories down. In fact, speaking from experience, every scientist would like to be the one that transforms a field and the way we think about things.

I recall seeing a pro-smoking lobbyist on TV recently. When challenged with a new metastudy that showed unequivocally that passive smoking is extremely and significantly harmful to public health, this lobbyist said, ‘This study doesn’t have any new data, it doesn’t mean anything, and there are other studies that show passive smoking isn’t harmful.’ I was literally speechless. Not only does this guy misrepresent what a metastudy is, but he also goes and implies that all studies are equal, and if he has one that says passive smoking is fine – never mind whether it’s flawed or not – well, that means it’s fine. Even worse, I have no doubts that this guy is fully aware that he is misrepresenting the issue.

What I want to do is make people think rationally about these issues. I want them to understand what the scientific method is, what a theory means and what it means to prove something. I want them to think for themselves. And I think I can do it at the same time, and within, my other interests as well.

Ultraviolet

Over the past few years I’d heard a lot about Ultraviolet, a Channel 4 science fiction miniseries about vampires. Since I wasn’t into Buffy at the time and was concerned that it’d be like all other UK science fiction efforts (i.e. nice idea, bad execution), I gave it a miss. Ultraviolet only ran for a single six episode series and wasn’t renewed; not because it was a failure, but because there wasn’t any real momentum to keep it moving. As a result, other than a typically ill-fated US adaptation, the show disappeared beneath the waves.

This makes it all the more impressive that, six years on, you can still find people praising the show. A few months ago I got a bit tired of all of this and ordered the DVD for the head-shakingly cheap price of £11. Precisely because the show had been hyped up so much to me on forums, I lowered my expectations in response. How good could a British serious vampire series be?

Well, I wasn’t bowled over by the first episode, which was pretty good but not exactly amazing. It was a decent introduction to concept of vampires living among us and the existence of a hidden arm of the government dedicated to eliminating them. I’m well aware it sounds totally absurd but the writer/director Joe Ahearne approached the idea from a completely serious perspective. What if there really were vampires? How would they get their money? What do they want? How do you identify them if you can’t see them in mirrors or videos or hear them on audio recordings? Are they even all that bad? It was a pretty intelligent treatment, and we saw it all from the eyes of a naive policeman who gets caught up in some vampire nonsense and eventually is recruited into the government organisation.

While the miniseries as a whole has a continuous story arc, the first four episodes stand mostly on their own; the last two run on from each other. The second episode of the series continued on much the same lines, doing the hard work ofbuilding up the world and developing the characters a little more. It had a pretty interesting story about the temptations that vampires can offer (eternal life, mostly).

It’s the third and fourth stories that made me sit up. They are respectively about abortion and paedophilia. They don’t tiptoe around the subjects either – those two episodes are without doubt the most stark and honest dramatic treatments I’ve seen of the subjects for a long time. They just happen to involve vampires in a key way, and they probably benefit as a result since there aren’t all that many people who would otherwise want to watch a show about such subjects.

It was about this point that I really began liking the series and the characters. Firstly, not a single one of the good guys is particularly likeable; they’re all quite flawed and some are downright nasty at times. This wouldn’t mean anything unless they happened to be interesting as well, which of course they are. Secondly, Joe Ahearne knows his science, or more accurately, his biology. I didn’t hear a single factual error during the series and he goes into a fair bit of detail about stuff like RNA virology, IVF, sickle cell disease and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I have not seen a dramatic production that has featured quite as much accurate science before, and definitely not one about biology.

The last two episodes, which can be considered as a two-parter, are absolutely stellar. In a close to the series, we get to see a direct confrontation between the government and the vampires, and we find out exactly what the vampires want to achieve (it makes a surprising amount of sense). There’s also an incredibly powerful scene which every reviewer mentions* and so will I – one of the main good guys gets himself trapped in a locked warehouse with four vampires that are just about to wake up. He has no way to get out, there’s no way he can kill all of them. All he has is a gun. What happens next is five minutes of TV which I will never forget. The rest of the two-parter continues on a similar tone, which pretty much everything that can go wrong, going wrong.

*The other thing they mention is how no-one says the word ‘vampire’ during the entire show. Instead, they say ‘leech’ or ‘code five’. I suppose this would be more impressive if I hadn’t been expecting it. Oops.

There’s no chance we’re going to see Ultraviolet Season Two, which is probably for the best since Ahearne didn’t want it to turn into a ‘Dracusoap’ and the first season is good enough as it is. It would’ve been nice to have better special effects, as usual, but their mediocre quality didn’t really detract since there generally wasn’t much call for them during the series. Apart from a slightly slow start, I can wholeheartedly recommend Ultraviolet – it’s a smart, impeccably plotted and extremely dramatic show that hardly anyone has heard of or seen.