DANCE OF JOY! (That is what my brother is doing above at LACMA). We got our India and Nepal visas! I have learned a lot in the process – even though procedures are amply stated online, reports vary so here is exactly what I did to seal the deals:
First, I researched cheap passport photo options. I felt like an idiot every time I passed the FedEx/Kinko’s I got my passport photos taken at for the princely sum of $15 for two. Highway robbery! I found this amazing site – www.epassportphoto.com. Now there is no reason to pay the ridiculous fees charged in the analog world! Simply upload a digital photo taken against a white background, and the site will resize your photo into two rows of three for six perfectly useable passport photos. Download the file and print it out yourself or take it to a drugstore, which we did, and seconds later you have what you need for only $0.29!
I took the following to Travisa Outsourcing, the Indian consulate’s visa agency of choice:
- a printed scan of my birth certificate
- a copy of our utility bill – Chris was able to add my name to our bill
- the form everyone has to fill out online – this link will take you to the proper form for your visa needs after you fill in your Current Nationality, Nationality at Birth, State of Residence and Visa Type: indiavisa.travisaoutsourcing.com/requirements/gather?apply=inperson
- my passport
- a copy of my state ID
- two 2×2’s of my expressionless mug – on one website, a point was made that pictures must be “of neutral expression, neither smiling nor frowning”
If you’re getting your visa in New York, be sure to go to Travisa Outsourcing’s office at 316 East 53rd Street, not Travisa’s regular office. The one in Midtown East is specifically for Indian visas and has framed photos of the Taj Mahal and bhangra music videos play on a loop, just in case you’re wondering where you are and why you’re there. Jai ho! There is also a bouncer at the front to make sure you have all the paperwork you need; others in line with me were returnees who were missing some of the above so make sure you have everything. If not, call beforehand to see what else you can provide in lieu of whatever documentation you are unable to produce. I spoke to several people regarding this and all were quite helpful.
If you live in a city where there is an Indian embassy or consulate, there is absolutely no reason to go through a third party visa agency – using one would only incur a comparatively exorbitant service fee (Chris was charged $50 on top of the normal visa charge of $73, which is basically +$50 for someone to take your passport to Travisa), the paperwork you have to bring is the same no matter what and getting it through Travisa was a lot faster. Mine took one day whereas Chris’ took over a week when using the unbelievably unprofessional company profiled in Incredible India Visa Issues. The only reason you might want to go with an outside agency is if you yourself have no time to drop it at Travisa – you also have to go at a pre-arranged appointment time during business hours – or if the people you are traveling with/a relative/a person you work with cannot do it for you. These are the three categories of people that can drop your passport and visa information off at Travisa if you are unable to. Three people checked my paperwork and maybe 15 minutes after I passed the velvet rope, I was given a receipt and told to come back the next afternoon. The next day, I showed up with my receipt and was given my passport with a pretty new 1-page visa in it. Hurrah!
Pretty easy compared to India. All you have to do is fill out a downloadable one-page form and submit a passport photo. BUT the tricky thing is you have to pay the visa fee with a cashier’s check. This is the only payment method they accept – no credit card, cash or personal checks. I went to my bank and they said that it would cost $7 to issue the check! I gave them the ol’ broken record and the fee was waived.
Getting a hold of the embassy was quite a to-do. I wanted to check what time it was open since it was the summer and I wasn’t sure what their hours were. It was worrying that no one ever picked up during business hours. Finally I called the embassy and pressed 1 instead of 2, which goes to “official matters” instead of straight to the visa-processing center. I spoke to a real person instead of a machine; she transferred me to the visa department. Hark, they answered! Chris dropped our passports off the next day, a Friday when they were open from 10am-1pm. Perhaps because of his wide smile, they pasted the visas in on the spot. On the website, it says that visas take seven business days. So now we’re all set!
In honor of these accomplishments, I’m posting a recipe for a dish I made a few weeks ago when I was inspired to work with a new vegetable. I’ve always loved Thai eggplant but never had it in a non-Thai context. The woman I bought them from probably doesn’t sell much of it as she asked, “What are you going to do with them?” When I replied that I didn’t know, she suggested I stir-fry them. Ho hum.
When I got home, I tried one raw, and it was terrible. Some vegetables are meant to be cooked! I set to work and came out with something that we were both pleased with and enjoyed with a 1991 bottle of Riesling Spätlese we’d been saving for a special occasion.
Thai Ratatouille with Chopped Pistachios and Sage
½ pound quartered Thai, or Kermit, eggplants
1 T Catalunia blend by La Boîte à Epice
4-6 cranks of white pepper
1 T sea salt
8-10 pickled green onions, white part only (we pickled these a few weeks ago with Thai bird chilies, fresh thyme, mustard seed and a mix of apple cider and white vinegar)
1 big ripe heirloom tomato, peeled and diced
1 medium-sized bell pepper, minced
1/3 cup pistachios, roasted and chopped
6-8 sage leaves, chiffonaded
1. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick pot or deep pan. When hot, add the eggplant and stir for a few minutes, adding a bit of water if the vegetables need help releasing the liquid within.
2. Add the pickled green onion and lower the heat to medium low and cover. Check the mixture every 5-7 minutes to stir it and make sure it’s not sticking.
3. After 15 minutes, add the tomato and stir. There should be plenty of liquid in your cooking vessel if the eggplant has cooked properly and the tomato is ripe. Decrease the heat to low and cover for 10 minutes.
4. Add Catalunia, salt and pepper. Cover again for 5 minutes before turning the heat off.
5. In a serving bowl, combine the pistachios, sage and bell pepper. Mix together.
6. At the last minute before service, add the hot eggplant/tomato mixture to the serving bowl and stir. The textures and flavors are incredible and the eggplant will be a world away from the raw one you may have tried above!