Journey to The Heart of Asia – GETTING THE VISA

I’ve got Afghan visa! Hooray! The Second Secretary of The Afghanistan Embassy, Mr. Abdul Ghafar Jamshidy, handed it over to me this morning. He was nice and asked me few questions (“Why do you want to go to Afghanistan? Why are you going solo?”). Later he gave me a phone number, his brother in Herat, told me to call whenever arrive at the city. After his description of winter in Afghanistan, snow might reach 1 meter high then roads might get blocked, seems like I will have to take flight between cities instead of landtrip as I planned.

The Afghan visa was expensive, USD 100 (I had to pay IDR 932,500 including “biaya materai” charged by the bank), compared to Indian/Iranian visa. Anyway I’m so happy, my dream to travel within SAARC will soon come true. Well, Iran (in Central Asia) is not member of SAARC but I’m dying to see this land of Persian too.

http://www.saarctourism.org/

“Established on December 8, 1985, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (popularly known as SAARC) is a unique concept, a combined vision of eight different countries for the welfare of the people and for peace, stability and progress of the region by fostering mutual understanding, meaningful cooperation and good neighborly relations. Originally, the SAARC countries list included Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The eighth SAARC country to be included in the list was Afghanistan.”

I bought my tickets in October 2011 (Jakarta-KL-Delhi return trip by Air Asia, one way basic fare was less than USD 90), then my first step was getting Indian visa. Actually it’s visa on arrival for Indonesian, but VOA would be only valid for one entry every two months. I planned to enter India at least twice within less than a month, so I had to apply for multiple entry visa. Beside, I read somewhere that VOA would take 3 hours to process at arrival gate before can leave the airport, not sure I can afford to lose that much time considering every minute will be precious for me.

I applied for my visa to The India Embassy (on Jalan Rasuna Said, across Erasmus Huis of The Netherlands Embassy) at end of October 2011. There was always long queue there, many people from various nationalities were applying for tourist/business visa, not only Indonesian. At the receiving counter, I told the visa processing officer (a nice Indian lady) that I needed multiple entry visa for 6 months. I gave her my itinerary (showing my plan to travel around some other countries around India), explained the reason why I couldn’t use VOA facility. She read it a while then assigned me to get interviewed by The First Secretary of The India Embassy, Mr. Anand Basera.

Mr. Basera got interested when reading my itinerary, asked why I had such “bravery” (or “craziness”?) to travel to Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan. I had nice chat with him, he shared some experiences, glad that later he approved my double entry visa. At the end, he made me promise to take lots of pictures, write lots of journals, to be shared with him after finish my trip.

Sadly, when I got back to the visa processing counter, the lady would give only 2 months of visa validity (for first-timer to India like me). Meant, if I got it on that end of October, then my visa would be expired at end of December before my travel date. I didn’t want it at that time, so I took back my passport, re-applied on December 5 and got my visa on December 7 (actually only one working day but it was day off on December 6). Fee = IDR 492,000 to be paid at the embassy.

On the next week, I submitted my forms etc to The Iran Embassy (Jalan HOS Cokroaminoto) on December 12, 2011, but the consul was taking holiday and not in office for few weeks later. So, my application wasn’t being processed until last week, finally it’s finished on Thursday. Fee = EUR 30 to be paid to a BRI bank account. A bit strange that I never met any Iranian whenever I come to the embassy (the only officer was Mr. Abdullah, a very kind Indonesian). Not much people come there to get visa, each visit I met only one or two Indonesians.

On Friday morning – January 6, 2012, I took my passport back with attached beautiful exotic Iranian visa (I really love to see my name written in Arabic on it), then walked few meters away to The Afghanistan Embassy at Jalan Muchtar Kusumaatmadja.

First, I met the security guards. They wouldn’t let me in so I had to wait until an embassy officer come out and talked to me.

The gentleman, Mr. Saif, asked me why I wanted to visit Afghanistan. I told him (and shown my Iranian/Indian visa) that I planned to travel to Iran, last city in that country will be Mashhad which is only 6 hours by bus to Afghan city Herat, then why would I miss the chance to see his beautiful country?

Mr. Saif suggested me to get Afghan visa later from their embassy in India or Iran, instead of getting it from Jakarta. It’s a strange suggestion, I wondered why, later got the answer after the security guard told me that I was first Indonesian female who ever asked for tourist visa to Afghanistan by myself (was it true?). Usually only men on work/business purpose who wanted it, and applications were handled by company/agent instead of applying by themselves.

I told Mr. Saif that I really need the visa from Jakarta because I won’t have much travel time, no plan stay longer than one day in each cities of India and Iran (hopefully not), then I can’t spare time for visa application processes that might take hours at Afghanistan Embassy in Delhi or Tehran.

He asked for invitation letter, I said that I don’t have any (“Nobody invited me to Afghanistan, it’s my own intention to come there.”). I only had reference letter from my employer stating my job position and purpose/date of visit, also salary slip and copy of bank saving book as proof that I have sufficient fund to support myself during the trip. Mr. Saif smiled again (damn, so cute, I almost fallen in love!), took the reference letter but hadn’t interest to see my salary or saved money.

I also told Mr. Saif that I planned to take landtrip from Iran to Afghanistan to Pakistan, then no airplane ticket from/to his country. I will stay at my friend’s house in Herat and Kabul, then no hotel booking.

He gave me a form to be filled (similar to the one that can be downloaded from http://www.mfa.gov.af/), then finally let me enter the embassy (the whole previous conversation happened outside the gate, on the roadside).

Oh my God, there was a space for “address during stay in Afghanistan”, that made me panic because I hadn’t any at the time. Hurriedly I called my friend, an Afghan who’s married with Indonesian lady – he previously lived in Indonesia but currently in Australia (since 2008). I couldn’t get what he said (hard to capture the Afghan city’s name clearly), then I gave my phone to Mr. Saif, he helped me to write down “Kare Parwan” on the form. I didn’t have to write anybody’s name or phone number on the form, just those two words.

And that’s all, he gave me a payment guide, I paid it at the Permata bank and got my visa on this Monday – January 9, 2012 (actually could get it on next workday but Saturdays and Sundays are weekends in Indonesia). This easy process was surprising because seems like the country is still in war, perhaps a bit “dangerous” (some bad stories lately on http://www.tolonews.com/), so their government must had great concern for Indonesian solo female traveler like me. Well, probably those few visa stamps/stickers on my passport were good as proof that I’m not really beginner on traveling and they shouldn’t have anything to be worried about.

My current itinerary:
January 20, 2012 = Jakarta-KL-Delhi by Air Asia
January 21, 2012 = Agra, day trip to Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Fatekhpur Sikri, then overnight bus to Jaipur
January 22, 2012 = Jaipur day tour
January 23, 2012 = Jaipur-Sharjah-Shiraz by Air Arabia

I’m not sure yet after Shiraz (which is famous with Persepolis, Naghsh e Radjab, Naghsh e Rostam, Passargad etc). I want to go to Isfahan (Naghsh e Jahan and beautiful bridges/mosques/cathedrals), Kashan (stop at Abyaneh village on the way), Qom (the largest center for Shia scholarship in the world), Tehran…then I don’t have fixed plan yet. I might take overnight train to Mashhad (to see the holiest city for Shia) then landtrip on next day to Herat (“The Pearl of Khorasan”)…or fly directly to Mazar e Sharif (then landtrip via the famous Salang Pass and Bamiyan, stay overnight around the stunning lakes of Band e Amir)…or fly directly to Kabul? One thing for sure, I have to get back to Delhi on Friday (February 3, 2012) to enjoy the city and catch my flight back to Jakarta on Sunday night (February 5, 2012).

Flight available from Iran to Afghanistan:
– Every Sunday, from Tehran to Mazar e Sharif or Kabul (KAM Air, 12:45 PM)
– Every Tuesday, from Mashhad to Mazar e Sharif or Kabul (KAM Air, 11:15 AM)
– Every Friday, from Tehran to Mazar e Sharif or Kabul (Ariana Afghan, 1:00 PM)

Landtrip from Mashhad (Iran) to Herat (Afghanistan):

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/afghanistan/transport/getting-there-away

Direct buses run daily from Mashhad to Herat (IRR 70,000 – seven hours), which is slightly cheaper than travelling piecemeal.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1626956

The road from Mashhad to Herat is safe and easy. I did it with my family (2 kids) two weeks ago. You take a taxi from Mashhad to the border for USD 40 (2.5 hours) cross the border by foot and another taxi to Herat, USD 40-50 (1.5 hours).

http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/Asia/Afghanistan/Transportation-Afghanistan-TG-C-1.html

The only way to travel from Iran to Afghanistan is through Taybad from Iran to Herat at Afghanistan. From Iran, direct bus from Mashhad leaves at 7:30AM daily. Get the ticket a day earlier, there is only one company operating the route, the counter is at salon 1, counter 4. The journey from Mashhad to Taybad takes 3-5 hours, and it will be around 4-5PM when one finally reaches Herat.

*SIGH*

So much nice places to visit, so many things to do (ski at Dizin, watch zurkane traditional sport etc), so many nice friends and families to stay with (I plan to use CouchSurfing instead of staying in hotels) but I have only 18 days to get best of this region (without quit my job then lose income for future trip)… :((

I’d love to go to Pakistan too, but seems like I won’t have time. It might be too tired for me, I won’t be able to enjoy my trip as much as I want, then I’ve deleted this country out from my current itinerary (and save it for future trip in year 2013, insya Allah).

Just 10 days to go! I’m so excited.

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2 thoughts on “Journey to The Heart of Asia – GETTING THE VISA

  1. Hi, it is so inspiring to see a conservative lady (reasonable assumption here i hope) traveling to such parts of the world while still keeping the job. I like that you explain the practical things like visas, cheap air tickets etc. Would love it if you included more pictures.

  2. Thanks for reading my blog, Julie. Your comment is really flattering.

    Sure, I’ll write more later about visas, cheap air tickets, recommended places to stay (sometimes it was in hotel, or shared bedroom in hostel, or stay with local people through CouchSurfing/Airbnb), etc. However, I have not much experience (never been in Europe and America, yet) then probably much less information than you expected.

    I’m working on pictures, but it’s not easy to select the ones to be edited (must resize it to be smaller and lower resolution for this blog) and uploaded. During my last trip in Manila (October 12-15, 2013), I took almost one thousand images within only 3 days then haven’t got time yet to complete the travel note with pictures after one week.

    Anyway, please keep in touch.

    Cheers.
    Desi.

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