I had just arrived in India at the IGI airport with a 17 hour layover before my flight to Nepal. I wanted to do something other than sit around the airport eating overpriced food and drinking overpriced drinks. I was under the impression that the Taj Mahal was about 15-20 min taxi from the airport. This is extremely inaccurate. While de-boarding the plane I spoke with a few other folks traveling to Nepal that were on the same 17 hour layover. I told them that I was hoping to go outside of the airport to see the Taj Mahal due to the extensive layover. This Japanese couple smiled at me and politely laughed, they said that Agra (the city of the Taj Mahal) is 5 – 6 hours from the airport. I was disappointed when I heard this. Still in disbelief I asked one of the Indian Army guards at the airport. He said its about 250 km one way, and due to the poor road conditions and congestion that 5-6 hours is a very modest guess. This was a bit of bad news, I started walking towards the gate of my next flight when I saw the Japanese couple sitting at a pub in the airport having a drink. They waved and called me over. I told them that I was still thinking about giving it a shot, if we had 17 hours and it would take 5-6 one way I should be able to make it. They genuinely looked concerned that something could happen and that I should not take a chance. Honestly, the worst that could happen is that I would miss my flight. I told them I would see them shortly and headed for the immigration and customs counter.
After waiting in the queue for about 20 minutes (not bad for India) It was my turn to approach the desk. An older gentleman with a turban sat behind the counter, I told him “Namaste” he looked at me and took my passport. I think that globally, immigration officers are disgruntled like postal workers. This is something I have grown to accept. He leafed through my passport and told me that I need a new one because mine is in bad condition, this is something I have heard at every immigration counter for the past 4 years. I told him I would be sure to get a new one just as soon as I go home or to a consulate. He then asked “Where is your Indian Visa?” I explained that I didn’t have one, he then said that I was American and there are ABSOLUTELY NO VISA’S ON ARRIVAL. They must be obtained prior to arriving in India. I explained that I had a very long layover and only wanted to go to an airport hotel to freshen up a bit. “Fresh or no fresh, you cannot leave the airport, you must wait for your transfer.” he said He looked even more irritated at this point. I then asked to speak to his supervisor. He rolled his eyes and pressed a button that resembled a doorbell button that was located next to his mouse pad. A red light above his booth turned on and moments later a younger Indian gentlemen in a suit about my age came out from a rear office. He asked me what he could do to help. The younger Indian generation definitely seems more westernized with customer service. I explained everything to him the same as the disgruntled immigration officer. The young supervisor explained that a visa is out of the question due to government regulation. However he did state that there is such a thing as a temporary landing permit (TLP) and that these are normally granted in emergency situations for circumstances such as a plane being diverted to the airport due to bad weather elsewhere. He stated that he was willing to make an exception for me even though my situation did not really warrant such. I was beginning to like this guy. So he made a phone call and took me to a back office within the airport. We came to a desk with another middle aged Indian gentleman in a blue turban. The young supervisor shook my hand, wished me luck, and reminded me that the TLP only allowed me to go to the airport hotel and back to the airport. I thanked him and he left me with the blue turbaned gentleman. This guy explaned that the TLP cost 1700 Indian Rupees, and that he would keep my passport until I returned. “Do you want to proceed?” I nodded, I passed him the 1700 Rupees (40 US dollars) and my passport. He began filling out a document, nearly an hour later he finished this document, which consisted of about 10 blocks (very simple document) I thought we were done, when he mentioned that he needed to fill out my orangle TLP receipt picture attached) This was equally as simple. I assumed at this point that this must be his first time completing such documents. So naturally I asked him. “Are you new to this department?” He laughed and stated that his primary job has been these 2 documents for the past 20 years. I started laughing with him but even louder. Him being proud of his poor productivity put me in such a cynical yet joyous mood. It made my annoyances go away and suddenly I was filled with patience. Once he was finished with this other document another 1/2 hour later he handed me a copy. I thanked him and headed for the exit.
In front of the airport I hopped on a local bus. The bus was overcrowded with only standing space in the middle aisle but luckily I only had a small backpack, my other large pack was checked awaiting my connecting flight. The first bus-stop outside of the airport looked like some type of shopping plaza. I got off here and started haggling with the cab drivers for a ride to Agra. The first guy told me 6000 rupees, I moved on and kept dickering until one guy named Kamal Singh offered to take me there and back for 2600 Rupees or about 60 US dollars. I thought that was a great price so I hopped in the front seat, we shook on the price and I asked that he give me his word that there were no hidden fees or scams. He agreed and we were on our way. For about the first half hour I watched the urban sprawl and traffic before falling asleep with my window down and seat fully reclined as it was fairly warm and the breeze was refreshing. The first time I woke up the car was stopped and a man was reaching in the window poking me in the chest, I looked over and the Kamal the driver was not in the car. I noticed we were at a highway pay toll station with an endless line of traffic. The guy that was poking me had a monkey on a leash and wanted 100 rupees for me to take his picture. I am an angry bear when it comes to sleeping and was a little pissed he woke me up so I told him to get lost. Now that I think about it the picture of him would have went well with this blog. Not a minute later a teenager came to the window with a wide variety of Kama Sutra sexual books, I more politely told him to get lost. Lastly a young boy of about 5 or 6 years old came to the window with a wicker basket, he was a really cute & innocent looking kid and I was interested in the basket so I reached my arm out of the car and removed the lid from the basket and a cobra popped his up up from within the basket. I jumped and screamed like a fairy. I rolled the window up and that was that, the rest of the venders would come and knock on the window but I wouldnt even look. That snake scared the hell out of me.
We arrived to Agra at about 5:35pm. The Taj Mahal closed at 5:00 and it was already nearing sundown. I wasn’t the least disappointed because this was still better than sitting at the airport. We parked the car and hired a rickshaw to pedal us up the hill to a place with nice views. The little Indian rickshaw guy was standing up in high gear pedaling his butt off and he did get us up the hill, I kind of felt bad because he was so small and because I had just sat on my butt for 5 hours straight and could have used the exercise but Kamal insisted.
We found a building (Shahiri’s) with a rooftop view of the Taj Mahal. It was a 5 story building with the roof having an open air cafe. Upon reaching the roof via stairwell and seeing the Taj for the first time I was really impressed with the size and beauty of the architecture. Kamal likes to think of himself as a tour guide rather than a taxi driver, and I must admit he knows the history and the love story behind the creation of the Taj Mahal very well. We had some appetizers and coffee, he told me about Agra and the Taj Mahal. Next he spoke of his wife and daughter. I told him about myself. After which we headed back to Delhi.
In the end there were no issues and I did see the Taj Mahal. When I got back to the airport it was about 2 in the AM. I had to speak to about 6 different Officials before getting my passport back. At the gate I saw some of the folks from the earlier flight including the Japanese couple. They were both sleeping so I laid my pack down next to the area they had set up as their “airport camp site” and started reading the previous days paper.
I know some will say, all of those hours for a few minutes. Its not always about the destination though, the journey is always the part that is most remembered.
HOW CAN I GET A TEMPORARY LANDING PERMIT FOR INDIA. TEMPORARY LANDING PERMIT INDIA. CAN ANYBODY GET A TEMPORARY LANDING PERMIT. CAN I GO TO INDIA WITHOUT A VISA. HOW MUCH DOES A TEMPORARY LANDING PERMIT COST