Monday’s early morning start was to the passport office where I needed to renew my Sri Lankan visa. I had applied on-line for a visa before travelling here, which is a pre-requisite before entering the country. I paid approximately 30 euros for the month-long visa. You cannot apply for a longer period on-line.
When I was in Heathrow on Saturday 17th September and called to the Sri Lanka check-in desk to pick up my ticket for the flight to Colombo, without my asking the Sri Lankan airlines guy said, ‘You can stay 150 days on that visa.’ Well I knew the visa was for only one month and thought maybe I could extend it for another 120 days – but as I am learning nothing is what it seems and much is lost in translation.
Parking was the first problem at the passport office in Battaramuller. There are a host of newly built government buildings and uniformed police on duty at the entrance to the car parks. They wouldn’t allow us park where we wanted to and sent us on a huge loop heading across a river. There were parking places adjacent to some houses near the banks of the river and some residents waved to us to park on their property which we would have had to pay for of course.
But we followed the car park diversion signs and reached a government parking space not too far from the building we needed. Pelawatta is in the Battaramuller district so we walked into the building just after 8.30 am.
There is a wide motorway being built to one side of the row of newly constructed government buildings which will mean easier travelling for all those working there and for the visiting public such as ourselves. Such was the density of traffic, turning right off the main road would simply never have happened but for the uniformed policeman directing the traffic, so the new roads will hopefully reduce the congestion.
The son had extended his visa at another passport office, down town, and was dreading the cramped conditions. However the new government building in Battaramuller is state of the art with huge palatial entrance halls, marble tiled floors gleaming in the early morning light and a bank of eight pristine lifts to take you to any of the nineteen floors.
Beautiful girls wearing equally beautiful saris, smilingly directed us to the lifts, the fourth floor and the huge visa room. Again the floors were gleaming as were the banks of stainless steel chairs – rows and rows of them.
First stop was to request an application form. A very pleasant man who had good English asked me how many months I wanted the visa for. I replied, ‘Three months please.’ To which he responded, ‘You can only have two months!’
I don’t know what it is about three months. Is it because it is a straight fraction of a year, or are we just comfortable with the number three or does everyone want to stay in this wonderful country for another three months? During the next three hours we were in the process, each person I overhead being asked how long they would like the visa for, asked for three months and were told they could only have two! Why didn’t he start out by saying you can only have up to a two month visa?
However, my very pleasant man assured me that a visa for two months cost the same as a visa for one month but that was not quite accurate either because my month visa purchased on line was 30 euros and the two month visa eventually cost the equivalent of 40 euros. Has the euro gone down that much in the last couple of months?
I had to have a passport photograph taken and again another nice young man was busy with lights and photographic umbrellas, taking the photographs with a Nikon digital camera. The strong glare of the lights was not very flattering as like most people my age the face seems to drop through the force of gravity overnight, but who cares. With only two people ahead of us in the queue, my passport photographs were taken quite quickly and the digital card slotted into a machine.
While we waited for the prints to be churned out, we looked around the huge room with its banks of vacant stainless steel chairs and the son commented, ‘They must be expecting a rush.’ I handed over 200 rupees (about 1 euro) and received a neat white envelope with four passport photographs which I would rather not own up to being a likeness of myself.
Once the visa extension application was completed and the tiny photograph attached and checked by the very pleasant man we were given a ticket and directed along the corridor to another room. Our number was V11 and we joined others waiting on the uniform stainless steel chairs facing boxed-off offices. These had frosted glass doors and windows so we could not see who was working in them. There were probably sixty or so of the stainless steel chairs in this room, all facing the same direction. There was a government employee in the standard uniform of cream shirt and dark beige trousers, neat collar and a security badge hanging around his neck who would call the next number. Next in line would stand beside the frosted door and wait patiently until the uniformed man opened the door.
I thought we were going to be ejected as the uniformed man had asked us to stand by the door to the left. He walked to the door on the right and called someone else to stand outside the door to the right and wait.
As he did so our door opened and the previous applicant exited so the son and I entered and sat down at a desk in front of a woman in a sari. She was typing in details on the computer in front of her and looked surprised and none too happy when we sat down. The uniformed man came into the room as his guard duty had obviously gone awry. We had entered the room before he gave us permission.
When she had finished typing, we handed over my completed application form, photograph and passport which the lady examined and within two minutes indicated all was in order and we could leave and wait at the payments office back at the main visa application room.
More in the next blog.