Monday, 27 August 2012
Day 145 - Visa part 3: Success at the Iranian Embassy (Iranian visas in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)
Having arrived in Bishkek on Sunday evening, Monday morning seemed like a good time to start the ball rolling with our Iranian visas. First things first though I had to get passport photos taken with my head covered. The guy in the Kodak shop we found was very efficient and helpful, assisting me in adjusting my headscarf and photo shopping out the corner of shoulder at the bottom of the picture, while the others went off and ordered us hamburgers and cokes for breakfast.
We found the Iranian Embassy pretty easily and were relieved when we saw that it was slightly less abandoned than the Consulate in Almaty. Outside we put together all our paperwork and I got dressed into my ankle length skirt and long sleeved top in the 35 degree heat (probably not necessary, but we really don’t want to risk upsetting anyone that can deny us visas). The guard at the century post directed us down the side of the 2 metre high, topped with barbed wire, brick wall, to a sturdy door with a doorbell on it. The sign on the door informed us in several languages including English, that visa applications are accepted between 9am and 12pm, and we kicked ourselves when we realised we’d taken so long to put together our paperwork, get my photos taken and eat hamburgers, that it was now just after 12pm.
In the afternoon we bumped into the French cyclists from the Uzbek Embassy in Almaty, who told us a tale of woes about their experience at the Iranian Embassy here in Bishkek. They had gone through an internet based agent and like us, had been given a reference number to collect their LOI and apply for their visas here. But when they went to the Embassy the number hadn’t come through properly, and apparently the people were really unhelpful and so far they had had to return thirteen times.
We were careful on Tuesday not to make Monday’s mistake of rocking up too late, and after holding ourselves up chatting with an Irish/English couple in a Land Cruiser doing our trip in reverse, we got ourselves to the Embassy by 10am. Clad in long skirt and top, and papers in hand, we made our way back down the side of the brick wall and rang the bell on the door. A lady not dressed quite as modestly as me arrived at the door aswell, and after several minutes the door was opened for us and we entered a small air conditioned (which I was very relieved about in my modest dress) room. An Iranian man and woman were sitting in two of the very comfortable waiting chairs filling in some paperwork and the lady who had entered with us marched straight upto the window, handed over whatever she was holding and left straight away. We sat on four of the remaining six chairs and waited to be addressed, grateful for the water cooler in the corner. Framed pictures of Iranian countryside and attractions lined the walls, along with a very interesting stamp collection.
The man at the window gestured to us and we approached with our pile of documents, hopeful that he’d have our reference number and our LOI would be sitting there, trying not to think about having to return thirteen times. He asked our names and looked in our passports, then checked his pile of papers and lo and behold, there was our LOI. Of course neither of the forms we’d already filled in were the correct ones so he gave us new ones to complete, which comprised of exactly the same questions as both previous forms. When we’d completed them, we sat patiently and waited while the Iranian man and woman finished their business, then when it seemed appropriate Ben approached the window with our forms. In the mean time, the Iranian man had reappeared with business cards for his restaurant that he handed to Tom and I, before leaving again.
The man on the other side of the window looked over the forms and pointed out the question of our residence in Iran, to which we had answered “various hotels”. This (not surprisingly, or unreasonably I suppose) wasn’t good enough – we needed actual hotel names, along with their addresses and phone numbers, even though we’d already provided all this information for the LOI which was sitting on his desk. He also wanted copies of our travel insurance and we had to go to the National Bank of Pakistan to pay our 70 Euros per person visa fee. He refused to give us directions, insisting that we should give the piece of paper on which he had scrawled the address to our driver. Fortunately we’ve picked up enough Cyrillic in the last few weeks, and the street was one we’d already driven on, so we just had to keep going along it until we found the bank. Inside the bank we approached the teller, who we handed our passports and the slip of paper from the Embassy to. We waited for a few minutes while she entered everything in her computer, then she handed us printouts to check. Everything was correct, except of course my first name, which she promptly corrected. When we were all satisfied we signed the papers and she asked us to wait while she got the lady five desks along to add a signature, then the lady in the office, then the lady in the office took it off somewhere else, and finally it was taken to the cashier where we were told to go and pay. We told her we’d be paying in Com (local currency), she did the calculations, we handed over the cash, and a few minutes later we were given a receipt and sent on our way.
We got the details of the hotels we had used for our LOI off my computer, looked out our travel insurance documents, and headed back to the Embassy. I put my long sleeved top back on, which had come off as soon as we left the gates and we rang the doorbell. This time he answered “Da” (yes) through the speakers, and let us in to the air conditioned room straight away. We gave him back our passports, along with the receipt from the bank and asked how long it would take to process. “Next Monday,” he told us. Next Monday! That’s a week away – we’d heard that this Embassy issues visas in three days. We asked if it could be any quicker and he told us that we could pay an extra 35 Euros each for Express service which would be either one or two days. We really didn’t want to sit around in Bishkek for another week, or have to return after a week, so we returned to the bank, paid another 35 Euros each, and on our return to the Embassy with our new receipts, we were told to come back the following day at 4pm.
We spent the next day at the incredible state museum, buying souvenirs and doing general touristy sightseeing, which is nice to do for a bit of a change. We had been planning on going straight to the Turkmen Embassy to get our transit visas, now that we’d have our Iranian visas (which is the condition of a transit visa – Iran being the next country we’d be going to after Turkmenistan), but when we were looking for the address, we discovered that there is no Turkmen Embassy in Bishkek.
We arrived at the Embassy at 3:45pm and I decided to wait outside for this one, as I was already really hot and wasn’t overly inclined to put on my long sleeved shirt again. Five minutes later they came back outside with four passports, Iranian visas stuck into their pages. It’s a very nice looking visa, and one of the few (India being the only other one we have) that include a picture on it. This of course now means I have a picture in my passport of me in a headscarf.