My dream is to visit and experience 100’s of places, and for 2017, Russia somehow topped this list.
I was extremely fond of visiting this country, but an incident changed my perception and now I think Russians assume that Indian passport holders are too poor to have a 20 day long trip in their country.
So, what is this post about?
A forced day in Russian “no man‘s land” and a realization of powerless Indian economy!!
Should you read this one?
There is always some takeaway from any reading. I hope, this post will help future travellers to keep certain extremely important things in mind before leaving their homeland.
Month of March 2017, I was determined to visit Russia this year along with one more friend of mine “Prasann”. We finalized dates and booked flights. We finalized on our internal travel plan and the very next task was to arrange for an original Invitation letter for Russian Visa, which is a “must to submit” to apply for Russian VISA. I arranged that from a Russian tour company and applied for our VISA.
Certainly “VISA” was granted!! An exciting affair and we were overly elated.
Another friend of mine “Gourav Agrawal’’ planned to join us, and we matched our tour bookings. The only difference was- our departure flight from India was already full. So, we booked another “Gulf Air via Bahrain” flight which was a day early for him.
Let’s have a quick look on our tour, on how it really look!!
Arrival in Moscow – Be in Russia for 20 days (All internal travel bookings done, all hotels booked)
Leave for Mongolia – be in Mongolia for 6 days (All internal travel bookings done, all hotels booked)
Leave for India via China and Srilanka (China and Srilanka were just a transit).
Leaving India – 11th August!!..
Woahhh!! 25 day long trip, a not so usual case with Indian travellers! All three of us, were excited to an extreme level. We even made it a point to meet one final time in India before we see each other again in our booked accommodation (Hostel Sova) in Moscow city on 12th day of August.
Gourav: Bro’s … and the moment is here… No more work just chill …
Shashank: Oye…make sure to take a SIM after immigration, also convert small amount of currency, just follow the itinerary and follow the crowd 😛
Gourav: See Prasann !!! Follow the crowd … isn’t Shanks trying to be oversmart 😀
Prasann: Gourav bro… Chill, we will show this namesake traveller our strength this time…:P
Gourav left India on 11th Aug by an early morning flight (4:00 AM Gulf Air flight via Bahrain). And we left the same day 11th Aug by an afternoon flight (around 1:00 PM Air Manas flight via Bishkek). Here, one thing I would like to mention upfront, our choice of flight was 80% dependent on price and 20% on the time of arrival (we didn’t want to be in the evening flight, considering commutation problems from airport) to Moscow city. While Gourav should reach on 11th Aug itself at around 2:00 PM Moscow time, while both of us (Prasann and myself) should reach on 12th Aug morning 10:00 AM.
When we landed in Bishkek!!
Prasann: Shanks… We are half way through.. 😛
Shashank: (While, trying to connect with Bishkek Airport WiFi…) I’m so excited bro..
Meantime, I got the internet and was just checking my Whatsapp…
Shashank: (Perplexed)… Prasann, Gourav just replied over Whatsapp that immigration staff didn’t allow him to enter Russia. They are claiming that his VISA is invalid. They are not at all supportive and interrogating him from last two hours.
VISA is invalid? I have never heard this thing in my life before; either you get a VISA or get rejected, at least when applied through a country specific embassy.
As per Gourav, they were treating him in an extremely bad manner. Moscow airport has no free WiFi without any Russian SIM (you need Russian number for verification). He was later locked in a room as if he was some kind of criminal.
- There was absolutely no way of contacting anyone outside.
- Room was filthy, with no charging port as well.
- Attached toilet was more like a smoking room, and
- This small 160 sq ft room was anytime occupied with more than 15 persons.
- A lady officer was stationed outside, who kept on yelling on everyone, howsoever important the matter may be.
Only courtesy Immigration staff showing was by not letting us die out of hunger by providing with food packets, but then how can anyone be a vegetarian on this planet?? Gourav being a vegetarian just couldn’t eat anything and was not even allowed to purchase anything by himself.
Importantly, he somehow got internet and started explaining his situation to his family and to us.
Though, I was calm, I was just thinking about getting in there and be sure enough that officers were just verifying things and after a successful verification they will let Gourav along with us to enter and enjoy their country.
And a sleepless night!!
Night before our arrival transiting via Bishkek probably was one of the worst transit night I can ever imagine. While our friend Gourav was locked, we all along with his family down in India were really concerned about his safety. All our efforts were going waste.
Gourav was made to sleep on the floor, which was getting cold as time passed. Later he even told, it was so chilling inside in that room in the night that he chose to cover himself with a filthy, smelling blanket lying in a corner of the room. This was simply inhumane for a VISA granted traveller.
Somehow, Gourav’s family could contact Indian embassy. But, there again, we couldn’t receive any kind of personal help.
Prasann and I were just waiting to get this long night pass and fly soon. Even we both were too tensed or rather overwhelmed, that we forgot to eat anything all through this time.
Why should Gourav go through all the fun… “Now it’s our
And we were here, Moscow airport, all the mystery was about to unfold for us as well. As decided, we directly approached immigration staff and didn’t go to the passport/immigration control counters. It was rather a daunting task to really convey what we wanted to immigration officers. But, finally google translator came to our rescue, and we could explain that we were Gourav’s friends and needed to rescue him from this nightmare.
We were made to sit in a room for over half an hour, when an officer came down and enquired;
Officer: (with a suspicious face) why are you here? Why are you coming through Bishkek?
Prasann: We are here for tourism… Bishkek was just our transit.
Officer: (Rude and rough tone with overpowering gesture) Are you sure? Why are you going to Mongolia? How can you travel this long?
Are Indians supposed not to travel this long?? We are still considered poor is it ??
Anyways, He didn’t even wait for our answers and just left with an angry face. His attitude was extremely negative. He came back again, asked for all of our papers and Passports, left and came back again after 10 minutes.
Officer: Follow me!!
He took us one level up using an elevator and made us sit in open; there were 10-12 more tourists all with confused face… Those were none other than other detained passengers.
We immediately needed internet to let Gourav know that we were here and in talks. We were asking for hotspot or some other internet source around when one passenger offered us an internet enabled Russian SIM. And at the same time an officer approached us calling Prasann’s name and this was the time for another interrogation!!
And we met Gourav…
Officer took Prasann with him, while I told Gourav we were here, he was surely relieved, though there were things going on with him and he confirmed his name was there in some kind of deportation list. Just 15 minutes and Prasann was back, elated,
Prasann: Shanks!! It was easy, that guy was good, he enquired our income related things and checked my account balance etc. I even asked him if we are going in and he confirmed. Yes, we all three are going to visit Russia 😀
Shashank: Wow!! Awesome news, finally relieved, let’s go and enjoy.
I told Gourav about the same. And then suddenly a sound,
Officer: (waving at us!!) You two, follow me!!
Both of us followed him, passed immigration counter and were made to move further 100 m away from immigration counter towards a room. And then forced inside, without uttering even a single word. Gourav was there inside along with more than ten other passengers. We were happy meeting him and then officer left us as… LOCKED!!!
Gourav: (smiling)… You are here, at least we are getting deported together… 😛
Shashank: No way, we are not getting deported. They didn’t tell anything, no questions from me. How can they deport us!!
Gourav: (sadly) this is what it is bro… This is what it is … They made fun of me, five or six of officers were asking me to repeat their words in their tone. In-fact, they even verbally abused me. They are really bad people. We made an extremely poor decision of coming down to this country. They are not at all supportive.
Prasann: How is this possible, how can that officer say something and do something else.
Shashank: Now, I understand why there’s no tourism in this country. They themselves don’t want tourists to come down. They think these poor Indians; how can they travel this long.
The room was in extremely bad condition, hardly any place to sit for us as well. It was fully occupied. It was suffocating as well, because of more person than that room can handle. There was an extremely foul smell coming from connected common washroom. It was more dirt everywhere, than on European roads.
Scattered food packets were just for non-vegetarians. What we could just grab was water. Gourav was hungry from last 30 hours.
Some help from Indian Embassy..
Gourav was already in contact with Indian Embassy, who were also not much helpful besides that they could help us in arranging our safe though despair return. They were more concerned about their vacation day. Though we would like to thank Mr Senthil (Indian Embassy Emergency coordinator in Moscow) who was in contact with us and trying to coordinate over phone. He even directly told us “Russian Immigration department is determined for our deportation and doubting our real purpose of visit...” My question was – ON WHAT BASIS???…
Indian embassy had even issued a letter (snapshot below in Russian…) to immigration department of Russia stating they were ready to take our responsibility and that we were genuine Indian tourists, here for tourism only. But this country which boasted of its long relation with world’s fastest growing economy; didn’t even care about considering this request from official authority as well.
“Russian Immigration department is determined for our deportation and doubting our real purpose of visit...” My question was – ON WHAT BASIS???
With the help of Indian embassy we could just negotiate our return terms and could get rid of this DEPORTATION stamp and booked our return flight ticket mid night over same day; again loosing another hefty sum of money.
More than ten hours in that closed room was the most horrible experience I ever had in my life till now and for Gourav it certainly was even worse. All through this time, we were just coordinating with airlines for our baggage transfer, pleading immigration staff to connect with airlines for our transfers with lots of verbal beatings and sometime pondering what was our mistake. We were bit lucky that we had some Indian snacks in our backpacks to keep us alive for some more time. I only wish this incident will never ever happen with any other traveller.
Hope you could connect with this incident, which indeed is an experience we will never forget. Please share this post, if you think we should atleast get our answers on why were we asked to leave!!
Thanks for reading… Happy Travelling!!