Day 30: Driving Towards Kazakhstan with Expired Visa
Today was 5th October, meaning my Kazakhstan visa had expired! Aarti was now feeling much better, and we decided to carry on towards the border hoping our Mithun Chakraborty performance will work for us and we will be let in.
We had tea with some biscuits and left towards Astrakhan pretty quickly. Russian roads are excellent and landscapes are just plain flat, wherever you see there are just flat grounds. While on the way, we were practicing a popular Mithan Da songs and some moves to go with it. Wherever we could find internet we downloaded photos of Mithun Da with Kapil Sharma, since we had Kapil’s photo on our car so from (1) and (2) we were going to prove our relationship with Mithun Chakraborty 🙂
After driving close to 5 hours, we were in Astrakhan. Anyone in their right mind would have stayed in Astrakhan and applied for a new Kazakhstan visa (could have easily taken 5-10 business days) but since we knew if we did not enter Kazakhstan today or in a day or two, the whole trip would jeopardize and we would have to return! Another hour or so and we will know which way we were heading.
Russian police is as corrupt as Indian police and there are plenty of corrupt stories you will hear or read about. While we were driving on a straight road and were supposed to take a right turn as per the GPS, i did the mistake or trying to take an earlier right turn. The moment i gave the signal and started turning but then i realized my mistake and started driving straight (there was no other traffic on the road at that time). As luck would have it, there was a traffic check-post right before the next turn and we noticed the cop checking out our number plate. He waived us to stop and said something in Russian. We had downloaded the offline version of Google translator and used it extensively during our trip specially after crossing EU. We wrote about us and showed the cop translated text. He read it and took out his iPhone, that bugger had a paid translation application that would convert what he spoke into the mic. According to him, we have broken the traffic rule by misguiding the traffic behind us by first giving a right signal and then coming down straight. I tried explaining the situation but he said it was a major violation with fine up to $1000.00, he took our paper and went inside the station. We had read about Russian Police’s corrupt practices but this was going to be a first hand experience. Both me and Aarti got down trying to request him to let us go. Aarti is a big drama, in these kind of situation her inner artist just jumps out and gives an Oscar worth performance. So, now she was a helpless lady on the road thousands of miles away from her country and running late to reach the Kazakhstan border. The cop asked me tell her to stay in the car while i follow him into the station. He seemed very serious so i asked Aarti to calm down and followed him in. There was another cop inside the station and he started telling how serious the violation was and how his senior officer is trying to help us out and if this goes to the court, we would be stuck here for days! So, change of strategy and i told the officer that i will give him whatever we have as we were both short on time and money. Using his mobile application, he asked me how much we had. I pulled out all the money i had in all my pockets, which was roughly $35 and £20! They both started laughing at me and while we were at it, Aarti was trying to enter the station. Officer told me to ask her to go back in the car and he was serious. Now, i was trying to convince Aarti to go back and let me handle it alone and it took some time for me to convince her.
Some Drama on the Way 🙂
She went back and i tried convincing the officers. Suddenly there was sound of some other vehicle stopping out the station and only, it was another police vehicle and the office thought it was his senior office who came by. He quickly used his app and told me to keep quite, which i did. Once that guys was gone, i tried convincing them again saying i listened to whatever he said and i genuinely had only that much money! These guys were frustrated by us both i guess, they bought it and let us go only $35 and £20 lighter.
Beyond Astrakhan, the road was not as great but manageable. Just 15-20 kms behind the border we had to cross a floating bridge which was in a bad state and with a truck stuck on top of it. With vehicles on the bridge, the bridge was coming down to almost at the same level as that of water. After that truck moved out, we crossed the bridge and carried on towards the border.
Getting through the Russia-Kazakhstan border is a 2 step process. First they issue you a coupon, then you drive through the no mans land which is quite some and then once you reach the Kazakhstan border, there was a long queue and the border check-post seemed unlike anything we were imagining, it was a pretty big building and clearly a modern day office with plenty of army personnel walking around. Both of us knew that dancing to the tunes of popular Mithun Chakraborty songs were not going to work for sure. We planned to be oblivious of the visa expiry if it was brought to our notice, plead our case and see if they will let us in. Almost after an hour wait, it was our turn to get cleared. Aarti went first and since she has UK passport she did not need additional visa, the officer at the counter was a lady and she called me at the counter and started looking at the visa. She asked us a couple of questions and then started looking for the stamp to let us in. She stamped the stamp pad and then was about to stamp the visa page when it stuck her that last date on my visa was yesterday! The scene was very much like the last scene from movie “Argo”, however we were acting taken by a surprise and pleaded everyone we could. Fortunately, we met a soldier who had spent enough time in US and spoke fluent English. We explained him everything and spoke to his commanding officer but we had no option but to go back to Astrakhan and apply for the Kazakhstan visa.
Positive thing was that incidentally we had Russian visa with 02 entries allowed (not multi entry) and Astrakhan was less than 2 hours away. By the time we started towards Astrakhan, it had gone dark and while crossing the border control i hit the car really hard on the gap between road and the bridge. I knew it was hard to tried hearing for any rattling or other sounds, check engine light but all seemed good so carried on towards the Russian border. This time at the border there was an insurance guy available as well, so got insurance too this time. Aarti arranged for a room in Hotel Park Inn, by this time i had started feeling tired and feverish. Aarti checked with the receptionist about Kazakhstan embassy and work hours, we request her to call them in the morning and inquire about the details so that we could apply for the visa as soon as possible.
I was dead tired, we ordered some food from the room, had it and dozed off.
While plan to sing and dance on Mithun Da’s tunes did not work but will we able to get the visa stamped on time? That question remains 😉