Saturday, April 1, 2017

UK Tourist Visa: All you need to Know!

Hello folks!

If you live in UK and want to invite your parents for a visit, but it's their first time abroad and you're nervous how is it all going to happen, you're in the right place! A friend’s mother was rejected UK visa a couple of months ago and I was terrified of my parents meeting the same fate. I was extra cautious and compiled all the information needed to get a visa to UK successfully; I had already booked non-refundable round tickets, so failing was not an option!

I filled both my parent’s application forms (from 2 different email ids) here, It’s quite a detailed form, take your time and fill every detail carefully, esp. the financing section. No tips just use commonsense.

I wrote a very personal invitation letter, mentioning what I do, my NI number, why do I want my parents to visit me, where I live and my contact details just in case there is anything else needed. (Please write to me if you want a sample for the invitation letter.)

Also I wrote a covering letter from my parents side explaining why they want to visit me, what are their plans during their stay and why am I sponsoring them. My parents don’t have easy access to mail and computers, so I did all the computer work from here.

I didn’t send any original document from my side; I took online bank statements and sent photos of my electricity bill, work proof (company’s registration number in my case), visa and passport. They took a printout of all the documents there.

Documents you need to send your parents.

1. Invitation letter  
2. Passport copy
3. Visa copy
4. 6 months bank statement (if you’re sponsoring)
5. Address proof - Electricity Bill, Utility Bill or Council Tax Bill.
6. Work proof (yours)

Documents your parents need to gather

1. Covering letter (make it personal)
2. Application form (filled online and printed), you can also fill it from here and mail it to your parents.
3. Passport - Original and Photocopy 
4. Bank statements with bank seal - 6 months - Original and Photocopy, even if you’re sponsoring their bank statement will make the case stronger.
5. Work proof or Pension Passbook - Original and Photocopy 
6. Pay slips if not retired – Original and Photocopy
7. House proof (papers of property - Original and Photocopy
8. Proof to show ties back home; letter from sibling in India or property papers should suffice.
9. Income tax papers (3 years) - Original and Photocopy 
10. Photos according to the UK visa guidelines. Although my parents told me they didn’t need the photos as they click in the visa office with their camera.
11. Return ticket copies, although according to the guidelines it’s not necessary to book tickets in advance, I feel it makes the case stronger.

Maybe I was a nervous wreck but my parents got their visa in 10 working days! It’s going to be a beautiful summer!

Good luck!


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Solo in Scotland

Hello Scotland. You're beautiful.

The difficult part is to get out of your duvet in the cold, open your umbrella in the rain, board a bus to the Coach Station and line up to get in the bus for the trip ahead. But once your bags are taken care of, and you've loosened your belt, taken off your shoes, and placed the pillow under your head, the good times begin. And as the bus maneuvers its way through the traffic on unfamiliar roads, the realization of no office in the morning sinks in and that's when the magic starts unfolding.

You're also expensive. I can deal with that.

I did my bit of traveling in India but this was Europe, and my fear was no different than that of a regular Indian who dreams of backpacking in Europe. Paisa! Money! When your hard-earned savings in rupee is converted into pounds, it shrinks to scary proportions. So how does the middle class Indian travel?

While traveling in India, I met many globetrotters not quite loaded with money, but just choosing smart ways of traveling. I picked up some skills from them, and I plan to use them while traveling across Europe. I also intend to make my journeys as frugal as possible, and make an Indian's humble rupee strong enough to survive Europe. To girls back in my country, I say buckle your laces, ladies. Tie the pallu tight around your waist and go walk the world.

And guess what, if you don't have anyone to travel with you, even better! I have been traveling solo for more than four years now. Trust me, it has never let me down. Fun in the company of others may be a matter of chance, but traveling alone is fun guaranteed. Read on to know what I mean.

Okay, back to Scotland.

I have been working in London as a chess teacher, and I get generous holidays. I don't have an Schengen visa yet, so I thought of covering countries where my UK visa suffices. After making one-day trips to Oxford, Cambridge and other fringe cities, I decided to visit Scotland for my one-week, half term break.

While traveling to Scotland where do you make a pit stop if not at Edinburgh? It is a beautiful city with a fascinating history. I booked my tickets about twenty days ahead. I got an overnight bus ticket from London to Edinburgh for 25 GBP and another for a four-hour return train trip for 27 GBP.

My bus arrived early morning at 7.30 and to my relief and a much needed change from London, it wasn't raining. I almost had a rain scald in London! The bus stops in Europe are like the airports in India, and you can easily wash up, grab a bite and get ready for the day ahead. Edinburgh seemed very tourist-friendly, and there is a lot of information available on the bus station itself. The staff were very helpful and a kind gentleman there gave me a map of the city and also suggested 'must-see' places.

8am, first impressions. 
Now if you’re in a new city you have three options to stay. You could book a hotel in advance, which is generally outta my budget. You could scout for hostels or B&Bs for a more budgeted stay. And there is one more option, which is most exciting of the lot, and it’s free! That is, ask the locals to host you and stay with them! Share your culture and absorb theirs, and promise to host them in your city in return!

Now there are websites like where local people offer their couches to travelers, that might not be the most comfortable but definitely most exciting! I had found a host in city and after a hot cuppa I navigated to his house. Rafa my Spaniard host didn't live too far from the bus station but I had a bag on me, so I took a full day bus pass for 3.5 GBP. 

Day 1 - Expenditure (in GBP): Commute- 3.5, Food- 12, Tickets- 19

The best way to know a city is to walk it. Get lost in it. Forget main roads and find hidden alleys. Forget destinations; find exciting new ways. And I planned to do just that in Edinburgh. After a quick hello to my host and tucking my bags in a corner I headed off to the city. Edinburgh is a walker's paradise, with beautiful gardens, old buildings and occasional glimpse of the blue sea from narrow streets it's a treat.

Crossing the beautiful meadows I walked towards the castle looking for a place for breakfast. And I found a grand one on Rose Street.

Full Scottish breakfast @6.5 GBP
From Rose street I walked towards Princess Street and entered Princess Gardens, 

And there it was, the Edinburgh Castle. The Castle stands atop an extinct volcano presenting a surreal view from the Princess Street and the Gardens.

While it's steep at 19 GBP for a ticket and an audio guide, I don’t advice you to miss it. The Castle offers magnificent panoramas in every direction; so don’t forget your camera, it’s a brilliant photo-op spot. 

I also highly recommend you take the audio guide for the castle tour; Scotland has a fascinating history, full of plotting, revenge, betrayals and tragedy. The tour of the castle with the audio guide makes it a Game of Thrones-like experienceThe Castle offers magnificent panoramas in every direction. 

Views from the Castle

I suggest you reserve a good 4-5 hours to visit castle. There is a small cafe inside the castle offering great views and greater cakes!

Oh, and it took me 30 minutes to get the ticket, because the queue was long. So I suggest a better way would be to book your tickets online.

There is a souvenir shop inside the castle, but the one just outside is bigger and cheaper. There are many souvenir shops in Edinburgh, and you feel sort of compelled to buy Scottish-check and single malt whiskey. There are just too many to ignore!

Day 2 - Expenditure: Commute- 0, Food- 15.

I woke up early to a sunny Sunday. After a quick breakfast I headed to measure more of Edinburgh on foot. I walked to the Parliament House; I had heard of its controversial architecture but honestly, I didn't find anything controversial in bamboo decorations. It was rather cool!

Scottish Parliament.

Also it was closed for renovation, so visitors were told to stay out. 

Next to the Parliament house is a beautiful hill with an easy one-hour hike to the top 'Arthur's Seat'. And it looked like the whole city had come out to mount it! Well, expect no less crowd on a sunny Sunday anywhere in Europe. Sun is truly worshipped here (surya ko devta to ye maante hain, hum to bas naam ka doli main leke ghumte hai, tel ikkatha karte)!

I climbed up, only to climb down. That's where the beauty lies, in the journey! The act itself is so rewarding, it doesn't care for a grand-finale.

Opposite the Parliament is the Queen's Palace. It was another 20GBP to see the royal chambers, and I decided to give it a skip. I seriously feel they should bring the ticket prices down!

Walking back from the Parliament to the city I stumbled upon this tea & cake gem. You see getting lost has its advantages. And after the hike, I must have earned some cake points!

I closed my day in the city but the evening was still to unfold. Traveling alone and couch-surfing is much more than just being cheap. While traveling alone you are more open to absorb the local culture, strike a conversation with other travelers, and focus more on things you like. On the other hand traveling with family and friends and staying in big expensive hotels makes one more confined, and we all know bickering is inevitable.

I got some grocery and Rafa made a simple yet delicious dinner of Salmon and spinach. Rafa has been living away from home from many years now; and the first thing you learn living away from home is fuss-less, survival cooking. Rafa simply boils/steams/stir-fries his meals with minimum ingredients, he doesn't even need salt! It was a good lesson for me as an Indian, who stocked a plethora of spices and thought less of all non-spicy cuisines.

Rafa was interested in meditation and being an Indian, it's my prerogative to help everyone when it comes to yoga, meditation and spiritual guidance! I introduced Rafa to spiritual Nadabramha and equally spiritual adrak chai.

Day 3 - Expenditure: Commute - 0, Food -12

It was a rainy and gloomy day and I was sour from the hike, so I decided to take it easy and not do anything. (To do or not to do, it not a question but a choice, while traveling solo!) I slept a little after breakfast, but then my feet demanded their daily dose of activity. I obliged, and decided to visit the museums. Something like that is perfect for a rainy day. And they are free admission! 'National Museum of Scotland' is the biggest  have seen so far. It was combined with National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Museum in 1985. There is a massive collection of Scottish antiquities, culture and history. The adjacent Royal Museum's collection covers science and technology, natural history and world cultures.

There was palpable patriotism in every Scottish I met. 

Day 4 - Expenditure: Commute - 40, Food - 18, Ticket Cruise - 17

The fourth day was the most expensive day of my trip! I was in Scotland only for five days, but if you're there for longer, it can be a lot cheaper with better research and a little more effort. If you have time, then look for companions to share a car, more importantly one with a valid UK driving license, and you can hire a car for 30GBP a day! There are also free highland tours available but those one needs to book much in advance.

I booked a day tour to Loch Ness (Loch is lake in Scottish) and the highlands from the tourist centre, for 40 GBP, the most tourist-like thing I have ever done in my travels. And most tourist-like things are expensive. Regardless, the trip was beautiful. Our driver Jamie was also our guide and he made the tour super fun with his feed of history and fun facts as we crossed the magnificent highland landscapes. His first instruction to us was, "the most important thing you need to remember in this trip is that my name is 'Jamie', not 'Driver'!"

No Nessie to be sighted :(
We started at 8 in the morning from the Castle to be back at 8pm. Although, it was a beautiful trip, with occasional sightings of highland cows and frequent sightings of sheep, I would not recommend it to my readers! For the simple reason, it's too much for a day! If you have more days break your journey in two days to Loch Ness. In a days trip you hardly get to see anything on the way and the driver is always rushing to make it to Loch Ness and then back to the city in time. It's too exhausting for a day. If you only have a day then I would recommend Loch Lomond, it's only one hour from Glasgow, and you can see the famous Sterling castle on the way. 

Fun Fact - Sheep in Scotland outnumber the human population!

Day 5 

My train back to London was at twelve in the afternoon from Waverley station, and after a light breakfast I wheeled my bag towards the station. As usual the train, was on time!

I of course booked a quiet coach ;) time for a good book and loads of tea!