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Planning an international trip from India on our own is a really difficult task since there is no much - on arrival visa options available while travelling from India ! That too from a remote town of India, it’s always a big task to identify and sort out the logistics of the trip from starting to the end.
In this blog we share our experience of travelling to end of the world - arctics from the southernmost part of India without help of any travel agents.
NORTHERN LIGHTS WITHIN A BUDGET:
For several months me, my wife and my friend and his wife were planning to make an international travel together. We were considering places like Spiti, Jordan etc. Almost finalised Jordan, but dropped it due to news based on attacks on foreign tourists. Me, My wife and friends were worried about dropping Jordan as it was very budget friendly and we can explore with self driving
Then we were discussing about travelling some other exotic location, differing in all aspects like language, culture but fitting a reasonable budget of 1.5 to 2 lakh per couple! Later we discussed about making northern lights based travel. Gathered budgets and travel details regarding - Finland - Rovaniemi. The budget was sky high in all modes of transport we could consider.
I suggested that if northern lights is the plan - we can consider Russia(if it fits our budget) as we can see northern lights there too! based on the blog - Russia and beyond (https://www.google.co.in/amp/s/www.rbth.com/travel/326730-best-places-northern-lights-russia/amp ). Then my friend told if this works out practically and fits our budget, then this will be the best idea we have ever derived !
ITS RUSSIA FINALLY:
Then started gathering all info about travelling Russia, visa processing for Indians and budget of the trip. We found everything was fitting our plan. It was almost December 2019. Our plan was to go in feb 2020. Started a whatsapp group - named it as ‘finally’ (did not mention the place name - as we already deleted two Jordan groups and similar other groups - didn’t work due to bad luck ). We gathered all possible info regarding stays, flights and visa. Locked the visa appointments.
Me and my wife went through video blogs Regarding how to get Russian visa by yatri doctor, Dhiren m bhagtani (clear video in YouTube regarding visa process to Russia), I went through blogs like - russiable.com and beyond Russia for more details about Russia travel. I was thinking that this plan was very unique, but my distant cousin - Raghu spoke randomly and told that he is visiting murmansk, st Petersburg in December 2019 for new year eve. Spoke with a traveller - Shifa Hashir randomly found in Instagram. They were from Kerala and they had visited Murmansk in November 2019. They helped us with some ideas regarding clothes to be packed.
We got visa appointment at VFS global. Their helpline is from 8 - 5 pm in weekdays and provide answers prompt. We finalised regarding northern lights tour and activities with - NORTH FOR YOU tour company, murmansk - which had a very reasonable pricing and arranged us invite to Russia - which is a very important document for tourist visit visa ! Nowadays Russian embassy is not receiving documents directly for processing visa - they suggest to come via VFS GLOBAL (it is the most reliable for Russian visa processing).
* usually it takes 4 working days to get Russian tourist visa
*if you are entering and exiting Russia via st Petersburg then E- visa can be applied (with a short duration trip - less than 14 days).
* proper - invite to visit Russia can be provided by Russian recognised local tour companies or authorised website for a fee.
*Indian visa can be processed at VFS GLOBAL - CHENNAI / Mumbai / Delhi / Kolkatta based on the region you belong. Embassy is not receiving direct application nowadays.
*most of the time they expect only - invite, entry and exit days and valid passport (with more than 6 months for expiry). But it’s better to book flights and hotels prior. We had booked our stay in hotels - prince park at Moscow and congress meridian at Murmansk at a reasonable price through goibibo and booking.com websites. Didn’t not book airbnb to avoid confusions! We finalised Aeroflot from Delhi to Moscow as it was economical and shortest duration flight but non refundable on cancellation. Flights like Air Astana has refundable on cancellation options but duration is a bit longer with transit in Central Asia. After several research we finally identified - Pobeda Airlines - lowcost domestic airline (of Aeroflot company) to go to murmansk from Moscow. It’s booking was seamless in its own app. Paid in euros with credit card. We booked air tickets and hotels and submitted documents for visa process with invite.
Meanwhile, we started preparing/ purchasing required dress form decathlon. Since we made a trip earlier to Iceland in 2018 (with temp around 0-7 degree Celsius) we had an idea about purchasing winter clothing (but this time it is expected upto -15 degree Celsius!!!). We got better down jackets, thicker gloves, thermals, woollen lined track pant, touch sensitive gloves and other accessories in a very short duration we had.
A small error in invite which was sent to us was sorted out. Our visa appointment day was nearing!
We had doubts in filling visa form as our permanent address/ current address/ passport address varied. It was very difficult to sort out till last minute. We didn’t want any mistakes to happen in visa processing as all flights and hotels have been booked prior. We took travel insurance - reliance silver travel plan through policy bazaar website (it provides a good service !).
*A good travel insurance is always safe.
*world nomads travel insurance looks good with better options, but we didn’t choose due to budget constraint.
We submitted the documents at VFS Center. They asked the invite, visa form, passport and dates of the trip and nothing else. Due to new year season they told it will take more time for the visa process. Slowly made efforts to learn some basics in Russian language through YouTube videos. Noted down a few simple and important conversations needed to be done. Then I applied in online to change my domestic debit card to internationally accessible one. Received it in 4-5 days. Purchased a few more required items like extra power bank, universal power plugs, charging cables etc. We kept writing the list of things needed for the trip. After 2 weeks, we received our visa in courier. We were happy and continued our packing works in full swing!
*always good to have two universal plugs, two chargers, two power banks for safety backup.
*keep possible types of international debit and credit cards, so that if one card fails to work, the other may work!
News about corona virus started appearing everywhere by the end of January 2020. We were following news keenly to know whether it can affect our trip. India had cases identified that too in Kerala. We planned to start our trip from Kerala as we are currently living there. I started to gather news updates about Russia and came to know that it has closed its eastern borders and stopped flights directly from affected regions of China. Also they put a person in jail for pranking using corona disease. It increased us to be more cautious before and during travel. We even received a mail from Murmansk - congress meridian hotel asking us to reconfirm our visit, due corona threat in other parts of the world.
FINAL LEG OF PACKING:
We kept proceeding with all preparations for the trip. Since we are vegetarians and stopped consuming - sugar, refined flour and products with preservatives, we had a very very narrow range of option for the food in this trip. I came to know that Murmansk is not much vegetarian friendly, from the info I could gather from the Internet. Moscow had several vegan restaurants. We marked the locations in map and saved the address. Took - dried idiyappam, garlic/ dhal powder, millet based granola, nuts, dry fruits, wheat Khakra with us as a back up food. Applied leave, took copies of all necessary documents and kept in all bags. Also took medications and masks.
Our ONWARD PLAN was —
Kollam to kochi (by car) 13/02/2020 early morning 2:00 am
Kochi to Delhi by vistara airlines 13/02/2020 9:30am
Delhi to Moscow (SVO) - Aeroflot airlines 14/02/2020 5:50am
4 nights stay at Moscow
Moscow (vnukovo) to Murmansk by Pobeda Airlines 18/02/2020 7:45am
4 nights stay at Murmansk
Murmansk to Moscow (vnukovo) 22/02/2020 10:45 am
Moscow (SVO) to Delhi 22/02/2020 7:45 pm
Delhi to Mumbai 23/02/2020 8:30 am
Mumbai to Trivandrum 23/02/2020 3:15 pm
My wife prepared lemon rice and flavoured chapatti for managing food throughout our stay at Delhi before flight.
While we were preparing for the trip, just 3-4 days before the departure date, our friends told that they couldn’t make for the trip due to a medical emergency in their family. The trip was planned for a fun travel experience with friends. We never expected something drastic incident might happen in this trip. Also we finalised the destination - Russia in a very short time frame (only 2 months we had before departure ) just because all our leave dates, northern lights and budget fell in place together! Finally me and my wife proceeded to the trip.