Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Comrades - How to get there (and tips for that all important visa..)

For starters, there are no nonstop flights from Chennai to Durban.  Durban itself is not well connected internationally outside Africa.  So, you are left with layover options and it is a question of one or two stops and perhaps the related sticker shocker.

As you would expect, the cheapest would be to take 2 stops.  One can fly South Afrian or Ethihad Airways and it would take you via MAA - BOM / AUH - JNB - DUR.   If you book early, this ticket would cost around INR 60K in economy.

I prefer one stop, so chose Emirates.  Also, what tipped hand in favor of Emirates was my status with them.  It flies MAA - DXB - DUR with minimal layover onward but compensated with a long layover on return.  I booked this non-refundable, non-anything ticket few months back and it costed little less than INR 70K in economy.

Wanting to escape of Durban at the earliest possible, I called Emirates to prepone my travel exactly by a day.  Emirates politely told me that I hold a 'cheap' ticket and and the only option was to book a new one way ticket back home in business class for around INR 150k.  Needless to say, I stuck around  Durban for one more day not enjoying the sun.

Besides the cost aspect, another consideration is emigration.  I prefer getting it out of the way Chennai and just do the transfer at Dubai.  I find it lot easier than having to do both the transfer and emigration at Mumbai or in Delhi.

But before all that, Indian runners will have to sort through the visa issue.  This human created barrier is quite onerous and couple of runners from Chennai had to cut to the wire before boarding the plane.  Here are a few tips them, that might ease the pain a tiny bit..

  1. SA visa paperwork is laborious, so give yourself sufficient time and start 3 months ahead.
  2. SA requires you to show 'enough' bank balance and I was told that magic 'enough' would be INR 5L.
  3. Get a letter from Comrades organizers.  They provide this is on request to all international runners.  I am told, this helps in strengthening your case for visa.