100 Days in India Project

Immigration in Chennai Airport - photograph of Passport Stamps

52/ 100 Immigration in Chennai Airport

Post 52 of my 100 Days In India project, but day one of our very first time in India back in January 2018. Our first couple of hours spent passing through immigration in Chennai airport quickly set the tone for everything else about our journeys through this amazing, yet often frustrating, place.

On this particular trip we flew into the hot and humid Tamil Nadu city of Chennai, arriving fatigued and in need of a nice nap. As usual, all the passengers disembarked the plane together like a flock of sheep. We all followed the creased trousers of the travellers front of us, walking together through the airport, wanting to overtake to walk faster whilst also knowing that ultimately it would be completely pointless. Soon we were faced with a decision, splitting the group into two.

A tiny, easy-to-miss, photocopied sign taped to a pillar directed all the people without an Indian passport to the left to join the back of an enormous queue leading to just four desks in the far distance. The other passengers got to go through immigration in style with about 30 desks to choose from. We stood patiently in our line, watching all the Indian passengers from our flight, through conveniently placed windows, breeze through their passport control, followed by another flight, and another, and all the while we had progressed about two spaces in the queue.

Our line had become so ridiculously long that an angry official had to intervene and coax a few hundred tired and tetchy passengers into a nice curve around the concourse. Temptingly there were a few comfy sofas lining our route but to sit on one was to risk your spot in the ever-lengthening line. The chairs seemed like a trap and only the bravest, or perhaps weakest-willed, amongst us dared to break formation and sit down.

After two hours in the queue (that’s not an exaggeration) we made it to the front with our little pile of carefully filled out documents. We were fingerprinted on a digital machine that barely worked – the source of much of the delay – and everything resembling a form that we could provide was stamped, double stamped and then stamped again by another guy for good measure. I managed to pass inspection long before Fiona who was having even more difficulty with her fingerprints and was having her digits squashed against the glass scanner by a member of staff.

We were then directed to walk about 2 metres to the left and around the back of a temporary screen. Once there we had to get all of our paperwork checked and stamped again, despite there being no possible way we could have got to that point without having just gone through the first checkpoint.

Those first two hours taught us the three most important things about travelling in India:

  1. You have to be very, very patient.
  2. There will be a ridiculous amount of ridiculous rules.
  3. Nothing really makes much sense, so just go with it.

Exhausted, sweaty and with squashed fingers we were free to go, and we were in India!

What we weren’t able to do, however, was find our backpacks. It had taken so long to pass through the immigration system that all the luggage had been removed from the carousels and heaped in huge piles. Each pile related to one flight number which, unhelpfully, had been written on a piece of paper, in Hindi.

Leaving the airport was no mean feat either. Have a read through story 53 to find out why.