Thursday, August 18, 2011

Travels in foreign lands-XIX (Discovering America-II)

After spending a week in the Boston Hospital, my uncle came back to the country home of Dr. Ashraf for recuperation. He was supposed to stay couple of weeks more in USA before flying back home. As he was feeling much better, he asked us to go for some sight seeing in the meantime. Accordingly, my sister and I decided to start our sight seeing from New York. I spoke to Muzaffar and we took a greyhound bus to New York. He received us at the bus terminal and took us to his two roomed flat.
As he would be busy during the day, he offered to take us to Opera and some other places in the evenings and also gave us a plan for day sight seeing. The first thing we did was to get a Canadian tourist visa. It took us only couple of hours to do so! I was surprised to see the quick disposal in the consular sections of the diplomatic missions in New York. Back home it would have taken at least a couple of days! We started our tour with a visit to the UN Headquarter. It was not far from the place where we were staying. There is a conducted group tour of the entire complex. We were shown all important parts and were taken to the General Assembly Hall and the Security Council chamber. Interestingly, while explaining the working of the Security Council, the guide mentioned about Kashmir which was still on the agenda of the Council. She was quite amused when we told her that we were from Kashmir!
After spending the first half of the day at the UN we decided to go to the Statue of Liberty, the most well known landmark of both New York and America. We decided to take a taxi in Manhattan to take us to the Statue of Liberty ferry port. While we were looking for a taxi, we saw lot of commotion and a couple of police cars with blaring sirens moved over the foot path wildly. We were very much scared and asked a police man whether everything was normal and as we wanted to go to the Statue of Liberty? He smiled and asked us whether we were from outside US? On being told yes, he said there was nothing wrong and this is a usual routine in Manhattan every day. There are many such incidents and we could go and visit the Statue of Liberty without any problem! We took the taxi which dropped us at the ferry port. There are frequent trips of the ferry and we finally reached the Statue of Liberty. It was quite exciting to see the American landmark. We went right to the top of the Statue by a lift. One can have a panoramic view of New York from the top. On the return trip incidentally we got a taxi driven by a person of Indian origin. He was a sardar ji from Punjab. He refused to take $ 15 which we owed him for the trip. He was happy to know that we were from Kashmir. He took my address and said that he may visit Kashmir sometime in future.
In the evening, Muzaffar took us to see the famous Empire State Building which used to be the tallest building for quite some time. The World Trade Centre buildings came up subsequently. We once again had a fantastic evening view of New York from the top of the Empire State Building. Later in the evening we enjoyed some Italian Pizzas in a Pizza Shop near Muzaffar's flat. He told us to visit Central Park next day and in the evening he would take us to Opera. Central Park is huge! We spent almost half day in it going from one spot to other. It is really incredible that such a vast green area could be in the middle of a concrete jungle that Manhattan is with its dozens of sky scrappers. New York is also notorious for crime especially mugging. I remember after visiting Central Park we came back to our side. I wanted to visit an art museum. I asked a lady distributing some advertisement bills on the foot path about the way to the art museum. She told me that it is on the other side of the Central Park. We had gone hardly ten paces when she came running and warned us not to cross the Central Park on foot! She said we may be mugged! She advised that we should take a bus to the other side!
In the evening Muzaffar took us to Opera. It was quite interesting. We took a taxi back home. As soon as we came out of taxi and started going up to our flat, my sister informed that she seemed to have dropped her passport in the Opera. It was a big shock. Without a passport we would not be able to go anywhere. We immediately went back to the Opera Theatre. They were just closing after cleaning the hall. We contacted the manager and informed about the loss of passport which had presumably fallen from the coat pocket of my sister. The staff came with us and we thoroughly searched the place where we were sitting. The staff that had cleaned the area was contacted and they had not found any passport. The next possibility was that it had fallen in the taxi. However, we did not have the number of the taxi. The only solution was to lodge a formal complaint with the police. Accordingly, we went to Manhattan Police Station and filed a complaint about the loss of passport. They gave us a copy of the complaint which was needed for getting a new passport from the Indian Consulate. All the joy which we had felt watching the Opera was gone due to this mishap. We were moving through Manhattan well past mid-night. Finally, after having a Pizza we went back to the flat and slept. Next morning we went to the Indian Consulate.
The Consul general was very kind and helpful. He said that an emergency certificate could be given which would permit my sister to fly back to India directly. She would not be able to visit any other country. We got the certificate issued for emergency purposes but also applied for a new passport. We were told that it can be issued only after verification from New Delhi and the process would take at least a month. The Consul General was kind enough to send an immediate request for verification to New Delhi. They told me to check up after a week or so. I obtained a copy of the verification request and faxed it to our Deputy Director Tourism in New Delhi, Surjit Singh Bhalla and asked him to get the verification expedited. He promised to do it on priority. Next morning we left for Boston by the greyhound bus. I would enquire from the Consulate every day about the clearance but there was no news. Finally, after waiting for a week, I travelled once again to New York to personally ascertain the status of new passport as Bhalla had informed on phone me that he had got the verification completed and the same was being sent through diplomatic mail. This was my third trip to New York and by now I had become familiar with every nook and corner of Manhattan!
(To be continued….)

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