The plane lands at about 10.30 to a round of applause from the passengers. Would they boo if we crashed, I wonder? There is the familiar feel of the wet warm blanket of air as we get off the plane, it's like stepping into a sauna. This is Delhi in monsoon season, hot and humid. It's ten years since we last arrived here and the airport has had a make-over. Our bags are already off the carousel when we get through to collect them, and we're off into the night inside a crusty old Ambassador taxi before you can say 'paneer tikka masala'. Fortunately we've had a good recommendation for a hotel from Toby, who we last saw in Iran. He's been in India a while and is now backtracking homewards through Pakistan. At the hotel we're offered air-con or a cheaper room with just a fan. We opt for the latter - we're used to the heat. At three a.m. as I roll around on my bed trying to find a dry patch, sweat oozing out of me like I'm full of holes, I begin to rue this decision. Happily we need to change rooms the next day and get the air-con.
It's Thursday, and we're to start our Pakistan visa application process today. First we need a cold shower, and a light stretch to loosen muscles still stiff from our trek in Almaty. For breakfast we have a vegetable pastie and a milkshake. The city is alarmingly quiet, the shops all shuttered, the traffic negligible. It's not how we remember it. A young boogaloo waiting for his girlfriend outside McDonalds (lucky girl), explains about the bandh, a protest against a decision in Kashmir to stop a landsale for the benefit of Hindu pilgrims. It's the Hindu nationalist BJP party that have organised the bandh, and the shops are staying shut. We get in an autorickshaw to get to the Pakistan embassy. The rickshaw does not belch blue smoke. It must be faulty. The new part of Delhi is leafy and spacious - a real contrast to the old part of the city.
There's a crowd outside the embassy but there's a separate queue for foreigners. We speak to the official almost immediately through a small window. He's very friendly and positive - tells us to get our forms typed up, the money paid, and a letter of recommendation from our embassy and to come back at 4pm - we should get the visa next day. It feels strange, almost unbelievable after all the flannel we had in Bishkek, and we head off still not quite believing. We pay 150 pounds in at the bank. We get into the British Embassy compound close by and purchase our letter for another 60 pounds. The consular official asks us if we have read the government's travel advice for Pakistan and then asks us to fill out a form each and give her a copy of our visa application. We have never needed to do this before, but we are in India, Hindustan, Land of Bureacracy. By the time we have jumped through all the hoops, the four-line letter is ready. (I think it costs about 78 pence per letter to produce). Then we need to get our application form typed up. The Pakistan embassy is now closed, and the typewriter wallahs who set up under a nearby tree have all gone home. A helpful man suggests we go to the courthouse. He gives us directions and we climb aboard another farty rickshaw. By now our blood is pumping, we are drenched in sweat, the excitement of being in India momentarily surpassed by the the thrill of the car chase (it always feels like we're in a car chase the way everyone drives) and the tension of getting our application done and dusted. It is - by a man sat under an umbrella with an ancient typewriter. The court complex teems with characters, lawyers, petitioners, hawkers, families, officials and Gayle is minded of Bleak House.
We return to the Pakistan embassy at 4 where a large crowd is gathered, most sat on the pavement, all looking quite relaxed. It is very hot now, and my shirt is covered in huge wet patches. We have to wait about 40 minutes, and then our little window opens and the friendly visa official appears. He asks if we can wait another 15 minutes and after that he directs us inside the embassy. We are ushered into an air-conditioned waiting room with a handful of others, all Indians. We are expecting an interview, but both look like we've just emerged from a jungle trek. The Indians all look impeccable. And then the most amazing remarkable thing happened: the visa official arrives and hands us our passports with our Pakistan visas. Praise be to Allah. In six hours we have our visas. We are stunned.