Friday, March 30, 2012

Overland Travel from India to other South Asian Countries

There is nothing quite like a road trip, the ochred rockies giving way to emerald paddies or clustered houses transitioning to dense settlements, a road trip comes with a promise of something new to the eye almost every time, even if its through a narrow side window of a bus or the wide windshield of a car.
It gets even more exciting when its cross country as we get to see the migration of cultures and the changes in natural elements unfolding themselves gradually. Most of my trips to India’s neighbors have been on the road and I have preferred rubbing the roads any day than cruising at 35000 feet, being visually impaired in the nothingness, a few miles above the clouds. They have made me believe that it’s the best way to travel and at times the cheapest as well.

This post is for everyone who plans to take the road for going around in South Asia and for many of my friends who are yet to clear their confusions on some of the border crossings from India.


The Thar Express

India to Afghanistan by road:

There is practically no border crossing between India and Afghanistan even if technically they share the border according to the Indian Government. The border to Afghanistan in the state of Kashmir is currently under control of Pakistan and there is no way one can cross the Line of Control to Pakistan via Kashmir, unless one is a resident of a border village having relatives across the border. So for all of my friends who contemplate the idea of entering India from Pakistan through Kashmir, let me tell you, its practically impossible.

India to Pakistan by road or rail:

By Train:
India and Pakistan has two active rail links currently. One is at the Wagah Border in Punjab and the other one at Munabao in Rajasthan.
The Samjhauta/Samjhota Express runs daily from Amritsar to Attari and then one has to change trains into the Pakistan Railways rake that goes on till Lahore. Currently online reservation is not possible on this train. One has to buy it on the day itself. Even though advance reservation before 15 days have been started by the Indian Railways, but it is limited to selected counters of Allahabad, Kanpur, Amritsar, Saharanpur, and Moradabad in India.
For details on the Indian side of the journey check:
www.indianrail.gov.in
For details on the Pakistani side of the journey check:
http://pakrail.com/traintimings.php

The other rail link is from Jodhpur to Karachi via the Munabao-Khokropar border. The weekly Thar Express leaves Jodhpur at midnight and reaches Munabao next morning. The Khokropar-Karachi part of the journey is controlled by Pakistan Railways and currently there isn’t any information available if this is running or not. The Indian and Pakistani citizens are the frequenters of this route. Although I have heard a few foreign nationals using this route in the past, it is not confirmed if this border is currently open for foreigners. It’s a safe bet to take the Wagah-Attari route if you are not a local.

By Road:
The only road crossing between India and Pakistan is through the Wagah border. One can directly take a bus from Delhi to Lahore, which costs about --> INR 1500.
Check http://dtc.nic.in/lahorebus.htm for more details. There is also a similar bus operated by PTDC (Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation), which runs on alternate days. The buses generally run full and its safe to have a booking 30 days prior to the journey.
Another way to travel is by taking a bus/train from Delhi to Amritsar and head to Attari on a bus/taxi. Then cross the border on foot at Wagah and take a bus to Lahore from the other side.

Note: It is extremely difficult to obtain a Pakistani Visa as an Indian Citizen, unless one has strong references and relations in Pakistan.

The Wagah Border

Overland from India to Sri Lanka

The only way to travel overland from India to Sri Lanka is by a ferry. The Flamingo Liners operates a nine-deck ‘Scotia Prince’ passenger vessel, twice a week between Tuticorin and Colombo and vice-versa. The service ran into troubled waters in November 2011 due to operational issues, but is slated to start again by early April 2012.

There are some other luxury ships and cruises from Tuticorin to Trincomalee as well but they are expensive and defeat the purpose of overland travel, unless you are a cruise lover. And this post is not about cruises.

India to Bangladesh by Road /Rail

By Road: 
India and Bangladesh share 7 border checkpoints for human movements. They are Petrapole-Benapole, Gede-Darshana, Lalgola-Godagiri, Hili, Changrabandha-Burimari, Dawki- Tamabil and Agartala-Akhaura. One can take a direct bus from Kolkata to Dhaka to travel hassle free. Currently private Bangladeshi bus companies like Shohagh, Green Line and Shyamoli and the state run BRTC buses ply between Kolkata and Dhaka. It takes about 12 hours to complete the journey and costs   -->INR 550. The West Bengal State run WBSTC buses are the other options on this route.
Dhaka is also connected to Siliguri in West Bengal and Agartala in Tripura by regular buses owned by the private carriers as well as the state transport corporations.

By Train:
The Maitree Express runs from Kolkata(Chitpur) Station to Dhaca Cant Station on every Tuesday and Sunday. It takes about 13 hours to complete the journey, which includes immigration checks at Gede and Darshana. The tickets can be booked online at www.irctc.co.in

The Maitree Express leaves Kolkata station

India to Burma/Myanmar by Road

There is an official border crossing from India to Myanmar through the Moreh-Tamu border checkpost in the state of Manipur of India. This is an extremely sensitive area and the border keeps opening and closing. This is strictly for Indian and Burmese citizens only. Foreigners are not allowed to cross this border.
After a recently concluded car rally from Imphal to Mandalay, the relations between India and Myanmar have improved substantially. This rally also gave a boost to the proposed Imphal-Mandalay bus service and acted as a field survey to it.
The Government of Myanmar has allowed Indian citizens to tour Myanmar in groups of not less than four after taking visa from Tamu. But they should inform the Government about their visit one month in advance.
It is better to get your tour organized by a travel agent authorized by the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism in Myanmar.
Refer to this website for the list of authorized Travels & Tours Companies:
www.myanmartourism.org/member/touroperator_AtoE.htm

There is also a border crossing via the Pangsau Pass near Nampong in Arunachal Pradesh. Even though this crossing doesn't have an official status, Indians and Burmese citizens are allowed to cross over on specific days with valid documents. One can move into Myanmar and take the historic Stilwell Road  via Tanai - Myitkyina all the way upto Kunming in China.

India to Bhutan by Road

There are 3 official entry/exit points to Bhutan from India, Phuntsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar in eastern Bhutan. Phuntsholing is about 160 kms from the bustling city of Siliguri in Northern West Bengal. Gelephu is close to Bongaigaon town in Assam and Samdrup Jhonkar is about 150 kms from Guwahati, the erstwhile capital of Assam. Indian and Bangladeshi citizens do not require a visa to enter Bhutan. A permit is issued against a national Id card and the places of visit are mentioned in it. Other nationals however need a visa in advance to visit Bhutan. All visas are issued from Thimphu; visas are only issued to tourists booked with a local licensed tour operator, directly or through a foreign travel agent. Applications for tourist visas are submitted by the tour operator. Visa clearance from Thimphu must be obtained before coming to Bhutan. Visa clearance takes at least 10 days to process. Air tickets to Bhutan cannot be purchased without visa clearance.
Indian Citizens are permitted to carry their own vehicle to Bhutan. A RSTA (Road Safety and Transport Authority) issued vehicle permit is necessary to be obtained from Phuntsholing after paying the necessary road taxes.

The Decorated Gate at Phuntsholing welcomes one to Bhutan

India to Nepal by Rail/Road

India and Nepal have an open border with no restrictions on the movement of people on either side. There are 22 agreed transit and customs posts along the Nepal-India border for the purposes of trade. However, there are six immigration points along the Indo Nepal border for the entry and exit of foreign nationals. These are: Banbasa, Dhangadhi, Nepalganj, Bhairahawa (Sunauli), Birganj and Kakarbhita
The best way to travel to Nepal from North and Central India is to take a train to Gorakhpur. Then take a bus or jeep to the Nepalese border at Bhairahawa /Sunauli. Journey time is about 2 or 3 hours. After crossing the border take a few minutes walk to the Sunauli bus station. Then hop on to a bus or jeep for a 10 to 12 hour journey to Kathmandu. Day Buses leave before 11 am and reach Kathmandu in the evening. There are overnight buses also which start from Sunauli at around 4-5 o’clock in the evening and reach Kathmandu the next morning.
You can also use the Kakarbhitta checkpoint if you want to travel from East India. It is located about an hour from Siliguri and four hours from Darjeeling in India.Buses to Kathmandu and Pokhara are available from this small town and it takes about 16 hrs and costs around --> INR 400.

 

India to Tibet/China by Road

It is impossible to cross over to Tibet/China directly from India. Nathula Pass, a checkpoint in Sikkim, India is used for trade between India and China but it is restricted to tourists.
The only feasible way to reach overland from India to Tibet/China is via Nepal. But independent travel is prohibited in Tibet and one has to organize a trip through a travel agency and travel with a group. These tours can be organized after reaching Kathmandu and one can proceed to China from Lhasa with a valid Chinese Visa.




At the Nathula Pass Border Checkpoint between India and China


All these information stand correct as of 30th March, 2012. As these routes are controlled by political situations, make sure you all well informed about the opening of a particular route before taking a travel decision.

Image Credits : Wikimedia Commons, Reuters


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