I awoke early, the pounding music of the night before still echoing around my skull. I looked around me, the kicked in door of the squatters house I was crashing in leered at me with a jagged smile. Rolling over, I tried to work out what the hell had happened last night… Bright lights, beautiful girls, plentiful pills and endless beer; Ah yes, I had attended an underground rave in Pakistan.
I sighed, desperate for a smoke to ease my head, and looked at my watch to discover it was two in the afternoon, fuuuuuuuck! I needed to get my ass to the Pakistan / India Wagah Border crossing in the next hour three hours or I would be beyond screwed. My Pakistan visa had just one day left and I was planning on meeting my brother Alex in just a few days time to drive a rickshaw across India.
I threw back the bedcovers and began hastily to throw my shit into my bag. I called my buddy Faisan and within an hour we were speeding through the Lahori traffic, dust and exhaust fumes flying into my face as we passed donkeys and carts, motorbikes laden with entire families, psychedelic patterned trucks with tinkling bells and a thousand and one fascinating street scenes that are rawer, more real, than anything I have ever witnessed whilst travelling in other countries. There is something truly special about backpacking in Pakistan; this is a country which has fast become my favourite adventure destination in the world!
Fiasan dropped me at the border and I joined a scrum of five hundred or so Pakistanis and Indians attempting to cross. I was the only foreigner in sight and was quickly adopted by an army officer sporting a curly moustache and a polished AK47; the crowd parted like the Sea of Galilee and I followed my new friend to the first checkpoint. I had just forty minutes to go and nearly three kilometres of walking to get to the Wagah border crossing, this would have been fine but my passport was inspected every two hundred meters or so and one particularly attentive guard asked to search my entire pack – I argued that this would take forever and to my surprise he waved me through after the most half-assed check imaginable.
I passed through a dozen army checkpoints, got my passport stamped at Pakistani immigration, shook off a persistent porter intent on carrying my stuff and made it to the Indian immigration office where I was instantly hit with a dozen questions on why the heck I had been in Pakistan.
I replied with the truth – Pakistan is the most beautiful country in the world.
I sped towards the border, running as fast as possible with my pack, and making it at 16:58…. Here I was met by an unfriendly Indian border guard who frowned at me with disapproval.
“You no come in to India today, Wagah border crossing closed now”
My fists clenched and my jaw tightened, I had an Indian visa, I damn well was going to India today.
It had taken an extreme amount of hassle to get my Indian visa in Pakistan as the Indian embassy in Islamabad was quite obviously a front for an organisation which prided itself in placing the world’s most useless and unintelligent people in one building. My first visa application had been denied and, after much pleading, shouting and offering of bribes, I had managed to get myself a six week, single-entry, no-extension allowed, visa into India.
I looked past the final obstacle to the gate which would be swinging closed in just thirty seconds. I could see foreigners on the other side, the first white people I had seen for nearly three months.
“Just let me in dude, I have the visa”
A heated exchange began, a five hundred rupee note swapped hands and, finally, I was in India. The joy.
I missed Pakistan almost instantly as I was assailed from all sides by touts trying to sell me shit.
“You want buy Taj Mahal clock, good price for you”
The last remnants of MDMA from the night before slowly sweated out of my skin as I lugged my pack to a nearby bus and began the journey to Delhi…
Travelling around Pakistan had been a truly life-changing experience. I’ve been on the road for nine years now and I can safely say that Pakistan is my favourite country; with gorgeous mountains, plentiful treks and some of the world’s most friendly people this is an undiscovered wonderland.
India… well, India is India. I’ve spent nearly two years of my life backpacking around India and know the country, and the people, well. I have many Indian friends and have enjoyed many amazing moments whilst travelling in India.
The problem with India?
The hassle one encounters is relentless… Sure, it’s possible to avoid this if you stick to the tourist enclaves of Manali, Hampi and Goa (all good places) but if you want to experience the real India, you need to go on a real adventure…
Luckily, this time, I had come up with an ingenious way to explore without being reliant on public transport or having to deal with tuk tuk drivers…
This time, myself and my brother would be driving a psychedelic rickshaw across India, kindly donated by The Rickshaw Challenge.
What could possibly go wrong?
Tips for the Wagah Border Crossing
The Wagah Border crossing is famous for the peacock-like dance routines doled out by the Indian and Pakistani border guards in a daily competition of ‘who can get their leg the highest’.
Many indian tourists and foreign backpackers travel to the Indian side to watch the display and the stands are usually packed. On the Pakistani side, there are no tourists – at least there wasn’t when I was there.
To cross the Wagah border from the Pakistani side takes about an hour and you need to have your Indian visa ready – there is zero chance of getting it on the spot at the border.
Be prepared with a couple of passport photos for any documents you may be asked to fill in.
Your luggage will be thoroughly examined and possibly X-rayed (there were several spots with machines, some of which simply let me walk past). Ditch any excess hash you have before you cross the border. The process is faster and better organised on the Pakistani side.
Have some small notes to hand to grease the palms of border officials who screw with you, I encountered no problems on the Pakistani side.
From Lahore, it takes about 40 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic, to reach the Wagah border by motorbike. There is sporadic bus services going from Lahore to Amritsar and Lahore to Delhi; both had fully sold out by the time I made enquiries.
The Wagah border crossing is open from 10am to 5pm – once it’s closed, it’s closed.
Once you’ve successfully crossed the Wagah Border from Pakistan you will need to make your way to Amritsar before you can catch a train or long-distance bus onwards throughout India. There is very limited public transport on the India side of the border and a racket of taxi drivers is often the only option. I managed to hitch a ride with a local army bus that dropped me near Amritsar.
If you cross the Wagah Border from India, be aware that once you leave India to enter Pakistan you must stay gone for two months; there’s sometimes a way around this but personally I wouldn’t risk it – the Indian visa rules are some of the least flexible, and most ridiculous, in the world.
If you’re going to have a crack at the Wagah border crossing yourself; good luck! Be sure to catch the show; it’s quite a spectacle…
To find out more about travelling in Pakistan, check out my Pakistan travel guide.
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