The Wagah Border: Pakistan and India’s Flamboyant Crossing

Wagah border India Pakistan

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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 Wagah Border Crossing in the next 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 flew 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. All of these were rawer, more real, than anything I have ever witnessed whilst travelling in other countries.

 

What is the Wagah Border?

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’. The ceremony has been going on for over 60 years now and come to be a symbol of the Indian-Pakistani rivalry. Thankfully, it’s mostly friendly at this part of the border between India and Pakistan.

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. The energy is usually sky-high; people are jumping, cheering, leering, and waving flags around constantly. The experience is borderline revelous and attending the ceremony can sometimes feel more like a football match than a changing of the guard.

wagah border

Does all this sound strange to you? Well, it is. In all my life, I have never seen quite something like the dance at the Pakistan – Indian border, and, trust me, I’ve seen a lot of shit in my life.

But that’s the beauty of Pakistan; nothing it really the norm here. There is something truly special about travelling in Pakistan and this is a country which has fast become my favourite adventure destination in the world!

 

Ready to Visit Pakistan and See the Wagah Border?

Before I tell you about my harrowing journey across the Pakistan – India crossing and the even more terrible hangover I had, let’s talk about how to see the Wagah Border.

It is possible to cross the Pak – Ind border on foot; that much I can confirm. I can also confirm that it’s a bit hectic.

It is possible (and convenient) to see the Wagah Border just as a tourist. In fact, my very own tours do just that!

In 2017 we ran our first adventure tours to Pakistan. This was an awesome success and no dount the dance at the Wagah Border was a highlight of the trip.

For those who missed out, never fear – we will be running at least five more adventures to this amazing country in 2020. They will be run through our new tour company and website, which you can check out at epicbackpackertours.com. Please visit the new website or email pakistan@thebrokebackpacker.com to find out more, or simply sign up to the broke backpacker mailing list to be kept in the loop.

Now, back to the my Wagah tale…

 

At the Pakistan – India Border

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 actual Pakistan – Indian border, 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.

 

Time Was Running Out at the India-Pakistan Border

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 into 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.

 

From Pakistan to India

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 Pakistani rave the night before slowly sweated out of my skin as I lugged my pack to a nearby bus and began the journey to Delhi…

Backpacking 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

  1. 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.
  2. Be prepared with a couple of passport photos for any documents you may be asked to fill in.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. The Wagah Border crossing is open from 10 am to 5 pm – once it’s closed, it’s closed.
  7. 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’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…

 

Want to learn how to travel the world even if you’re broke? Check out the Broke Backpacker’s Bible…

 

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Wagah border India Pakistan

27 Comments

  • Avatar Adrianna says:

    I went to Pakistan last March, it was an amaizing tríp, I went to Himalayas Mountains, Lahore, Cholistan Desert, Multan, Muree, Abbottabab , many places. It was an amaizing tríp. I would like to back again. Im from México

    • Avatar Ruhail Ahmed says:

      Hi Will, great story and glad you enjoyed pakistan.
      Interested to cross from pakistan to india end of the year. I wanted to ask how do i know if the border will remain open or close due to political tensions? Is there any source of information?

      • Avatar Clair says:

        Hi Ruhail, So far as we know the border is currently open for travel in both directions. Please make sure you have the appropriate visas to cross however. For example, I believe if you hold a VOA from Pakistan, you will not be able to leave via the Wagah border. And an Indian eVisa may not allow entry at all points.
        Safe travels!

  • Avatar Pierre Flasse says:

    Hi Will,

    Hugely revelating information, thank you so much for getting back to me! I have also heard that if you travel to Pakistan, you are not allowed to travel back to India for the following ten years. Is this just hearsay or possible?

    Many thanks again!

  • Avatar Pierre Flasse says:

    Hi Will,

    Great blog, thanks for all the info! Is the Wagah border open for tourists (UK), to travel to and from India to Pakistan, bearing in mind recent events and relationships between the two countries.

    • Avatar Will Hatton says:

      Hi Pierre, We do know of backpackers successfully crossing just now in April. Things can change at any moment tho, so keep your ear to the ground for local intel as well. Safe travels.

  • Avatar C.S. Bala says:

    Will, I am a US citizen of Indian origin and currently live in India. Would love to visit Pakistan . Entering through the Wagah border sounds intriguing. How difficult is it to get a Pakistan visa for a US citizen?

  • Avatar Angel Taskovski says:

    Hi Will, thank you for great writing.

    We are a couple of friends planing a road trip from europe over turkey, iran, pakistan to india and beyond in a camper van.

    we are wondering is it possible to cross border from Pakistan to India in Wagan, in our camper van. All information we could find online is about crossing this border by bus or walking.

    Angel

  • Avatar Marc B says:

    Hey Everyone,

    I’m planning a trip in mid Feb to see Gilgit, Hunza and Lahore. Can someone tell me if they know of any issues I may experience. I am hiring a private tour. I’m a white mid 30s male from Canada, love to explore and see the world.

    Thanks,
    Marc

  • Avatar Dale says:

    Just returned yesterday (4 Nov 2017) from a four day trip to Lahore, crossing into Pakistan from India at the Wagah border. I did not stay 60 days in Pakistan, only four. Nor was it suggested by anyone on either side of the border that my stay would have to be longer. I never needed a bribe. Officials on both sides were official enough to keep things moving without hassles. Smooth and straightforward. I second your motion of Pakistan as a super friendly and amazing place to travel. I’ve been traveling through real and unfiltered places for almost 40 years (often for months at a time, not days like this brief diversion) yet Pakistan still stands out as one of the most genuine and friendly places in a lifetime of travels. Highly recommended.

  • Avatar sk says:

    I don’t understand the guards with the highest leg comment, explain?

  • Avatar John says:

    Hello Will, your blog is fascinating and incredibly informative. I was wondering if you could tell me if a visa to Pakistan starts from the day it is issued (like a visa to India) or if it is possible to get one for future travel, i.e. if I apply for it in October but don’t plan to enter Pakistan until April. Many thanks, John

    • Avatar Will Hatton says:

      Hi John – a 30 day visa will only start from when you ENTER the country however you will have to enter the country within 3 – 6 months (depending on which visa they give you) to start those 30 days.

  • Avatar negi says:

    Aghhh,! So corruption is in the DNA of Indian officials. Hell of an experience.
    Nevertheless I strongly disagree to your statement about “Real India”. There is no real India, it’s just an abstract idea. It’s like saying to see real Europe you have to visit X, Y, Z cities/places. Each state is like a country in itself. Visit Uttarakhand (hills), Mizoram, Meghalaya. It’s completely hassel free. But according to your views these are not real India. Real india lies in Varanasi? and Varanasi is a place where anyone native to Uttarakhand(neighboring state) person will hardly visit.

    • Avatar Will Hatton says:

      Hey man, I’m not saying real India is in Varanassi – my best experiences exploring India have been when I’m in middle of nowhere towns whilst driving around. I’m simply saying Goa, Manali etc – this isn’t real India, these are places entirely set up for tourists.

  • Avatar Kevin says:

    Thanks for getting back to me. I’ll check with the consulates when I get my visas just to be sure.

  • Avatar Kevin says:

    Hi, Will. Cool blog. Love your sense of adventure. I’m curious, however, about this comment, “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.” I read on the Indian Bureau of Immigration that the two-month restriction had been lifted for all foreigners except “nationals of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, foreigners of Pakistan origin and Stateless persons.” The page where I found this was last updated in 2014, well before your post, so I’m a little confused. Can you tell me where you got your information? I’m planning to be in and around Delhi in November and would love to cross the Wagah border to visit Lahore, but only if I would need to cross back after a couple days. Thanks in advance for any help you can provide!

    • Avatar Will Hatton says:

      Hey Kevin, honestly dude – Indian visa rules change so frequently that I wouldn’t feel confident commenting on this however as far as I’m aware when you leave India, you need to remain outside of the country for 60 days – it’s always been like on that, on all of my five visits to India.

    • Avatar Talha says:

      Hey Kevin, I know a Greek woman who did the same you are planning to do. She came to Amritsar to attend a marriage ceremony, did a quick two day trip to Lahore and went back to India to fly back to her origin.

    • Hi, I was in Pakistan in Aug 2017 and in India September 2017 and no issues

  • Avatar Andrew says:

    Is there any visas to get to go to Pakistan. I heard you can go to the embassy and get a letter that works and it’s easier if a piece of paper is stamped inside. Many friends from China were from Karachi and Lahore. They said the northern mountain areas is great for hiking and local polo.

  • Great, you shared awesome information about wagah border and photos are looking so beautiful.

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