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.
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 [email protected] 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
- 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 10 am to 5 pm – 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’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…