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Planning to cross the border from India into Pakistan at Wagah? Here’s your footstep by footstep guide…
For what is a very contentious border further north, crossing at Wagah is a remarkably easy and relaxed affair. Please note, there is no ‘visa on arrival’ in Pakistan for the vast majority of nationalities. Moreover, you will need to apply for an entry visa in your home country, armed with a sponsor or letter of invitation from someone in Pakistan.
Step 1) Take a bus / taxi / tuk tuk / donkey and cart from Amritsar to the border, some 30km outside the city along the Grand Trunk Road. You should be dropped at the road block, at the entrance to the border crossing terminus on the left hand side as you face the border.
2) Underneath the entrance gate, on the left hand side, for the first of a few times, register your passport details with the officials. This is the same place as the porters and other workers register their entry but you will be waved straight to the front, if there is a queue of them. A glance at the register suggested that between zero and half a dozen foreigners cross here each day.
3) Walk a few paces in and you should start to see, diagonally on the right hand side, there is the Passenger Terminal with a big blue sign in English. You can’t miss it, if you are looking for it.
4) The security chaps at the door will check your passport and possibly pad you down, if the mood takes them. I think I spotted bank signs in this building but everything looked dusty and closed. Don’t bet on changing money here.
5) Through on the left is the passport check, where you will be courteously stamped out of India.
6) Security x-ray scan of bags is next up and then a lethargic attempt at a finger tip bag search. The official checking mine got bored pretty quickly and didn’t reach much beyond the first layer of dirty clothes. Here you will need to quickly fill in a piece of paper asking for you passport details, how many Indian Rupees you are taking out of the country and any expensive purchases to declare. Best guesses seem to be the order of the day.
7) Follow the officials’ gesticulations to an awaiting bus outside. Luggage is strictly put in the boot and climb aboard. Here, another security officer on the bus will jot down your passport details.
8) With curtains all drawn on the bus, either for a fallible attempt at secrecy or just to shade from the oft hot sun, the bus takes you a short distance to the stadium used for the nightly border closing ceremony.
9) Alighting here, you then walk through, save for a few construction workers, an eerily empty stadium. It’s a short stroll along the road to the famous ceremonial gates.
10) Gates are left slightly ajar. Without fanfare, and presumably under CCTV surveillance for there are few people around to give a hoot, walk unceremoniously into Pakistan!
11) Take a moment to appreciate that you are now in the culturally very different Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Walk straight through the smaller stadium on the Pakistan side and admire their colossal flag and flag pole dominating the skyline. (Count also how long it takes before someone in Pakistan tells you proudly that India tried the same feat but their flag pole fell down).
12) There is a large garden rockery on the right hand side, after the stadium, which maps out all of Pakistan, its terrain and regions but I suspect you will want to march on up the road.
13) Keep your eyes peeled on the right hand side for the Passenger Facilitation Centre, which is not all that well sign posted. The entrance to the building is around the back, to test your wits one step further.
14) Inside a similarly dusty building as to their Indian counterparts, first up is Immigration, with a short form to fill in and, all being well, stamping into Pakistan. Have your hotel and / or sponsor details to hand to complete the form. I partially filled in the form with the details I had to hand and they seemed happy enough.
15) The bag search got as far as me reaching for the zip before I was waved through.
16) Randomly, next up, wait outside for a toy train to take you onwards to the car park, where guides and friends can pick you up. Whilst waiting here, the porters milling around will change Indian rupees for Pakistani rupees. Don’t expect a great exchange rate or to change your life savings; enough to get you going, though.
17) At the car park, ask the soldiers sitting under a parasol in the traffic island to radio up to the gate to let your ride in. It was very quiet when I arrived. Don’t expect to hail a cab from here or further up. Sort out your logistics ahead of time. There is a small kiosk at the car park to buy bottled water and the odd snack.
18) Hop in your car when it arrives and go forth to explore the wondrous, fascinating and incredibly hospitable nation that is Pakistan.
The border is only open 10am to 4pm and I wonder if they will bother starting to process you, if you turn up after 3pm.
I arrived at the border at 09:30 and they were happy to let me in as far immigration. The chap there waited until around 09:50 and then stamped me out of India.
The whole process took under an hour, though I am told this is rare and two hours of shuffling and queuing is the norm.
Mobile phone networks:
There is mobile phone blocking technology in use at the border. I struggled for a signal even at the car park on the Pakistan side, though this may be because my UK network provider was discombobulated. The chap at the kiosk selling water kindly called my guide, as he had normal phone reception.
Perhaps it is noteworthy, perhaps it is not, but at no time was there any suggestion that I would need to make a ‘donation’ to the surreptitious retirement fund of any immigration or security official on either side of the border.