TRAVEL in INDIA & PAKISTAN
10 April 2017
Right, an angry title..
Why? Because bureaucracy can be rather frustrating, especially if it seems unnecessary. And boy did we encounter superfluous, illogical and random rules and regulations! Driving your own car to another continent requires a lot of planning, changing set plans and finding your way in the maze that we call bureaucracy. This article is to tell you about the logistics of moving your car around the world and to let you in on some tips (and maybe it also helps in airing my frustrations…).
Foreign car restrictions
Cool idea, right? Driving your own car around the world? Follow the footsteps of the Merchants on the ancient Silk route, see where the all the cool kids went in the sixties by taking the hippie trail or just discover places the Lonely Planet has never heard of and feel like a unique person! What is not to like about that?
Okay, it requires some planning, getting a Carnet de Passage (don’t know what that is? Check it here!), but then you are good to go, right? Or so we thought… As we found out along the route and as you might have read, more and more countries are making it difficult for people to travel around in foreign cars. One of the most recent additions to this is Thailand, while Myanmar and China already had similar policies. These dictate that tourists in foreign cars are obliged to be accompanied by an officially registered tour company. It means you will have to pay large sums of money to a travel agent, $800 – $1200, for somewhere between 4 to 10 days going to the touristic highlights of the respective countries (or you will just see the highway to cross the country). No freedom, hardly any individual input and of course a scary amount of money for long term travellers.
Seeing as China and Thailand can both be seen as gateways to Southeast Asia, driving your car to that part of the world is no longer an attractive option, unless you have large amounts of money to spend.
Kind of annoying, but can I really be complaining about this? Is it our right to be able to travel to this places by car? I guess not, but it is a sign of borders closing up and that in itself is a shame, I think.
So is there a way around these restrictions? Well, there are some options. You could opt for shipping your car from, say, India to Malaysia and continue your journey there, but it is still quite expensive and you miss out on quite a big part of Southeast Asia (check out more about this option here).
Some other overlanders are currently trying to go to Thailand without a tour operator, to see whether they will manage to cross the border and can go about without being caught, but this is of course very unsure and risky.
No pro tips here, we decided both options were not worth considering. Plus, Southeast Asia is soooo 2016, right? Just kidding, I would love to go there, but we will be back.
A lethal combination: Pakistan and India
Thus, we decided on a new route. Driving back instead of driving further. India – Pakistan – China – Kirgizstan – Kazakhstan – Russia – Georgia – Turkey – Europe! Of course this posed some new challenges, for instance getting a new Pakistani visa and a Chinese visa. By the time we had changed our plans we already reached India, the land of colour, chaos, spices and overpopulation. And many other things of course, but that is not what this article is about. It is about bureaucracy. Luckily, India is also the land of bureaucracy, of impossible rules and officials blindly following them without ever rationally questioning those rules.
Where to start with the land of bureaucracy? Trying to get a Pakistani visa in India? Forget it. Why? Well… Pakistan can be a bit of pain in the ass as well when it comes to bureaucracy. A Pakistani visa can only be requested in your home country. This goes for every single person from wherever in the world. And we were absolutely not thinking about flying home just to get a new Pakistani visa. Luckily it is allowed to let someone else go to the embassy and request a visa for you. Josephine’s father was more than willing to go and fix it!
Here comes the true land of bureaucracy in again. One of the crazy Indian rules is a law that dictates that you can not send your passport via the mail. It is illegal. This should not be a problem, normally, unless you find yourself in India in need of sending your passport home for some visa issues. Like us. We needed to get a new Pakistani visa. And yes, many people tried anyway, but most of the time it didn’t work out. Besides that we were not willing to take the risk to lose our passports. We also did not have the time for any mistakes. Conclusion: we had to leave India to get a new Pakistani visa.
We needed to leave India anyway, as we had requested our Indian visa in Pakistan, but had gotten something totally different from what we requested. Instead of double entry, we got single, and we only received a 3 month visa. The allocation of visa is apparently completely random, as we met several people requesting double entry who received only single and other people who requested single and received double.
Since we entered India about a month later than we received the visa, it meant we would only have two months in India. Why? Because an Indian visa always start from the moment you receive them. Seeing as India as gigantic country, 2 months was definitely not enough time for us. So our Indian visa almost expired, it was a non-extendable one, and thus we had to leave the country.
Okay, well, we quickly found out that the good thing about Indian visa is that you can get a new one as soon as you are one day out of the country. It meant we just had to reapply from Sri Lanka or Nepal. The only downside is that you pay twice. And obviously that you need to go out of the country in the first place.
We drove all the way to the south of India, saw many amazing places, met a lot of friendly people and flew to Sri Lanka: the land of possibilities. Here, DHL was happy to help and they got our passports to the Netherlands in less than 3 days! The people at the Pakistani Embassy in The Hague were friendly enough to grant our visa within one day and before we knew it we had our passports back in Sri Lanka. Of course this was also thanks to my very convincing father.
Ok, hold on. It was not that simple. Pakistan has some extra rules when it comes to getting a visa, since your passport does not only need to be in your home country, they are also asking for a Letter Of Invitation (LOI) from an officially recognized travel agent. Ehm, say wha’….?
In theory this means you should book a tour with a tour operator, so they can provide the visitor with a letter. Of course we do not want to book tours; we want to be free and special. Luckily there is Kamal. Kamal is a great guy who not only provides tours through Pakistan, but also provides LOI’s without booking a tour. For a reasonable fee he provides you with a sound proof LOI, which has helped us to get a visa twice. If you are looking for a LOI yourself, get in touch with Kamal here.
After all this bullsh*t we had the Pakistani visa in our pocket, but this was not the end of our troubles. We also needed a Chinese visa. We did not consider requesting this in India, because if you do a little research you will find people almost screaming through you computer screen about their frustrations regarding this procedure. Not that surprising if you think about it. I mean, 1 +1 = 2, so India + China = HAHA. We love bureaucracy. So f*ck off.
But no sweat, Sri Lanka was the land of the possibilities, right? More like the land of limited possibilities, as it turned out.
Now I wanted to tell you about our struggles at the Chinese embassy in Sri Lanka, possibly the most interesting part of this story, but as we fear we might get in trouble at the border, we will wait a little while before publishing that. To be continued…
Spoiler alert: we did get it, eventually, so we now had both Pakistani and Chinese visa. Only one more to go: India.
Because we had to leave the car behind and fly to Sri Lanka, we were eligible for another type of Indian visa, the e-Visa. This is only possible if you fly into India; not if you arrive overland. For once we didn’t have to go to an embassy! It is the cheapest, easiest way to get a Indian visa. Great, right?
Of course it was a little less easy than we thought it would be, as you need to have a flight going out of the country in order to apply for the e-visa. Otherwise the Indian immigration won’t let you into the country. Actually, without a flight ticket out of India you are not even allowed to enter the airplane going to India. But we were going to leave India overland in our beloved Dox, so we did not have a flight ticket… What to do?
Long live the internet, because a quick search on the there lead us to this awesome company helping other people who are, like us, stuck in the bureaucratic maze. Travel Visa Services. They provide people with flight reservation for visa application that are valid for two to three weeks so you can go ahead and go your own way. Easy service, cheap and very helpful if you are in a similar position like we were in!
We got the tickets, Delhi to Amsterdam, and exactly planned it on 30 days after our arrival. Why exactly 30 days? If you have a flight ticket out of India for lets say 14 days after arriving, the immigration officer might stamp in your passport that you’ve only 14 days in the country, although normally you are eligible for 30 days (they recently changed it to a maximum of 60 days). Be aware that you will not get the full amount of days if your “fake flight” is scheduled earlier!
Of course there are plenty of “life hacks” out there, allowing you to go around rules and regulations, but it can be tiring, stressful and annoying. And sometimes you do really hit a dead end without the possibility of turning back.
In my ideal world, no visas would be needed. All these ridiculous power displays, unnecessarily complicated procedures, I can do without them. And we, Dutchies, are not even the one to complain. A citizen from Pakistan, for instance, or Somalia, can hardly go anywhere without a visa and even when applying for one, their applications will usually be rejected, with or without clear reason. For us, Western-Europeans, it is relatively easy to get visas and we still encounter frustrating processes and regulations. Of course I understand this as well, if it is so difficult for a Pakistani to get a Dutch visa, why would they not make it a little difficult for us too?
But then again, is that really the principle on which we want to lead our lives? I know, these visa processes and screenings are there for a valid reason: keeping out the danger. But sometimes I think it is all a bit too much.
If you ask me, a world with boundaries like we have in the EU would be ideal, but I know that a lot of people do not agree with this “ideal”. And it would probably lead to a lot of unwanted side effects – Sudden mass migration? Total chaos and anarchy? – if implemented now, at once. In general, it all leads back to questions of power battles and global inequalities I do not agree with that to begin with, but that is a whole different story…
At the moment we are happily travelling through Pakistan and all the bureaucratic bullsh*t has worked out well for us, eventually.
In a couple of week we are entering China, but the bureaucracy doesn’t stop there… For Kirgizstan (30 days) and Kazakhstan (15 days) we can get a visa at the border, but Russia is going to be a totally different story. We can’t wait… What do you think you get if you add India+China+Russia?