Leaving Amritsar today meant not only leaving India but also leaving the Hindu world, which has been my home for the last two and a bit weeks, and entering the Islamic world where I will remain until I finally cross the Bosphorus back into the Western world in Bulgaria in mid/late August. One aspect of the 2012 calendar that I could not avoid was that Ramadan falls right in the middle of my travels across this part of Asia. Specifically, all of my time in Iran will be during Ramadan. Could be interesting!
But I am getting well ahead of myself.
Today was about crossing another border. Leaving India turned out to be harder than entering India. Admittedly the Attari/Wagah border crossing was never going to be the friendliest given the friction between India and Pakistan over the last 60 or 70 years. But, even so, was it really necessary for Indian Customs to the check the chassis number AGAIN! And the engine number AGAIN! – paricularly as I burnt my hand on the hot exhaust pipe trying to wipe away the dirt and grime so they could read it. Did they really think I had done a complete engine and frame swap somewhere between Sonauli and Attari in the last eight days? After taking nearly two hours to clear Indian Customs and Immigration I was stopped three more times in the last 200m to the strip of no-mans land for passport checks before I was finally allowed to leave India.
All this official administrivia just to LEAVE India for Pakistan. I dread to think what it must be like trying to ENTER India from Pakistan.
And as a final kick in the guts, it was 47 degrees in Amritsar today!
By comparison, the Pakistani border formalities were somewhat more relaxed if low-tech. Despite getting to Pakistani Customs and Immigration before the coach-load of people returning to Pakistan, I still had to wait until they were all processed. But it was OK. I was out of the sun, I had a chair, I had water to drink and I had nothing else to do. Eventually my turn came and, after almost 90min and with good humour, I was welcomed to Pakistan – something that never happened in India!
So, another successful 3hr border crossing – another day spent in blistering 45 degree heat! Lahore is only about 20km up the road so that will be it for me today.
Tomorrow, it is back on the road – this time about 350km to Islamabad for a long break (about 2 weeks) while I play musical chairs with three embassies trying to get the next batch of visas and permits.