From Lahore I started my journey to India. The Wagah border closed at 15:30 and I was late leaving Lahore. Time would have been alright though if my rickshaw hadn’t broken down. I arrived at the border with five minutes to go.
Vehicles are prohibited from going too close to the border gates so first a 500 metre run to a checkpost. A policeman tries to stop me saying there’s no time but with a little persuasion he tells me give it a shot. Another security guard stops me.
“Immigration is closed” he says.
“There’s still one minute” I tell him and he starts running with me to get the office reopened.
These stops have cost me time but the immigration staff rally to get me through faster than anyone has ever gone through. Customs let me off the bag scan and run alongside while questioning me. At the immigration desk they tell me to skip the exit card – they just stick a stamp in my passport.
I’m through I think to myself.
Rushing to the border the Pakistani soldiers know I’m coming and keep the gate open. But then I reach the Indian gate. It’s shut tight.
“Border closed” the Indian soldiers shout.
“But I’m no longer in Pakistan” I plead. “You have to let me in.”
“What Pakistan does with you is not our business. The border is closed.”
Oh dear. Luckily the Pakistani’s were very understanding although slightly unsure of the procedure. Eventually they found a “cancelled” stamp which they covered my exit stamp with. I headed to the nearby government hotel to wait to pass through the next day. That night I slept lightly due to a number of rats scuttling around the room.
The next morning they recognised me at immigration. Despite a power cut, which meant their systems were down and immigration should have closed, they waved me through with a second exit stamp. A few passport checks later and an Indian soldier was saluting me.
“Welcome to India, Sir.”
You really do get the full service at a lightly frequented border.
The Indian entrance formalities were uneventful other than a small incident with customs. As my bag was in the x-ray scanner the customs officer pointed at the screen and asking me to identify an item. I told him it was a camera and he ordered me to get it out of the bag. He took it out its case and made me turn it on.
Why is he so suspicious about my camera I wondered.
“Ahh – no photos” he moaned.
Confused I queried what he was on about (or just on).
“I want to see photos. I am a photographer.”
So all that worry was about nothing. He didn’t care about customs. He just wanted to see photos from Pakistan. In the end I took my laptop out and spent half-an-hour showing him my pictures. This kept him happy. Then I was free in India.
Wagah Border Closing
I’ve missed out something from the previous afternoon because I thought it would be a good way to close my account of Pakistan. Every day as the Wagah border closes there is a dramatic military display by both sides. Indian and Pakistani troops square off and lower their respective flags before slamming the gates on each other. I still can’t decide whether it is more Edinburgh Military Tattoo or North Korea Mass Games. A bit of fun or something more sinister. It is certainly dramatic.