is the open borders (oh ok there are others things as well but this is first on my envy list). I first heard about it from a dear friend who lives in Moenchengladbach in Germany close to the Dutch border. She told me how her friends planned impromptu weekends in Amsterdam or any other part of Netherlands. I asked her about visas and permissions and lengths of insurmountable red tape. She looked at me not really understanding my question the same way I hadn’t grasped the ease with which Europeans crossed borders. And this is the sore, sole sticking point with me and my romantic ideas of travel across the length and breadth of the Indian sub-continent and south-east Asia.
I have been careful about preserving these feeling that were harboured in college. My love for Geography and cartography kept fuelling travel adventures in my head. Then of course reality set in and neighbours like Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Burma soon acquired different and undesirable associations. Ideas of going to places like Dushanbe, Samarkand and Tashkent from Skardu (alas Skardu is in Baltistan which is a part of Pakistan) were deeply buried in the fast-shifting geo-political conflicts of the sub-continent and with the onset of terrorism my romance all but died a swift death.
This was until now when the IRTC announced a new train that would connect Kanniyakumari and Dibrugardh (or Dibrugarh) passing via Trivandram-Coimbatore- Cuttack-Midnapore and Guwahati. Wow, 4,286 km of pure, uninterrupted ‘express’ pleasure that ends only after 82.30 hours! I started making plans and my feverish imagination came back from the dead. I would travel upto Dibrugadh (and its location is fantastic- right on the banks of the Brahmaputra). From Dibrugadh I would take a bus to Senapati in Manipur and then cross over the border into Burma. What a delicious thought. Little did I know that this wondrous border town (in my mind of course) of Senapati has been a hotbed of violence due to clashed between the armed forces and insurgents. So there went my plans..put paid by events not in my control. Still I could rough it out if wanted to. My first destination in would be Mandalay, the second largest city in Burma. It was here that Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilak was incarcerated here from 1908 to 1914 and where he wrote ‘Gita Rahasya’. From Mandalay, it would be Yangon or erstwhile Rangoon (remember- mere piya gaye Rangoon, wahan se kiya hai telephoon…) and then who knows? Maybe Chiang Mai, Bangkok? But as easy as this is in the head, the ground realities are far, far different and dangerous.
Then I thought if not Senapati, I can certainly go upto Madhubani and then cross into Nepal! Howzzat? This time though the problem is not one of ‘foreign hand’ but of internal location. Madhubani falls is Bihar and to pass through Bihar is like passing through the badlands, the wild, wild west and basically living and travelling on a prayer. But if you are successful then Nepal is yours for the taking. Or is it? Leafing through the latest of issue of Tehelka, I read about how Madhubani is the most porous patches on the Indo-Nepali border and basically reads as easy ‘entry’ and ‘exit’ signs for all nefarious elements (read terrorists).
So not where do I go? Which direction? How about Sri Lanka? Suffice it to say that Sri Lanka no longer issues us visas on arrival. We would not have to apply online for a visa prior to making travel plans and yes…pay for it too!