“What lies beyond the guarded borders of Attari or Hussainiwala”, this question always intrigued me. So much so that my first(and only) overseas visit was to Pakistan. Despite numerous odds, I walked across the Attari-Wagah Border on foot, hitchhiking all the way from Amritsar to Lahore.
That happened in 2012. Since then I have been trying to figure out a way to secure a visa for Balochistan.
Why Balochistan? You may ask!
Although visiting a troubled country has always been my idea of adventure but other than that here are two more fascinating reasons for you to choose Balochistan over Singapore or Malaysia.
- The shrine of Hinglaj Mata in Balochistan visited by devotees from Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Bengal. It is one of the Maha Shakti Peeth of ancient India.
- Mud Volcanoes of Balochistan. There are as many as 80 active mud volcanoes in Balochistan and probably the bigggest one of them (Chandrakoop/Chandragup) near Hinglaj Temple.
So how does one reach here? One can fly down to Karachi, hire a cab and travel all the way to Hinglaj by undertaking a 250km long journey along the Makran Coastal Highway.
Take a train to Munabao Railway Station like my friend Amit Tiwary did. Although he did not penetrate the border and stayed within the Indian side but given half a chance, I’m sure he would have crossed the border twice.
Read on what Amit Tiwary has to say about his journey to Munabao, the Last Frontier of India…..
Visiting an International border especially if it is Pakistan always raises adrenaline levels. There are numerous places in India from where one can peek into the 2900 km International border with Pakistan. Wagah border is popular but extremely crowded.
The other two places in Punjab where a flag lowering ceremony takes place every evening silently is Sadqi Border (Fazilka) and Hussainiwala Border (Ferozpur). Unlike the jingoistic display at Wagah, the ceremony at these places is mostly attended by locals. Khemkaran, Ghawindi / Hadiara check post do provide access to the international border with Pakistan, but I am not aware if any flag lowering ceremony is done every evening.
There are certain occasions/fairs when the border is opened for few hours so that people can pay obeisance to the local deity keeping alive years of regional belief. One such fair is Baba Chamliyal Mela (Samba district of Jammu).
Munabao, a village in the Barmer district of Rajasthan is one such place where civilians with proper permission are allowed to reach the zero point. Weekly, Thar Express runs between Jodhpur (India) and Karachi (Pakistan) and it makes a long halt at Munabao for customs/ immigration/ visa check.
Any visit to Barmer, however, short it is; is incomplete without a visit to Munabao and Kiradu!
I boarded the passenger train from Barmer. The trains in Rajasthan run bang on time! The moment I reached Gadra road, all passengers deboarded the train. Note that Gadra village is in Pakistan. A security personnel deployed at railway station came inside the train and had a look at all coaches. He asked for my ID card and the purpose of visit to Munabao. He also asked about my profession, my native place, and numerous other questions. Satisfied, he wished me good luck.
From here on, you are on a ghost train chugging along the Thar desert. The only people on the train were the driver, guard and me. Train reached Munabao at 9:40AM. The moment I tried to step out of the station, a stern voice stopped and questioned me. There is an intelligence inspector of BSF that is permanently stationed to keep an eye on visitors. After a series of questions, id-proof checks I was asked to show permission! I wasn’t carrying any permission.
The inspector asked me to spend time at the station and return via the same train. 10-15 repeated requests and the inspector asked me to take permission from the in-charge of BSF camp that was 100 meters outside the railway station near a water tank. The intelligence inspector reached there after some time.
The BSF in-charge called up someone at zero point and asked for permission. The permission was granted provided someone from BSF has to accompany me all the time during my visit. This whole process took 15 minutes and my heart sank. The border was still 1 km away.
With no conveyance how would I visit the border and return to catch the train that departs at 10:30AM. If I miss the train, I would have to stay overnight and there is no guarantee of any bus next morning from Munabao.
On seeing the sudden disappointment on my face, intelligence inspector called up a BSF recruit from Bengal and asked him to bring his bike. Within 5 minutes I was shaking hands with the BSF soldiers at zero-point. Soon, I was taken to a watch tower and next 25 minutes flew away understanding the border, zero-point black gate, no man’s land, our bunkers, flag meetings, capture and release of Munabao during 1965 war. The border on Pakistan is completely open with few watch-towers and bunkers. Only Indian side has barbed fence.
I thanked the person who explained the details and rushed towards the platform. When I was purchasing the return tickets, I saw the intelligence inspector seated besides the cashier.
I thanked him and his response was “So you have already explored Barmer and checked out of the retiring room. What is the next destination?”. I replied Kiradu and galloped to the first coach of the train with no passengers. And then I realized, how the hell he knew that I was staying in the retiring room of Barmer for last 2 days?
As soon as Gadra station arrived, numerous passengers boarded the train. At 11:50 AM I got down at Bhachhbar and headed towards the road head with the hope of finding a local bus that would drop me near Hathma for my visit to Kiradu.
How to reach Munabao?
Munabao is 125 km from Barmer. Local buses are available till Gadra road.From Gadra road, you are on your own. There is a daily passenger train from Barmer (7:30AM) that reaches Munabao at 9:40AM. The fare is Rs 30. The same train departs from Munabao at 10:30AM and reaches Barmer at 12:45PM. If you intend to travel by train, you will get effectively 30-45 mins to visit the border and return.
Where to stay/eat?
Apart from BSF check post and camps, there is nothing at Munabao. Except for tap water at the railway station, do not expect anything! The nearest place where you can enjoy tea, snacks, food is Gadra road 38 km away.
Do we need permission to visit the border?
Yes! a permission from BSF headquarters in Barmer is required. BSF personnel are extremely strict but courteous and would go out of the way to help you out!
Is photography allowed?
No! In the interest of national security, we should not take pictures and publish them even if the camera is not checked by BSF personnel.
P.S The best chance of crossing over is Hinglaj Baisakhi Festival (April). Pilgrims in large numbers are granted Visa by the High Commission and that’s the only way you can click photographs. And if we believe what we hear, Balochistan may as well become a separate country. All the better for adventure seekers!
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