Planning a road trip to south-east Asia? Here’s a guide to the necessary permits
HT48HRS_Special Updated: Jan 08, 2016 16:21 IST
Driving to a foreign locale may be quite an adventure, but planning it right is crucial. India shares its borders with several countries, each with its own set of regulations. And with a section of the new Asian highway linking India, Myanmar and Thailand becoming operational in September, there’s no better time to set out on a road trip. Sanjay Madan, co-founder of Adventures Overland, a luxury adventure travel company, helps you out:
You can enter Nepal in your vehicle at any time of the year without prior permissions. The most famous land border crossing is the Sunauli border in Uttar Pradesh, which is around 185km from Gorakhpur. In less than 30 minutes, all the formalities can be completed at the border and you are ready to drive in Nepal. From Nepal, you can enter China and go on to the Middle East, Russia and Europe.
Like Nepal, Indian citizens don’t require a passport and visa to enter Bhutan. If you plan to take your own Indian vehicle, all you need to do is pre-register yourself. This can be done at the immigration post at Phuntsholing border, and at the transport department for vehicle registration. Both are opposite each other at the border.
The process takes around three hours as there are two separate buildings for vehicle registration and individual registration. The most popular land border is the Jaigaon-Phuntsholing border in West Bengal. If you have to go beyond Thimphu (capital of Bhutan), then you need to take permissions again. Another land border is Samdrup Jongkhar in Assam. It’s not as popular because the main cities of Bhutan, like Paro and Thimphu, are close to the West Bengal border. Though Bhutan shares a land border with China, there is no land connectivity, so one cannot go anywhere beyond Bhutan.
A carnet (a document that can be acquired from the Western India Automobile Association) of your vehicle is a must to exit India and enter Bangladesh, so you don’t need to apply for special permissions or permits. Visitors can enter Bangladesh from the Petrapole–Benapole border. You can engage with any travel company to take care of the hotel bookings and tour planning. Though a guide is not mandatory, it’s advisable.
One has to cross Myanmar on the Delhi to Bangkok Highway, which was talked about a fair bit last year. To exit and re-enter India via the Indo-Myanmar land border (Moreh), one needs to apply for a carnet. You need to pay 200 per cent of your vehicle’s value to obtain it. Thailand customs also accept carnet as a valid document should you wish to enter the country driving a foreign registered vehicle.
It is not possible to enter Myanmar without a pre-planned itinerary and hotel booking in place. It is mandatory to hire a local Burmese guide, approved by the Ministry of Myanmar Tourism, who will travel with you. Hiring the services of a travel company that specialises in organising road trips is ideal. The company needs to be registered with the Myanmar tourism department in order to apply for permits and permissions on your behalf. Vehicle and driver details are to be submitted a month in advance, along with 50 per cent advance payments. Hotels bookings, guides and other formalities are carried out by the agent.
Another mandatory rule is to have a lead car for the convoy — a must, even if it’s a single car. This is because of poor signboards along the roads and difficulty in communicating with the locals in a foreign language. This is part of the agent services you would hire for permits.
The most time-consuming and uncertain process of taking permissions are to drive in China. You can enter China (Tibet) through Nepal via the Kodari — Zhangmu border. Like Myanmar, China does not accept or recognise carnet and an international driving license. You need to take all permissions in advance, and that takes a minimum of two months, as permissions like special overland permits for Indian registered vehicles and temporary driving license come from Lhasa.
Your permits can be cancelled without any refund, so it’s a big risk. We hear about the Nathu La pass entry point in the Himalayas these days, but as of now, civilian vehicles have not crossed this border.
There is no way to enter Pakistan in an Indian registered civilian vehicle. Many foreign citizens who undertake overland expeditions use Wagah Border to enter or exit India during their journey but this option is not open to Indians.
Adventures Overland is organising a self-driven road trip from Imphal to Bangkok, starting from January 23.
Price: Rs 3,40,000 onward per person
Call: 097170 80066