Fasten your seatbelts

For a mere $200 you get a 12-day, 6400-kilometre "thrilling ride" across the English channel through France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran before the journey and perhaps your enthusiasm ends at Mirpur, in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

If the "Azad" Kashmir transport minister's plans come to fruition, Birmingham and Mirpur, two parts of the same city separated by distance but joined together by immigration, shall be connected by the world's longest local bus route. Families will reunite more frequently. Nephews will find jobs more easily. Tourists who have accumulated annual leave will be able to spend $525 more on supporting the local economies instead of on air tickets.

It's hard for many of us to get our minds around the idea of a bus that crosses a dozen national borders today. Yet, just over three decades ago, there were many intrepid travellers who could make the journey. Between 1968 to 1976, Albert Tours operated a Sydney-Calcutta-London route, doing 15 overland trips in those years. I found an old brochure advertising departure from London's Victoria terminus on July 25, 1972, and arrival at Calcutta's Fairlawn Hotel on September 11. You could experience "Banaras on the Ganges, The Taj Mahal, Afghan Tribesmen, The Khyber Pass, The Peacock Throne, Communist Bulgaria, The Blue Danube and the Golden Horn", while enjoying shopping days in New Delhi, Tehran, Salzburg, Kabul, Istanbul and Vienna. Unscheduled adventures included having to "dig out a dry riverbed plus a piece of the mountain". The fare for the journey of around seven weeks, including food and sundries, was 145 pounds, which in those days was a lot of money.

Geopolitics put an end to those adventures. By the late-1970s, Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution in Iran, General Zia-ul-Haq's coup in Pakistan and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan made it all but impossible for an ordinary passenger to innocently sit in a bus and get off at the next continent. Violence, sanctions, travel restrictions and international suspicions have cut off the Indian subcontinent from Europe since then. Hiram Warren Johnson, the US Republican who declared that truth is the first casualty of war, was obviously wrong. It's the bus route that suffers first. Our own Atal Bihari Vajpayee thought starting a bus would end the war, with rather mixed results.

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