Train to Pakistan - a journey not so pleasant

Unlike the better known Samjhauta Express that links Lahore and Delhi, the Thar Express -- named after the vast expanse of desert on both sides of the frontier -- is being termed a "torture train" by frequent travellers. Connecting the desert town of Jodhpur to Sindh province in Pakistan, thirst is not the only problem for the passengers here - the more pressing issue, they say, is harassment by customs officials.

There are two broad categories of people travelling to India from Pakistan. Those who come for pilgrimage and those on personal visits. It is generally the latter who are at the receiving end, they say, of the customs.

The journey itself is no easy one.

Leaving Karachi at 11 p.m. every Friday, the train's scheduled arrival in Jodhpur is 9.30 p.m. Saturday.

But thanks to marathon customs checks on both sides of the border (passengers say it is more intense in India), the train doesn't make it to Jodhpur before 7 a.m. Sunday - a good 10 hours late.

That makes it a 32-hour journey for a distance of no more than 700 km, which should not consume more than 12 hours normally.

Why the delay?

In the words of harried passengers who spoke to IANS mainly on the condition of anonymity, Indian officials strip open each and every bag "in search of articles on which custom duty could be levied".

Fateh Singh, half of whose family lives in Pakistan, describes one such incident on his recent return to India.

"There was a woman coming to India to get her three daughters married. The customs confiscated all their gift packs, saris, jewellery, gold and asked for a 35 percent tax to get it freed... How can you expect someone to pay that kind of money?"

Added Raghvir Singh Sodha, who migrated to Jodhpur from Pakistan only a decade ago:
"Though the government gives visa extension to tourists for marriages, when they come here, they confiscate their wedding trousseau."

Rajputs often travel to India for bride/groom hunting as most Rajputs living in Pakistan are part of extended families -- and they can't marry among themselves.