Itchy feet and an Indian passport are a deadly combination, but you already know that. If you’ve traveled, or intended to travel much out of India, you are only too familiar with toiling over lengthy visa applications and the sleepless nights before a visa gets approved. Not to mention, pre-planning a holiday to the smallest detail – where you’ll stay, how many days to each city or town, when you’ll fly back – can suck the excitement out of any trip, unless of course you love planning. I’ve found my greatest adventures in the most impulsive of trips, and it may as well be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I’m sure we could write an entire book about the infamous Indian passport, but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about countries that offer us the freedom to pack our bags, book a flight, and head straight to the airport; no visa hassles, no detailed planning, and no sleepless nights (except from the thrill of an impulsive trip).
The roots of this post are embedded in a day of disappointing research that revealed that India does not have a working holiday agreement with any country in the world; I have been toying with the idea of long term travel for a while now, but that’s a rant for another time. In the spirit of not wanting to trade our Indian passports for any other, I present to you ten countries that’ll give wings to your wanderlust:
They say that the fourth largest island in the world, carelessly strewn off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, is an adventure of a different kind. Madagascar has been geographically isolated from the rest of the world for so long, that 90% of its flora and fauna, and many of its animal species are found nowhere else in the world; unfortunately like everywhere else in the world, its ecology has been irreversibly damaged by human activity. It’s culture is an eclectic mix of Indonesia and Africa, and its kaleidoscopic landscapes transform from rainforest to desert to coastal in no time.
Getting there directly from India is expensive, and it is much more economical to club it with its more popular neighbor, Mauritius; both Air Mauritius and Air Madagascar have frequent flights from Mauritius to Madagascar, while a ferry is a 3-4 nights affair. Madagascar is the reason I’ll go back to this part of the Indian Ocean.
Indians can obtain a thirty-day visa free of charge at the Antananarivo airport, Madagascar’s primary international airport.
2. HONG KONG
I visited Hong Kong in the winter of 2008, and remember thinking of it as Singapore with mountains. The entire city shone with Christmas lights and Christmas sales, and while Singapore, where I lived at the time, is a shopping haven, Hong Kong’s shopping streets had the vibe that you’d anticipate in an American city from the TV shows. Its part British-part Chinese ambiance takes some getting used to, with plenty of pretty awesome rooftop bars and cafes to ease you in.
I remember hiking in its wilderness to a vantage point that overlooked its two islands and the South China Sea in between. If its hi-tech 21st century attraction and its mountains are not compelling enough reasons to visit, the pristine beaches along its outlying islands and its proximity to Macau, Asia’s own Vegas, sure are.
Cathay Pacific runs frequent direct flights to Hong Kong.
A fourteen-day entry stamp is free of charge at Hong Kong airport.
The “last Shangri La” comes with a price tag of US$200 per day for most of the world but us, and for once in our lives, our infamous Indian passport evokes a sense of jealousy. This Himalayan kingdom has been associated with an other-worldly enigma, culturally, spiritually, and pictorially; what else can you expect when Gross National Happiness is the country’s benchmark to progress? I almost planned a trip here this June, and spent many a night dreaming of its untrodden trails and its fascinating festivals, in one of which, called The Takin Festival, the locals gather together to observe the Gasa, Bhutan’s national animal, in the wild! (Then Turkey happened and Bhutan went on the back-burner).
The Land of the Thunder Dragon can be approached over land via Siliguri, or by a flight on Druk Air to Paro’s international airport.
Indian passport holders don’t need a visa to enter Phuentsholing, a Bhutanese town on the Indian border. To travel further in Bhutan, a travel permit can be obtained here or in Thimpu.
The vast red nothingness of Wadi Rum, the lifelessness of the Dead Sea, and the ecstasy that is the Middle East, beckon the culture vulture with open arms. The land of the mezze, Jordan is a stable recluse amid its more vulnerable neighbors, and yet no less on nomadic desert adventures and the infectious Arabic hospitality, or so they say; I’m yet to go.
Royal Jordanian flies direct from India to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Visa on arrival is available in Jordan for Indians and costs US$30 for a single entry visa. If you enter and exit Jordan from Aqaba, along the Red Sea, no visa is required for a one month stay.
This little postcard in the Indian Ocean is hardly off anyone’s radar in India, and although pimped as a honeymooning paradise, it packs enough within its coastlines for all kinds of holiday makers. The sugarcane fields in its interiors change color from green to brown to red through the year, while the waters by its shores change shades of blue all day. Whether to experiment with your adventurous side, take your photographic lens on a spin or to indulge in the unique French-Indian culture and cuisine of the island, Mauritius has no dearth of excuses to visit.
Air Mauritius and Air India fly direct from India to Mauritius.
Indian passport holders are granted visa on arrival in Mauritius for upto 60 days.
One of my favorite countries in Southeast Asia, Indonesia is full of surprises. One of my earliest travel adventures took shape in its interiors, near an obscure Indonesian city called Manado, where the island of Bunaken and the active volcano of Tomohon (it recently erupted) were mystical experiences that are best not written about it! Of course, there is the tropical island paradise of Bali with its golden beaches, volcanoes to climb at midnight, and a pretty intriguing showcase of Hindu culture. There is also that feeling of being a millionaire, thanks to a devalued currency.
Jet, Thai, Malaysia and Singapore Airlines all fly direct to Bali from India, though it might work out cheaper to fly Indigo to Singapore and a low cost carrier like Lion Airways to Bali.
On an Indian passport, you can get a 10-day visa on arrival for US$10 and 30-day visa on arrival for Indonesia, for US$25.
Just across the border, the Nepalese Himalayas lie in wait for the mountain lover; mighty snow-capped Himalayas, Himalayas encased in ancient legend and folklore, Himalayas home to mountain villages similar to those in their Indian half, and yet different in their way of life, their customs and their cuisine. The enchanting wilderness culminates in the tallest peak in the world, and with the advances of the aviation sector, you don’t need to be a climbing junkie or a pro-mountaineer to get up-close with it.
Buses via Siliguri and a passenger train via the town of Raxaul in Bihar ply into the Nepal border. Indigo, SpiceJet, Air India and Jet have frequent connections to Kathmandu.
Single entry visa on arrival is granted to Indian citizens for upto 150 days in Nepal.
The backpacking haunt on the shores of the South China Sea, Thailand is a treat for every budget. The sparkling white beaches in the north of the country are adorned with shacks, seven-star resorts and everything in between. There is partying till dawn, there are spiritual retreats, Buddhism is everyday life, and the cuisine is just spicy enough for the Indian palette. Thailand is the kind of holiday you don’t need to think twice about.
Indigo offers the cheapest way to fly to Bangkok from India.
Indians can obtain visa on arrival in Thailand for a stay of 15-30 days.
Isolated and inaccessible as it may seem, Antarctica is owned by no one country and has almost no human habitation, making visas inapplicable. You do however need a permit to enter, visas for destinations en route that you stop at, and a handsome budget.
Many of us will only visit Antarctica virtually, gawking at the glistening white landscapes in pictures, and reading stories of human adventures in the greatest wilderness of the entire planet. (Adventures that are also unfortunately destroying the delicate ecology of this, no country for humans). Then again, no one knows where destiny may take us tomorrow; it is good to know that no visa forms must be dealt with, isn’t it?
Note: The information listed here is based on personal experiences, those of people I know or the embassy websites. It is best to check with the embassy for updates before you travel. To ensure a smooth VOA process, please carry a copy of your return tickets or itinerary, a valid passport, and a copy of your bank statements.