Syria is among the earliest civilisations and arguably Damascus is said to be the oldest city of the world. The country is in a long lasting war
(Date of Visit – 19 April, 2019)
Syria is among the earliest civilisations and arguably Damascus is said to be the oldest city of the world. The country is in a long lasting war which compelled the super powers like USA, Russia and others to intervene. The travel advisory of USA, UK and other governments mentions Syria as a no travel zone due to high risk
As a traveller visiting Damascus was in my bucket list. As almost all flights have stopped operations in Syria the route to enter was by land border. Earlier I planned to enter Syria by Turkey border near Gaziantep but due to safety challenges we cancelled the trip. When we entered Kurdistan region of Iraq by land from a small town of Sirnak in Turkey we were just 2 kms from Syria and we saw the land of Syria. The Tigris river one side had the border town of Turkey and Syria on other side. The safest route to enter Syria was from Lebanon land border to Damascus.
It is mandatory to get an invitation letter from Syria for visa from the embassy in Delhi, India. I requested for the waiver of the invitation letter from the embassy. Initially they refused but later submitted the visa application.The visa application of Syria mentions the condition that “Occupied Palestine” should not be visited. I connected with Tourism Ministry of Syria and Foreign ministry from facebook and mails mentioned on the website. The Tourism Ministry connected with few travel agents who can arrange the visa on arrival but it was expensive as the agency asked for USD 400 per person. I requested the Foreign Ministry on facebook messages and mails to grant us visa without the invitation letter. Also visited the Syria embassy in Delhi 11 times to request for visa and finally was issued the visa without invitation
Road trip to Damascus , Syria from Beirut, Lebanon
I mailed Indian Embassy in Lebanon and Syria and both confirmed the Beirut – Damascus route is safe to travel by road. Then booked a Delhi – Beirut business class flight with Kuwait Airways at Rs 802/ with miles. At Beirut airport booked a taxi to Damascus and same day return for USD 180. We planned to stay in Beirut and do a day trip to Damascus. Majority taxi drivers in Lebanon are not honest and we were aware from the online reviews. As we boarded the taxi they put a third person on front seat and said will charge USD 150 since sharing. It was annoying but we allowed as we wish to reach quickly and not waste time to explore another taxi. After approx 1.5 – 2 hrs we reached the Lebanon- Syria land border and to our surprise was informed the Lebanon taxi can’t enter Syria so the driver will transfer to another taxi who will take us to Damascus and back to border and then our present cab will take us back to Beirut. It was raining and took almost 1 hr to find a taxi with Syrian number plate to cross the border. The land border crossing was easy both side in Lebanon and Syria. Unlike other land crossings were the immigration is few hundred meters apart the Syrian entry Immigration was about 5 km away from Lebanon exit Immigration. At Syria immigration they turned each page of the passport to ensure we don’t have Israel stamp. Finally we entered Syria. The surprise was not over as the taxi we boarded was only for border crossing and we were transferred to a third taxi for Damascus. It was a remote area and we didn’t had any other option to argue or deny the third taxi. So we boarded the third taxi. Both the Syrian taxi drivers were excellent.
As we entered Syria the nature was at its best with rain and perfect weather. The drive to Damascus was approx 1 hr from the border with good roads, hardly any traffic, few small towns with descent number of houses. We finally reached the main square of Damascus. The place was safe, life as regular and no signs of the brutal war the country had. We took pictures around the main square and near by area. It was time to return back as we wish to enter back Lebanon prior dark. The charges for Syria side taxis were paid by Lebanon taxi driver and we didn’t pay anything.
The Taxi dropped us near Syria border where we boarded the earlier taxi who crossed both Syria and Lebanon border. We paid an exit tax at Syria and then at Lebanon side our first taxi took us back to Beirut. The first taxi driver then started asking for USD 240 (we were suppose to pay USD 150 since there was a sharing) and argued a lot and finally we paid USD 195. We had a great trip, apart from the price argument with Lebanon taxis driver and waiting at Lebanon border in rain for 1 hr to find a taxi to Syria the trip was great and safe.