Iraq a country once partially invaded by ISIS. A region Kurdistan near Turkey and Syria border is safe to visit
(Date of Visit – 16 Aug, 2018)
Iraq a country partially invaded by ISIS and the Iraq-Syria border town of Mosul was severely effected by the terrorism of ISIS. Getting an Iraqi visa would require sponsor or pilgrimage visa issues majority to Muslims. A part of Iraq known as Kurdistan was unaffected from the present situation, and was safer to visit. Kurdistan declared independence from Iraq but this was not recognised by International community and for few months the airports of Kurdistan were closed as a restriction from Iraq. Irony of situation was Kurdistan was technically Iraq but with a visa from Iraq you will not be allowed to enter Kurdistan and visa- versa.
There are limited representations of Kurdistan globally and none in India. It was also mandatory for an Indian passport holder to have a sponsor to get the visa. I mailed to all global representations and foreign ministry of Kurdistan requesting for granting us an exception. I honestly mentioned the purpose of visit was our passion to travel all 198 countries together. Finally received a mail from Indian embassy in Erbil, Kurdistan mentioning Indian embassy will sponsor our visa. Either the foreign ministry or global representation of Kurdistan must have forwarded our mail to Indian embassy and we finally got the e-visa approved.
As we got the visa confirmation from Indian embassy our challenge was the validity of visa with our pre planned trip bookings. We were travelling to Israel, Cyprus and Turkey. With an Israel stamp on passport Iraq would not allow to enter and we were not sure about Kurdistan. The Indian Government issues a special passport valid for 1 Year for Israel travel. We opted for it and we had 2 passports for the trip – One regular and second one only for Israel visit.
The third challenge was if we do a road trip from Turkey to Kurdistan then we need double entry visa to re-enter Turkey. We had a single entry Turkey visa generated online to Indian passport holders with valid USA visa. The online system allowed us to have 2 e-visa each single entry with different dates of entry mentioned
Safety of Turkey – Kurdistan, Iraq Land Border
The travel advisory of USA and UK mentioned the border town of Turkey with Iraq and Syria as a no travel zone due to risk of terrorism. I also had plans to visit Syria from Turkey border town of Gaziantep but due to high risk cancelled the plan. It was challenging to get information online on the remote town of Sirnak which is the border Town of Turkey with Kurdistan border. I connected in Facebook with 2 residents of Sirnak and one traveller who did the land border crossing. Everyone informed the route was safe and finally we decided to travel the road against travel advisory.
We stayed at JW Marriott, Ankara for 5 days using Marriott points. This hotel is one of the best utilisation of Marriott points to redeem for club room with daily evening cocktails and breakfast included.
From Ankara to Sirnak we took a domestic flight and reached the border town. The tigris river separated Turkey- Syria and we were just few kms away from Syria. The city of Mosul, Iraq invaded by ISIS was 200 Km away. At Sirnak Airport we took a shared transfer to city and then a car to border of Kurdistan. It took 1.5-2 Hrs to reach the boded from Airport. The border can only be crossed by car or need to wait for a bus operating between the borders. We took a cab to cross the border and entered Kurdistan. The immigration was quick as we showed the e visa approval and we had a good lunch at a restaurant near the border on Kurdistan side. We was stopped by 2 police officials to check the papers, they all were very friendly, they also showed Indian songs on their mobile and mentioned they watch Indian movies a lot.
The entry point of Kurdistan has both flags of Iraq and Kurdistan together. The people were friendly and the area was absolutely safe. On our return back there was a long waiting of cars so we opted to walk to Turkey border which usually is not allowed but no one questioned us. Our passport was checked multiple times and with few questions on why do have Afghanistan visa in passport we were allowed to re-enter Turkey.