The 4,000-mile bus ride linking Birmingham to Kashmir's 'Little Brum'

Plan to resurrect old hippie trail between Pakistan and UK

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The Independent Online

An uncomfortable-sounding, 12-day bus service linking Birmingham with a city in Pakistan has been floated by a local politician as a means of strengthening ties between the two communities. The total distance involved? Just under 4,000 miles, one way.

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Promising a “thrilling ride” to all travellers who book a seat, Tahir Khokher, the transport minister with Pakistan’s Azad Jammu and Kashmir

(AJK) regional government, has suggested the luxury service could be particularly popular with younger people and those with a sense of adventure.

The West Midlands has long-established links with the AJK region and the capital, Mirpur, is sometimes referred to as Little England or Little Brum. It is said that Birmingham is home to the largest population of Pakistani Kashmiris outside of the country, many of them having left in the 1960s after the construction of a major dam.

The journey proposed by Mr Khokher would pass through at least seven countries and cost around £130, a considerable saving on the average cost of a flight, which is around £600.

“I think it could be popular, especially with the young. It would be an experience, an adventure,” said Hamza Waris, who works in his family-owned travel company, Pak Travel, located in Birmingham’s Small Heath neighbourhood. “It would depend on how things were in Pakistan and in the countries on route.”

It has been reported that that bus’s route will pass through Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria and Serbia before reaching Western Europe. It is being proposed that four buses will travel in a convoy once a fortnight.

Mr Khokher has confirmed that he is still working to make his dream become reality and said: “We have been working on the bus service which will not only promote tourism but also provide cheaper transport facility to Kashmiris, especially since the recent rise in the air fare…It will start in March at the earliest because we are still in negotiation with the Iranian and Turkish governments. Besides, the winters will make travel difficult in Europe.”

The idea has received the backing of politicians in Birmingham. The city’s Labour MP, Khalid Mahmood, whose family originally came from Mirpur, told the Birmingham Mail newspaper: “The proposal has the backing of the Kashmir government but they have been dragging their heels and haven’t really publicised it.  I think it’s a great idea that will bring the two cities closer together and be a real life experience, particularly for younger people both here and in Kashmir.”

While the journey – should the plan eventually be realised – would be a daunting undertaking for travelers, the overland route to Asia is nothing new. Many migrants to Britain from South Asia used it in the 1970s and 1980s and the route was also adopted by hippies and other backpackers until problems in Iran and Afghanistan made the trip too dangerous

Indeed, between 1968-1976, a British-built double-decker bus, nicknamed Albert, made 15 trips between India and the UK. In 1972, for instance, the bus’s itinerary had it leaving London on July 25 and arriving in Kolkata on September 11. On four occasions, the bus even made it all the way between London and Sydney.