Blog 1: Driving the INSTC, International North South Transport Corridor, from Iran through Azerbaijan and Russia culminating in Saint Petersburg
Heard of the INSTC?
Neither had I till last week – and that’s what we are in Iran for, to drive the International North South Transport Corridor. This is our answer to China’s One Belt One Road project, which as we all know India is not a participant to despite President Xi’s best efforts. Our neighbours are enthusiastic participants (or they have no option) and the INSTC is our by-pass to the OBOR.
You see transport corridors are a very big thing, and seaports are a super-crucial part of the puzzle. The naval attaché to the Indian embassy in Tehran, who will be with us on the drive, explains how geography has been very cruel to Afghanistan. They don’t have access to the sea and hence have to depend on our mutual and not-so-friendly neighbour for all trade. (Sea is the cheapest way to move goods. The most polluting too, cars are nothing compared to the thousands of ships plying trade routes burning the worst and most dirty kind of fuel, a sludge basically, though that’s not the point of this piece). A crucial part of the INSTC is the Chabahar port on the south eastern tip of Iran – being built by India – and that will be connected to next-door Afghanistan by a road – being built by the NHAI. That will be our gateway to supplying goods to Afghanistan and helping rehabilitate the ravaged country and reducing their reliance on Pakistan. Kandla port in Gujarat is just 500 nautical miles away from Chabahar, even Mumbai to Chabahar is very close. And if you have any interest in geo-politics you will know that India has major interests in getting Afghanistan on its feet (before the Chinese move in, like they have in Africa and elsewhere).
Here’s more on the INSTC on Wikipedia
INSTC Friendship Rally
This is an Indian-government-initiated event to highlight this new transport corridor and the task of organising the entire shebang has been given to Kalinga Motorsport Club (http://kmscorissa.com ) based in Ranchi, Odhisa. They have experience opening up the India – ASEAN route many years ago when roads through the north of Myanmar did not exist and they dealt with the junta out there. Recently they opened the BBIN (Bangladesh – Bhutan – India – Nepal) route and then IMT (India – Myanmar – Thailand). They’re the go-to guys for the Indian government to popularise new trade routes. They know what they’re doing and crucially they’ve got connects with our embassies to get the government machinery turning.
Our route starts at Bandar Abbas, the most important southern seaport of Iran on the Persian Gulf. The route will lead us north through Iran passing the ancient cities of Shiraz, Persepolis, Isfahan, the capital Teheran, Bandar Anzil near the Caspian set on the north, then into Azerbaijan at Lankaran, to the capital Baku and then through Russia passing Makhachakala, Astrakhan, Volgograd, Voronezh, Moscow, Tver and ending at Saint Petersburg on the Baltic Sea. Sea port to sea port, get it. On the return route back to Iran the rally – well not a rally but a drive – will branch out at Isfahan and go to Yazd which has one of the most important fire temples in Iran, Kerman, Zahedan and culminate in the Chabahar port.
Driving INSTC in a fleet of Mahindra SUVs
Mahindra Adventure (mahindraadventure.com) is the vehicle partner for the INSTC and have given 18 SUVs for the drive – mostly Scorpios with two XUV 500s, one Thar and one Getaway piloted by the service crew. For now though we wait at the Homa Hotel in Bandar Abbas (run by the holding company for Iran Air, the national flag carrier, so sort of like the Centaurs back home) while the core crew are at the customs office biting their nails and waiting for the officials to clear out Mahindras so we can hit the road.