Strangest borders in the world: Asia edition

Asia is the world’s largest continent and when you look at the map everything seems normal at first sight. However, Asia has a lot of different ethnic groups, and hence, more border disputes than any other continent. In the previous editions, we saw the strangest borders in Europe, America, and Africa but none of these come close to the strangest international borders in Asia. Only in Asia, you will find three countries claiming the same piece of land, randomly drawn borders, and the craziest enclaves and exclaves. Here are the most unusual borders in Asia!

The seven sisters of India

If you look at the borders of India, you will notice a seemingly isolated territory in the Northeast. This part is connected with the rest of India by a very tiny stretch of land known as the Siliguri Corridor. This border is a consequence of colonialism. After the fall of the British Raj, this area was divided into a Hindu Part and a Muslim Part. The Hindu part is today’s India and the Muslim part consists of today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh (Former East Pakistan). So at the time, the two Pakistans were separated by a large portion of Indian territory, while the Northeast of India remained connected to the rest of the country only by the Siliguri Corridor. To add to this peculiar border, the Indian state of Sikkim rises north of the corridor separating Nepal and Bhutan.

The Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan

strnagest borders in asia

If you look at Afghanistan’s map, you will notice this small stretch of land that resembles a human appendix. That’s the Wakhan Corridor and it’s been a part of Afghanistan since the days of the Great Game. The Wakhan Corridor separates Tajikistan from Pakistan.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense today but in the 19th century, Tajikistan was part of the Russian Empire, and Pakistan was part of the British Empire. With both empires competing for land, Afghanistan served as a buffer zone. But the territory of Afghanistan didn’t exactly match as the Wakhan Corridor wasn’t part of the country at the time. That’s why both empires decided to give up on small pieces of land and give it to Afghanistan to completely separate the two territories.

Related: Which are the strangest international borders in Africa?

Turkey and Syria 

When you look at the border between Turkey and Syria, everything seems alright. Except for the small chunk of Turkish territory in the middle of nowhere in Syria, that’s not even visible on the map. That is, or was, the tomb of Suleyman Shah, a grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire. He was buried in Syria and for geopolitical reasons, his tomb remained a part of Turkey.

tomb of suleyman shah syria

Things got pretty interesting lately with the conflict in Syria raging around the tomb. This caused the Turkish government to launch a campaign in Syria to retrieve the remnants of the long dead Suleyman. However, the Turkish government insisted that this is only temporary and the burial site remains a Turkish sovereign territory.

UAE and Oman 

This one is a really complicated one and will certainly tickle your brain. The village of Nahwa is a part of the UAE surrounded by the Omani territory of Madha, which is also surrounded by UAE territory. This makes Nahwa one of only three counter-exclaves in the world. Imagine, these people have to cross two borders just to enter their own country. Oman also has another exclave in the Musandam peninsula.

On a side note, if you’re planning to move to UAE or are thinking about it, check out our guide to living in Dubai for expats.

So imagine if you’re traveling by road from Mainland Oman to Musandam. The shortest road leads through these exclaves. You would have to enter UAE, then Oman again, then the UAE again through Nahwa, then Oman again (Madha), and the UAE again, and to enter one last time in Oman to reach the Musandam Peninsula. Talking about confusing…

Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan

If you thought Cyprus was complicated, wait until you hear about this one. I’ll try to put it as simple as I can. Uzbekistan has four enclaves within Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan both have one exclave each in Uzbekistan, while Tajikistan has two enclaves inside Kyrgyzstan. What might be a reason for such peculiar borders? The answer is Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union. During the Soviet era, borders were freely adjusted by Moscow as part of the always-efficient divide and rule strategy. This resulted with some of the craziest enclaves and exclaves in Asia.

Barak, the Kyrgyzstan exclave in Uzbekistan has only 1,000 residents, no post office or any government buildings, and no banks. The only jobs available are working in the local stores. You’re probably wondering why would these people want to live like this, practically isolated from both, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. They actually did sign a petition asking the Kyrgyzstan government to take them back to their country but the request was rejected because the Government didn’t want to lose this valuable territory to Uzbekistan.

Even more confusing is the territory of Sokh, the largest Uzbek enclave in Kyrgyzstan. This territory is completely surrounded by Kyrgyzstan. However, 99% of the population of Sokh is ethnic Tajiks. Even more, the new visa regime in Central Asia isn’t making things any easier for the residents of Sokh.

Jammu and Kashmir

The region in South Asia known as Jammu and Kashmir is a reason for disputes between China, India, and Pakistan. During the Partition of India, local governments had a choice of which country to join. All of the Hindu states joined India, while all of the Muslim states joined Pakistan. There were only two local governments that didn’t join any country: Hyderabad and Jammu and Kashmir. India quickly managed to take over Hyderabad since they didn’t want a large country within its borders.

kashmir borders

The other case, however was a bit more complicated. Around three-quarters of the population of Jammu and Kashmir are Muslim. Most of the population wanted to join Pakistan but the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir wanted to remain independent.  Pakistan obviously didn’t like that so they invaded and on the Maharaja request, India intervened. BUT India refused to help unless Jammu and Kashmir became a part of India. The Maharaja reluctantly accepted this and the war began. India managed to take most of the land but there were several conflicts that followed. That’s why the UN created a line of control that no army was allowed to pass.

However, the line of control didn’t stretch all the way to China, leaving a small unclaimed piece of land. To make things even more complicated, the line of control isn’t the same as the actual border. This also caused a dispute between India and China back in the 70s which left China in control of a small portion of Kashmir.

Honorable Mention: India and Bangladesh

I can’t complete this article about the most unusual borders in Asia without giving an honorable mention to the India-Bangladesh border. This was probably the most complex border ever. However, the two governments solved the issue with a swap of territories between the two countries back in 2016. At one point in time, the border between India and Bangladesh accounted for 80% of the world’s total enclaves! 106 Indian enclaves were located in Bangladesh while 92 enclaves of Bangladesh were located in India. 24 of these enclaves were counter-enclaves and this border was also home to the world’s only 3rd order enclave. This tiny piece of land was a territory of India, inside an enclave of Bangladesh, which was inside an enclave of India at the territory of Bangladesh!

This was a really difficult issue for both countries because unlike their EU counterparts, India and Bangladesh don’t have open borders so the people that lived in the enclaves were basically trapped. They didn’t even have basic amenities, like water, electricity, and gas and most of the enclaves didn’t have any schools or hospitals around. It wasn’t until 2016 that both countries finally exchanged their enclave territories.

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Were you aware of some of these unusual international borders? Do you think I missed some of the other most unusual borders in Asia? Let me know in the comments!

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19 thoughts on “Strangest borders in the world: Asia edition”

  1. Nice post! I belong of the 7 sisters region of India. The borders on that side, along with Bangladesh is so different then the set in J & K
    Thanks for sharing your perspective on these areas

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    • Thank you for your comment Mayuri. Indeed the two are different. I just wanted to portray a few unusual destinations where borders don’t make much sense. I will be uploading some content about the Northeast of India soon too 🙂

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  2. This is a very interesting read. Being an Indian, I only knew about the unusual borders in India. I belong to Jammu and Kashmir and I’m aware of the story behind the disputed border between India, Pakistan and China. This dispute has led to a lot of riots and still remains unresolved. I wasn’t aware of the unusual ones in other countries. The border between UAE and Oman is quite interesting, so is the one between Turkey and Syria.

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  3. UAE and OMAN have a couple of this fantastic borders, even going up to the hills of Hatta you cross the border twice 🙂 in 100 meter distance. There is actual someone standing checking IDs

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    • Absolutely, Jean. While writing this series I came across so many instances of more powerful nations drawing borders according to their interests but caring little or none about the people that live within those borders!

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  4. What a great and interesting post! That border of Turkey and Syria has seen some interesting times I am sure. I have been to the DMZ area in South Korea and that was an eye opener in itself. On the wired walls between the North and the South are thousands and thousands of ribbons, tied by families who will never see their North Korea relatives ever again. I have never been so sad.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Amy! I was thinking of including that border in this article but decided not to because it’s more ‘famous’ compared to the other ones. Have never been there but after reading your comment, I know I must visit! Korea certainly is just one more example of the ‘divide and rule strategy’, conducted by people that didn’t care at all about the people that have to spend their lives inside of those borders. Really sad, indeed.

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  5. Wow this article is so interesting! I honestly never paid attention or noticed the weird borders in Asia! This is crazy! I learned a lot from this post!! Thank you for sharing! 🙂

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    • Thank you for your comment, Annick! I’m really glad you could learn something new from my article 🙂

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  6. This is such an interesting approach to analyze Asian continent! You can tell you made a lot of research on this one! There are such complicated matters behind borders that it’s not easy to find out why. I had no idea there was a land belonging to UAE in the middle of Oman! I guess there is no international airport in the village of Nahwa or am I wrong? It’s crazy that these people have to cross 2 borders to get in and out of their own country!

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  7. This is such an interesting topic! The most interesting one for me is UAE and Oman. Do they need go cross official border control and show documentation every time they try to cross?

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  8. The Nawah village is really strangely placed – it’s a part of UAE and bordered by Oman. How weird! The disputable borders of India and Pakistan is also an important thing to know about Asian borders. This is an interesting list of all strange borders of Asia, which I really appreciate you for bringing in as we hardly know of these. Thanks for the share, Daniel.

    Reply

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