My fascination for unknown and un-ventured countries continued this week as I headed to the Peoples Republic of Podjistan. This is a tiny country which is landlocked by Northern Ireland, itself governed by the United Kingdom. An enigma in itself, Podjistan stands alone. Untouched, unventured, unknown. Not many travellers can say they have a Podjistani passport stamp! Along with the Republic of Ireland, Podjistan is the only other country which shares a border with Northern Ireland. Podjistan is also the only micronation within Northern Ireland, despite the fact that the country houses various separatist groups and areas, which include the notorious “Free Derry” region. Podjistan is the ice cool alternative, in a peaceful world we all dreamed up over an Ulster Fry and a pot of Nambarrie in days gone by. Welcome to the Peoples Republic of Podjistan!
Before I delve into the border crossing, let’s set the scene. I love my wacky border crossings and have crossed over 120 land borders on my travels back and forth the last 12 years. Here are some of my border crossings into disputed and unknown countries such as:
– Crossing from England to Austenasia
– Crossing from Armenia to Nagorno Karabakh
– Crossing from Moldova to Transnistria
– Crossing from Brazil to French Guyana
– Crossing from Sweden to Ladonia
– Crossing from Lithuania to Uzupis
– Touring The Former Republic of Frestonia
– Not backpacking in the Kingdom of Elleore
– Not backpacking in Sealand
– Crossing from Italy to Vatican City State
– Crossing from Italy to San Marino
– Crossing from Denmark to Christiania
– Touring a Druze Village in Israel
– Crossing from Tajikistan into Gorno Badakhshan
– Crossing from Uzbekistan into Afghanistan
– Crossing from Uzbekistan into Kazakhstan
– Crossing from Poland into Kaliningrad
– Crossing from Ukraine into Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
What is Podjistan?
Officially named The Peoples Republic of Podjistan, this is a micro-nation situated within Northern Ireland. The Peoples Republic of Podjistan was initiated on June 1st 2010 as a response to several geo-political, and social factors affecting the macro-region in which it is located. Simon Stewart is head of state in this benevolent dictatorship.
Getting from Northern Ireland to Podjistan
Podjistan is in County Down, so aim to stay in Belfast (you could stay in the swanky and once heavily bombed Europa Hotel), Banbridge or Ballyroney (you could stay in Ballyroney Cottage). Podjistan has no airport, seaport, bus station, train station or public transport.
This means you are best to head here by road from Northern Ireland. Walking is an option, but this is remote, so either hire a car, get a taxi or get a friend to drive. Hitch hiking is not really an option, as the person that picks you up will not have a clue where the f**k Podjistan is, besides hitch hiking is difficult in these parts. All visits to Podjistan must be arranged in advance and approved by the local government. Once you have that sorted, you are heading to this address:
In Podjistan: 38/40 Mill Road, near Moneyslane, Ballyroney, People’s Republic of Podjistan
In Northern Ireland: 38/40 Mill Road, near Moneyslane, Ballyroney, Banbridge, County Down, Northern Ireland, BT 32 5HD
Google Maps will not show the border and deem the entire country to be classed as Northern Ireland, recognising the buildings and land occupied by Podjistan but not the border. To most people, Podjistan is part of Northern Ireland, including Instagram which would only allow me to tag the location as Northern Ireland. To some, the United Kingdom. To some, it is part of Ireland. To me, I class the country as Podjistan. I side with the locals, I’m of a separatist mindset.
The Border Between Northern Ireland and Podjistan
Borders on the island of Ireland are a touchy subject. Up until 1920 and the Government of Ireland Act, there were no physical or geographical borders on the island of Ireland. Zero. However the partition of Ireland meant the division of the island of Ireland into two distinct territories, firstly known as Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. Northern Ireland comprised of 6 counties from the Ulster Province and Southern Ireland comprised of the other 26 counties.
The divide took place on 3 May 1921 under the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Today the former is still known as Northern Ireland and is one of four countries in the United Kingdom while the latter (initially Southern Ireland) is a sovereign state known simply as Ireland, or, if differentiation between the state and the whole island is required, the Republic of Ireland. For a while, the Republic of Ireland was classed as the Irish Free State. The troubles in Northern Ireland exist to this day between Unionists and Nationalists. It’s a subject which is debated daily and while I have my own standpoint on it (and everyone in Northern Ireland does), let’s concentrate on Podjistan for today.
So in essence, the border between Podjistan and its surrounding region could be seen as any of these, depending on your political, religious and geographic stand point:
- Podjistan borders Northern Ireland
- Podjistan borders Ireland (or the Republic of Ireland, if using that moniker to incorrectly refer to the entire island)
- Podjistan borders United Kingdom
Some facts that cannot be argued with are:
- Podjistan is surrounded by/in County Down
- Podjistan is surrounded by/in the Province of Ulster
- Podjistan is on the island of Ireland
- Podjistan is in the British Isles
- Podjistan is landlocked
- Podjistan is in Europe
Arranging A Visit to Podjistan
All visits to the People’s Republic of Podjistan must be pre-arranged. But by some crazy weird coincidence there was a twist ahead of my visit. I had found the website of the People’s Republic of Podjistan as well as the Podjistan Facebook Page so I e-mailed the Comrade General Papa Podjov, known as Simon Stewart.
My e-mail was simply asking for an invite to tour the country as a backpacking tourist, to take some photos, to write about it and to get an idea of how, why, where and what Podjistan actually is. The reply I got back completely shocked me, as the Head of State, Simon Stewart worked with my sister Cathy for about 10 years in Belfast, Northern Ireland! Cathy and Simon had also been for drinks a few times and Cathy is a fan of Podjistan! This made arranging the visit a lot easier and in fact, right up to the last minute Cathy was going to accompany me on this trip.
Arrival in Podjistan
I arrive in Podjistan in the year that the country celebrates its fifth anniversary, 2015. As my sister Cathy was busy and I had no car or insurance on my quick return to Northern Ireland, I was delighted that my Mum, Muriel Blair was happy to drive me down to Podjistan. This was probably quite boring for my Mum if truth be told, but we had the added bonus of a visit to her hometown of Comber after the Podjistan adventure.
There are various different directions you can take to get to Podjistan. Please note that getting here by train, boat or bus is not really an option as Podjistan is in the middle of remote countryside and the nearest bus stop is in Moneyslane, which has infrequent buses and zero buses on a Sunday, the day we were heading.
We took the route from Bangor to Belfast to Lisburn to Banbridge to Katesbridge to the People’s Republic of Podjistan. There are many other ways to get there of course and you may even use a Satellite Navigation to try it. Here are the steps to our journey to Podjistan:
1.We drove on the A1 from Belfast to Banbridge (via Lisburn).
2.After driving through Banbridge (stay in the left hand lane through the town), we took a right towards Rathfriland which was the B10.
3.We stayed on the B10 and passed through the village of Annaclone, before taking a left hand road to Katesbridge.
4.We turned left when we got to Katesbridge and drove through the town staying on that road, the A50.
5.We took a left which was signposted for Closkelt, the Drumgooland Road.
6.We took the second right onto Mill Road which is in countryside between Lowtown, Moneyslane and Closkelt.
7.Once we were on Mill Road, we looked for number 38-40.This is the People’s Republic of Podjistan.
Around 2.30 p.m. on Sunday 13th September 2015, I became the first backpacking tourist to arrive overland into the Republic of Podjistan. When we drove into the driveway of the property, known as the Upper Yard, we were already in the People’s Republic of Podjistan.
The Actual Border Between Northern Ireland and Podjistan
Podjistan is landlocked, which means that the entire perimeter of the country is a border to Northern Ireland/United Kingdom. However, most of the actual border consists of fences and walls and therefore there are only a few real border crossings. I actually did all the open border crossings during my time backpacking in Podjistan.
I firstly crossed by car from Northern Ireland into Podjistan’s Upper Yard district. Then, having crossed the border back into Northern Ireland via The Lane, I also crossed the border via the gate into the Four Gables district of Podjistan. Here is an overview of each border crossing.
1.Upper Yard Border
(Mill Road, Ballyroney, Northern Ireland to Upper Yard, Podjistan)
This crossing is wide and cars and vans can cross it. This is the only open border without a gate that has vehicle access. In the photo below, beyond the brown fence is an adjacent property in Northern Ireland, to the left is Mill Road, Northern Ireland. There is room for quite a few cars.
2.The Four Gables Border
(Mill Road, Ballyroney, Northern Ireland to the Four Gables District, Podjistan)
This crossing is via a small gate and there is also a wall that separates the countries.
3.The Lane Border
(Mill Road, Ballyroney, Northern Ireland to the Lane, Podjistan)
This crossing is into a lane, which is for me the most prominent and magnificent border crossing, as the Lane leads down to the Podjistani capital city, The People’s Palace. It’s quite an elaborate entrance and the striking image of the Palace as you get to the end of the lane is a memorable one.
Immigration and Passport Control
Obviously you have now left Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom and you are officially in the People’s Republic of Podjistan. You’ll have to undergo a passport check on arrival and these formalities are carried out in the customs and immigration office. Initially I thought the office was a blue hut in the Lower Yard, but I was wrong.
Customs and Immigration Checks are in fact carried out in Four Gables. This makes sense as it is one of the smaller villages in the country, and of course, you need to check in here before you can head to the capital city, the People’s Palace. I was greeted on arrival by the Head of State, Mr. Stewart and asked to produce my passport.
Passport Stamping Process
The passport stamping process in the People’s Republic of Podjistan can be described as nothing short of wackily sensational. I’ll go through the process step by step, you’ve got to love this sort of sh*t.
1.Choosing the Page for the Stamp
Firstly, on production of my passport, I am allowed to choose where I want the stamp. Some countries just stamp it on a brand new page for badness, but I was able to get mine on a page which was quite full already. I know a few of my friends would love this as some of them complain about passport officials and stampers from other countries. I chose a small empty corner of my British passport and was stamped in.
2.Playing of the Podjistani National Anthem
The Head of State gets his SmartPhone out and plays the National Anthem of Podjistan (which is the Sly and The Family Stone song – Everyday People. However the lyrics are doctored to read “Podjistan People”). This is played during the entire passport stamping process.
3.Wearing of the Hat
Mr. Stewart dons his hat while stamping the passport. This is the first time I have noticed a hat being put on only for this purpose. He stamps the passport, and afterwards removes the hat. The hat has a red star on the front.
The great thing about the passport stamping process here is that photography is completely permitted and in fact, encouraged. In the immigration office, Mr. Stewart also presents me with a gift from my visit – an old bottle which has been in Podjistan for quite some time. Without a National beer label, this is something new for my collection. In return, I have brought some coins and banknotes from my travels and I present Mr. Stewart with them, which includes a Hong Kong coin pre-1997 and a banknote from Transnistria.
I have crossed over 100 land and sea borders down the years, (not to mention borders at airports) and I am used to delays, waits, the uncertainty of it all. The process on arrival in the People’s Republic of Podjistan is ridiculously smooth. In fact, I enjoyed the process! I was the first and last backpacking tourist to visit.
6.Laws of the People’s Republic of Podjistan
The country has some strict laws and I am told about them on arrival. Coca Cola products and Buckfast are not permitted in the country. I wasn’t searched, but I didn’t bring any of these products into the country. There are a few other do’s and don’t’s to be aware of, but after getting my passport stamped, I am now in the People’s Republic of Podjistan!
7.Another Passport Stamp
You might have read that I carry two passports, being born in Northern Ireland gives me dual citizenship – I’m British and Irish. So I was able to get both my passports stamped here at the border. This is rare, most countries would not let you away with that and in some cases, dual nationality is frowned upon. But I was able to get my Irish passport stamped here as well.
8.Returning to Northern Ireland
Please note that there is no exit or entrance stamp or customs check on the Northern Ireland side of the border, nor is there a departure stamp for Podjistan so you will have a single passport stamp, dated on the day of your visit.
You are now in the People’s Republic of Podjistan and ready to explore. The country has a lot to see and do and I will get some stuff typed up on the top sights of the capital (the People’s Palace) and the other districts very soon. The Head of State, Mr. Stewart is also full of stories and will have you entertained as he guides you through his wacky country.
Unopen Borders Between Podjistan and Northern Ireland
There are also some unopen borders between Podjistan and Northern Ireland, here are a few photos from them.
Thanks to my Mum, Muriel Blair for driving me to Podjistan, my sister Cathy for her role in this adventure and to Mr. Simon Stewart (Comrade General Papa Podjov) and the government of the People’s Republic of Podjistan for welcoming me to the country and giving me a guided tour in an “access all areas” tour of the country. It was a fantastic experience.
Here are some videos from my trip from Northern Ireland to the People’s Republic of Podjistan: