If there was a time to take an affordable trip to China, it is now. The Lahore-Kashghar bus, a Pak-China luxury bus, embarked upon its maiden trip yesterday. The bus service was launched by the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) and Shuja Express to facilitate tourists as part of an initiative to connect both countries via road under CPEC.

The luxurious bus service, which provides enroute services like three time meals and WiFi, departs from Lahore and Islamabad both, for Kashghar. Its journey covers much of the beautiful Gilgit-Baltistan valley of Pakistan, crosses through the formidable Pakistan-China border, Khunjerab Pass, and passes the rugged terrain of Xinjiang, China’s northwest province with the highest number of Muslims. Kashghar, the final destination, is an oasis city in Xinjiang, and has served as a trading post on the Silk Road between China, the Middle East, and Europe for over 2,000 years, and is now strategically important for CPEC due to its nexus with the Karakorum Highway.

Despite objections put forward by India against the bus service, the Sino-Pak project has launched and shows potential for goodwill, tourism and economic benefits for both countries. The bus provides a safer route between China and Pakistan, which will encourage tourists from both sides to explore the scenic mountainous areas of the two countries. The bus fare is reasonably priced- PKR 23000 for a return ticket- which comes as a relief for wanderlust travellers in Pakistan who, due to Pakistan’s complicated relationship with its neighbour countries, are often left with fewer choices for affordable vacations.

Though there is still some while to go before travel between China and Pakistan is visa-free, this bus will hopefully bridge that gap and quell security fears from both sides. More importantly, it can serve as a symbol for the bilateral friendship between Pakistan and China, especially so in the face of Indian hostility.