World's Most Complex Borders

Image: Jan S. Krogh

National borders are often a touchy subject involving a combustible mix of politics, patriotism and geography. Some borders are complex because of they're based on natural rivers that change course over the period of many years, and some are complex because they're political creations to solve territorial disputes.

Take, for example, enclaves and exclaves. These are territories that are entirely surrounded by another. You all already know the most famous example: the Vatican City is an enclave in the city of Rome, Italy.

Then, let's take it to the next level: enclaves within enclaves. To say that they're complicated is an understatement. Let's take a quick look at two of the world's most complicated borders:


In John's post The Office Building That is Half in Germany, Half in the Netherlands, Neatoramanaut Texticulos pointed us to this complicated border.

Image: Tos/Wikipedia

The Baarle-Nassau / Baarle-Hertog border is complicated because of medieval treaties, land-swaps, and land sales between the Lords of Breda and the Dukes of Brabant. Today, we have a counter-enclave (an enclave within an enclave): parts of the Netherlands that exist inside Belgium, which is inside the Netherlands.

Photo: Jerome/Wikipedia

Cooch Behar

If you think the Baarle-Nassau border is complicated, that ain't nothing compared to the Cooch Behar border between Bangladesh and India.

There are 102 Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh, and 71 Bangladesh enclaves inside of India. There are 28 counter-enclaves and even one counter-counter-enclave (yes, the only "enclave within an enclave within an enclave" in the world).

How did Cooch Behar became so complicated? The blame went to two local kings, the Raja of Cooch Behar and his rival, the Faujdar of Rangpur, who used land and villages as stakes in card and chess games.

The Economist has a fascinating article on "the land that maps forgot":

The people who actually live in enclaves (and counter-enclaves) in a certain sense “don't see” the borders. They speak the same language, eat the same food and live life without regard to the politicians in Dhaka, Kolkata and Delhi. Many of them cross the border regularly (the bribe is US$6 a trip from the Bangladeshi side).

A few years ago, away from Cooch Behar, on the eastern border with India, I met a man who lived smack on the border between Tripura state and Bangladesh. His living room was in Bangladesh, his toilet in India. He had been a local politician in India, and was now working as a farmer in Bangladesh. As is typical in such places, he sent his daughters to school in Bangladesh, and his sons to India, where schools, he thought, were much better. To his mind, the fence dividing the two countries was of little value. But, he conceded, “at least my cows don't run away anymore.”

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