Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Crossing Pakistan by Road: Experiences of a Foreign Traveler

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While planning for Nepal, early this year, I received an email from Flossie, a traveler who intended to cross Pakistan by road, first crossing from China border to the Northern Areas, and then crossing over to Iran from Quetta and Tuftan. The second part, i.e. crossing over to Iran was specially the concern, for which she wanted my word.

Flossie is one of the bravest persons and greatest travelers I have ever come across as traveling through almost whole Pakistan, from China border to Iran border, is not an easy task, let alone for a solo female traveler!

It was our sheer luck that we could even meet her in person, and that too not in Pakistan, but in Nepal! Then I got to know that Pakistan was part of her bigger overland travels; from Hong Kong all the way to London! Wow! Wow!

After she crossed Pakistan-Iran border safely I requested her to share this extraordinary experience for the benefit of future travelers. Now I am taking the liberty to post this here with a big 'hurray' to brave Flossie:

1. How’s the experience of crossing into Iran overland from Pakistan through Quetta and Taftan?
[logistics from Lahore]
- First, I take a train from Pindi to Quetta. It takes me 48 hours as the train delays all the time
[problems in Quetta, NOC, bus ticket, etc]
- I don't have many problems in Quetta. It is very smooth, thanks to the help of my friends.
- I got NOC within 5 hours in the same day. Couchsurfing is possible, just don't let police know about it. Police in Quetta doesn't like tourists staying with locals. Most overlanders stay in Bloom Star Hotel.
- You can't buy bus ticket from any private bus companies even you have NOC due to security issues. You can only charter a taxi(bloom star hotel can arrange it) or take a flight. No other options.
- I can go by bus due to my luck and help from my friends becoz I went with a worshiping group.

- You need a reference code to  get the visa. So apply to Iranian toruist agency first, wait for 2 weeks then confirm the code with the embassy,  submit all relevant documents and you will get a visa for a month.
- Lahore consulate saves all the trouble. My friend doesn't need a reference code and she pays it on the spot. Got the visa after 4 days.

[issues at border crossing, language barrier, etc]
- the bus is really long and hot. it is about 12 hours driving in the desert in a non-air con air. The people on the bus didn't like me to go out so they hided me very well.
- for women, cover as much as you can. Dress like locals. 
- there are lots of check posts on the way. Since I blended in very well, I don't have much problems.

2. While planning Pakistan – Iran border crossing what were your concerns, especially as a solo female traveler?
[security issues, Czech girls]
- Pakistan is really safe other than some regions. Political issues can change the situations very quickly. So always seek advice from locals. But one thing, locals always have conflicting opinions so it's very difficult to make decisions. And no much information on the internet. So try talk to travellers. There are not many travellers in the country and you almost know all of them. Use common sense.

[difficulty of logistics]
- bus connection is really good over the whole country. So it's really easy to travel.

3. Any tips on Pakistan – Iran border crossing for future overland travelers?
- if you have money, please FLY! becoz there is not much to see from this part of Pakistan.
- But if you are out of money and you intend to cross overland, please seek help from locals which they know best about the region. Blend in as much as you can. Move as swift and quiet as you can.
- this is a tough journey
- once you cross the iran border, you will have police escort all the way to Bam, Iran.

4. What was the good part of this journey?
- you will meet lots of REAL travellers, bikers on the road. Once you are in Bam (there is only one hotel for overlanders), you will share all experiences there.

5. How’s the experience of China – Pakistan border crossing at Khunjerab?

[all the way to GIlgit, Attabad lake]
- border crossing from China to Pakistan takes some time. The border opens at 11am but I can only leave China at 12:30pm. Customs are rude.
- it will take one day when you reach Hunza. Be ready!
- the best scenery I have ever seen in the world, esp North Pakistan. Truely stunning and wonderful locals. They try to help you every way possible.
- due to my nationality(China and PK are good friends), I received really warm welcome from Pakistanis.

6. How concerned were you and your family before visiting Pakistan?
[Nanga Parbat incident]
- My family are fine with me as I have been travelling for years so they have confidence with me.

7. How much did you spend in Pakistan? What part of the country you liked the most?
- Wowow! difficult question! I don't remember the budget! I spent around 200 euro for the whole month. Pakistan is the cheapest country I have been so far.
- I like Hunza the best due to stunning scenery. I feel like I am in the fairy tale. So I spent 5 days there.
- I also like Islamabad becoz I met a bunch of good friends. Thanks to couchsurfing.

8. Would you recommend other travelers to come to Pakistan?
[areas which are worth exploring]
- Spend more time in North Pakistan if you are into nature. Lahore is also nice with its history and historical buildings.
[were people friendly and hospitable]
- Super!! Angels on Earth
[any issues especially regarding women, harassing, etc]
- Women are well respected in the country. Compared to its neighbouring countries, I feel really safe here. Oh, one thing, don't give your phone number to anyone you JUST know. Becoz they will spread your numbers to their friends and you will have unwanted attention and call all the time.