Planning is a continuous process once on the road, but sometimes I forget this and think.. oh shit.
I headed over to Horizons Unlimited, and read several overland books. This got me thinking about where I want to go,
I decided to head east, through Europe and into South Asia. This left me with a dilemma. Do I risk going through the really insecure part of Iran into Pakistan, or the more bureaucratic and expensive northerly route around Afghanistan, into Central Asia, West China and then Pakistan?
To travel from Kyrgyzstan into Western China and down into Pakistan costs ££. The Chinese are uber paranoid and won’t let overlanders in with their vehicles without a guide. This and the formalities and paperwork costs. So I put a thread on Horizons Unlimited asking if anyone wanted to share the guide cost. Lo and behold, 11 other bikers signed up meaning this route was financially feasible. Its not just about the money though, by taking this route, you get to travel down the Karakorum Highway in its near entirety, it is one of the most stunning roads in the universe, taking you from the Tien Shan (meaning celestial mountains) mountains over to the Hindu Kush. If you want to see these, watch the film ‘The Kite Runner’ and you’ll see what I mean. Massive open spaces surrounded by incredible mountains.
At the same time as thinking about route and visas, I purchased my bike, and started prepping it. This meant modifications, riding to get used to it, replacing old parts and learning all I could. Nights in the garage armed with a socket wrench, a beer and Alice Cooper on Planet Rock. Sometimes, beer and mechanics don’t always mix. I know this from the amount of snapped bolts and stripped threads.
Here is some boring info about my paperwork.
Carnet De Passage.
This is a special customs document that acts like a bike passport. It promises the customs department of the country I am going into that I won’t sell the bike and make tonnes of un-taxed money. I contacted the issuing authority (The RAC in the UK) a while in advance to double check my monetary calculations were correct, based on the value of the motorbike. A couple of months before, I got an invoice from them, and just before I left, I paid the money. Delivery was speedy. They post-dated the valid from date of the document to about the time I was to arrive in the first country that required it- in this case Iran..
I found it very difficult to find a travel insurance company that would cover me. Some of the exclusions I faced were: -Engine size of motorbike, -Length of trip, -Not having a return date,-Altitude. Sometimes the call handlers would not know the answers, nor were they in the small print. I had to contact the underwriters for the ‘no’ answer. One crazy example was that I could be covered for walking up to 4000m, but no restriction on riding over 4000m. So I asked what happens if I get off the bike for a pee on a road over 4000m and walk off to the side, fall and break my ankle? Of course, ask a silly question, get a silly answer. In the end I used Navigator Travel. I haven’t had to use the policy in anger touch wood.
I managed to get all my ‘stans’ visas, and Iran visa in advance.
- Turkey- This was available on the border, it cost 15Euro.
- Iran- This was a faff. I got the pre-authorisation code from Iranianvisa.com for $30. This came through in 10 days. I could collect the visa at the Frankfurt Embassy, as the London Embassy was closed due to a diplomatic ding-dong caused by some fiesty Iranians attacking the British Embassy in Tehran. I get to the embassy in Frankfurt and as well as the 140euro or something along those lines fee, they announced it would be a ten day collection. I didn’t have ten days, my bike was ready to leave the Aldi Car Park that afternoon. So I paid another 100Euro (ouch) to get it same day. The embassy officials were not happy when I asked for a receipt for this ‘extra fee’. NOTE TO LADIES- it is best to wear a headscarf in your visa photos and inside the Embassy building.
- Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan- these I all got via post through the london embassies. All took less than a week or so to get turned around, and no letters of invitation needed. Simples, although ringing to chase was like speaking to Borat.
- China- I got this on the road. I sent off my *second british passport* from one ‘Stan’ to a london China visa agency, and they DHL’d it back to me in another ‘Stan’. I did try at a Chinese Embassy in a ‘Stan’ but they couldn’t turn it around quick enough. Thank goodness for DHL.
- Pakistan- *you can only get a Pakistan visa from your home country, NOT on the road*. I got this in plenty of time. Was a faff with 3 months of bank statements, letter from employer, hotel bookings. I didn’t bother with letter of invitation, but they only issued me with 7 days!!! I asked for three weeks. This caused me some hiccups on the road.
- India- I got this at the Islamabad Indian Embassy, this took a week. Fairly straightforward in terms of requirements.
- Nepal- easy- get this on the border. Very tourist friendly.