Cycling in Pakistan
Cycling in Pakistan, is it possible? I had a nice page in mind but it's different nowadays. Did I cycle in Pakistan many years ago? Actually yes and no. I did my Pakistan journey just before the 9/11. And as everybody know, this has changed the world dramatically.
On the Karakoram Highway to Chilas
And then last year, 2005, there was an earthquake in one of the most beautiful parts of the world (or at least of what I have seen): north Pakistan including the Karakoram Highway. I made cycling in Pakistan for a while impossible but at the moment people again go. Riding your bicycle through the Karakoram is a magic experience, believe me, I have done it twice.
I haven't been back since 2001. That makes writing a page about cycling in Pakistan difficult. Therefore I have to limit myself to experiences I had at the time. And as far I have spoken to colleague cyclist, Pakistan is still a good country to cycle with some exceptions but we'll talk about that later.
Getting there, flying
Apart of the land border, see further on on this page, you can fly in to Pakistan. Islamabad and Karachi are probably your easiest way to enter Pakistan. Islamabad is preferred as it is much safer then Karachi. You can check your flights here:
Most people need a visa for Pakistan. I have been a few times in Pakistan and applied for my first in India, later in Turkey. It was easy though expensive. All you need is a valid passport with a few empty pages, 3 passport photos and an "appropriate visa fee" as the government website of Pakistan mentions. This "appropriate visa fee" can be anything from US$10 to US$50.
Most people from Europe and English speaking nations need a visa. Visas are required by nationals from most European and English-speaking countries.
A Pakistan visa allows you to enter the country up to six months from the date you get it, and stay up to three months from the date you enter. However, if you stay longer than 30 days you are required to register at a foreigners' registration office; these are in the larger towns and cities. Pretty straightforward.
Facts about the country
A significant part of Pakistan was under control by the British but not the whole country. For cycling in Pakistan it is important to know that not all areas in Pakistan are safe to travel. Bicycling in Pakistan is fine in Punjab and in NWFP, while traveling to Peshawar and Chitral safest can be done with a local guide.
Baluchistan and West Pakistan are great to cycle but are also not 100% safe. I did both areas before September 11. I never had troubles, contrary, I found nothing but hospitality and friendship.
In the north, around the Karakoram Highway, you won't find problems. For other northern areas like Chitral, a guide may be useful.
Although, as you will read further on, I have been cycling in Pakistan along the Afghani border, these days the road seems to be closed.
After 9/11 things have changed here too. But when I was cycling in Pakistan in that particular area, I found nothing but friendship.
I know I repeat myself. Maybe it was because I was biking here, I don't know but everyone was always very friendly and helpful.
But even in 2001 it was not recommended to visit the little Afridi Pathan village: Darra Adam Khel.
Darra Adam Khel is a village which seemed toe exist because of the gun shops. was bicycling south to go back to Iran, while I passed. It was a weird place. Every once in a while gun shots were heard, always close by. To be honest, I didn't dare to make photos here (and I was advised not to too).
I was eating in one little restaurant. When I went out I saw at the other side of the street two men coming out of one of those gun shops with a gun. One man point the gun somewhere and shot: a normal street scene in Darra Adam Kehl. The restaurant owner told me it was not recommended to shoot photos, so I didn't.
Karachi is even in the views of the many Pakistanis a dangerous place so I skipped bicycling there. This I can't tell from my own experience since I have never been there. The messages I get vary a lot. It seems to depend where exactly you go. After dark it is certainly not encouraged to go out.
Cycling to ChinaSee my section about the Karakoram Highway for more details about cycling in Pakistan to China.
Cycling to the Indian border
The only Indian border which is officially open is the one near Lahore. It's a straight forward ride, go early as it can take awhile to cross the border, especially if you are not willing to pay the customs some baksheesh. Rumors of other border that will or are open for foreigners are so far not confirmed.
Cycling in Iran to the Pakistani border
I applied for my visa in Istanbul Turkey. When I applied the clerk wanted to know what I would do in Pakistan so i told him: cycling.
He said: "30 days is not enough, I give you 45"; and didn't charge me extra. Later I spoke to other cyclist who had similar experiences with the same guy. So it gave me a good feeling for the country itself.
I arrived in Bam inn Iran and teamed up with a Dutchman with whom (and two Germans) I cycled to Zahedan. See my Iran section. From here it was not far to cycle to the Pakistani border town of Taftan
My diary reads: "the border was a piece of cake, nice and quick". I stayed at the border at the PTDC guest house in the dormitory. There was no need to get a single or double room because we were the only guests. Later we learned that many people are not even allowed to go on their own from Bam to the border because, as some say, it is dangerous.
For details about going back, check my section about going back to Baluchistan
We had no problems, found nice people everywhere, even the police was nice enough to supply us with water when we passed a station. But now we were in Baluchistan, south Pakistan. This part of Pakistan is rumored to host all kinds of bandits. I had to think of Ali Baba and the 40 robbers.
And it was another 7 days to Quetta, the first sizable city! We had another problem: we had no map! Fortunately in this part of Pakistan it is easy to find the way. All we had to do was follow the road markers to Quetta. It started with Quetta 680 km. Cycling in Pakistan was a piece of cake, we thought.
At the border we heard there were little towns in between the border and Quetta and there was basic food and accommodation available.
More about cycling in Pakistan:
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The road to Chilas
Chilas, on the Karakoram Highway is a small town in a valley, nothing much but a good stop to get rest and do some hiking
Cycling in Central Pakistan
Ramadan in Pakistan and other adventures in Multan
Cycling in Baluchistan
An amazing part of Pakistan is Baluchistan. I crossed it twice, and it was worth the effort.
Getting a Chinese visa in Islamabad
Obtaining Chinese visas is always a challenge. It seems every embassy has different rules. Here's what happened in Islamabad