This article is informatory nature for ones that consider crossing Pakistan by land. We came to the border quite tired after a long ride from Bandar Abbas and started the escort the next morning with barely any sleep. We had little time to buy a good food supply for the trip, but I strongly recommend you too, to make your journey more pleasant. We also didn’t want to change money at the border because we were stubborn, but I am still not sure that was the best idea. Nevertheless, we were excited and started our adventure early morning as soon as we arrived in Zahedan.
Pakistan is a country where Iranian hospitality and Muslim religion meets the Indian Shanti (easily taken) yet rushed life and good food. There are 140 million people living in Pakistan, of which 90 % is Muslim, therefore Islam is the state religion. Pakistan separated from British India year 1947 and since there are still some issues between the countries so there is only one open border called Wagha border. Pakistan is the home for a second biggest mountain of the world, Dapsang, which is surrounded by the beautiful Himalayan mountain range, so it is the paradise for mountaineers. Around 44% of people are employed as farmers and it is one of the leading countries for the production of cotton and sugar. Pakistan is a developing country, so there are many things organised in a different way as in the western civilized world. Some of those are big scale bribery, black market, equality of religions or genders, animal welfare, waste management… In case you are considering visiting Pakistan, I will try to give you as much detail as I can, about how does crossing Iran-Pakistan border by land in 2018 look like.
First things first, visas. Most, if not all of the embassies would recommend you not to visit Pakistan or even advice you not to go even close, so doing some research about areas in Pakistan is not a bad idea. It is hard to say the country is safe since there are many issues with Afghanistan’s Talibans, but also within the country since there are limits on the freedom of movement and very visible inequality. Nevertheless, Pakistan is a beautiful country to visit, people are great and it is not worth eliminating it from your list just because of embassies warning or some bad news that comes to our media.
In case you just want to cross it, or you want to visit it for a longer time, you will need a transit visa or a month visa. Both are possible to get and easy to extend, I have heard from many friends that have done it before. For Pakistani visa you would need a letter of invitation, could be from an individual or a travel agency, depending on your countries embassy. We had to do the tourist one, but I have heard people getting away with an individual letter too, coming to the embassy with a good story. I came across people that were unable to get the visa, but mostly because they didn’t try in their own country. I am a Slovenian citizen, applied in the Netherlands with an extra resident paper from the municipality of the Netherlands and it worked fine. It might be possible even without with some effort of explaining your situation, why you want to go, what you do there and so on.. but that is only my opinion, since people were really friendly and processing of visa took around 30 minutes so I was able to leave the embassy with my passport the same day. The whole thing cost us 80€.
Mirjaveh- Taftan border crossing
Note 1: In case you are coming from south Bandar Abbas or Bam, it is recommended not to stay over at Zahedan, since you will get stuck with Iranian escorts already, so the journey might take even longer.
Note 2: The border crossing with escorts will take 3 days, or even more if you have to wait in Quetta for NOC, so stock up on food and drinks or whatever you might need in three days of travel. Some police check-ups will offer you water, cookies or tea, but it is not the only thing you want to eat in three days.
Note 3: You won’t be able to get to the ATM until Quetta since there is none on the way there, the one we found in Dalbadin next to the hotel was closed. So it is good to have some Euros to pay, the currency exchange they will charge you in hotels will be better than if you use the Iranian currency. You could also change the money at the border but the rates are just horrible, so change as little as you think you will need.
Starting from Zahedan at 6, we took a shared taxi to Mirjaveh to arrive at the border before 7 am. This is very important since in case you arrive too late you might have to sleep at the border and start with escorts the next day at 7 am. In Iran they will only look at your passport and process will be very fast, in Pakistan they will want you to sign some paperwork, to confirm you are accepting the escorts, there won’t be too many people speaking English and nothing will make too much sense. After paperwork, the police will escort you to the first police station at the border, or just point you at it. I must admit that one looked a bit sketchy. Around it, there was broken pickup cars and few people with machine guns, nobody that really looked like the police. The office was a 3 square meter room with few papers lying around and we were not completely sure if we were at the right place at all. We filled out some more forms, waited for the first pickup for a few minutes and started our journey through Baluchistan.
Levies and Police
Two different types of escorts you will get, each for different areas. Levies are usually in the military outfit; they are in charge of security in the tribal areas. Some would speak English and be interested in you, some would try to convince you into giving them a gift, but don’t get pulled too fast. In some areas, they treated us like guests in some like refugees.
If you come by foot, most of the escorts would be pick-up cars, but in some area, you might even get an air-conditioned car. Driving in the back of a pickup can be really fun, you usually have a beautiful view of the desert, wild camels and in some areas even mountains.
Taftan – Dalbadin
We read it is possible to do it in one day since it is only 12-hour drive, but it took us two days to get to Quetta. At around 5 pm we stopped driving and we slept in Dalbadin. The hotel is not really bad as we were expecting, the room we took was a room for two even though we were three and we paid 800 Pakistani rupees for it. The original price is 1500, but you should try to bargain it down. The whole time there will be a guard sitting next to your door, later some people might ask you to pay some money for his food or service, that is not necessary. If you consist enough you might be able to visit the shop in front of the hotel, to stock up on some small snacks/food. But in case you are vegan there is really not many options… So in our case, we had some fruit and loads of cans of beans with tomato sauce.
Dalbadin – Quetta
The second day we started earlier than said, so we had to pack fast. At the police check-ups, some Levies or Police would be really friendly giving you tea or cookies while you wait for the next escort. Or wanting to take pictures with you. All together we had around 22 escorts until Quetta (Most reports I read before said from 13-19…)
Quetta and NOC papers
Arriving to Quetta takes really long, that’s where I stopped counting the escorts since we had to change all the time, the number of people escorting us really grew and they were more heavily armoured. They first took us to the police station, where we tried to explain we don’t have money for the expensive hotel, and since they didn’t have space at the station that time, they sent us to the hotel anyway, but the chief of police called them and asked for a discount. We three paid 1000 rp in the end (the price they gave started with was 2000 rp).
The hotel was in good condition, it had a heater (initially we figured to put our pot on top and make a warm meal and tea) and a hot shower. We were not allowed to go out and because we arrived on Saturday had to stay there for two days. We didn’t have many supplies, so we insisted to go to the ATM and shop, and got escorted with four people with machine guns on motorbikes and a car, while we were sitting in a closed of the rickshaw.
At one point we were allowed to step out for one minute so I was able to make some photos. They took us to far away from the modern shopping mall, even though we just wanted to get some fruit and money. It took us really long to get there (around 2 hours there and back), stopping at every crossing to confirm that it is safe to continue to the next street.
On Monday the office is open at 9, so the hotel owner will call the escort for you, telling them they should come and take you to the office. In our case they arrived late, once we came to the office we were sitting in one office and another, with no English speaking people and waited around 3 hours so the last train out of Baluchistan already left.
When we finally got the papers we were determined to leave anyway, so they escorted us to the bus station where were sat in a bulletproof car (once in a lifetime experience) for about 4 hours, waiting for the next bus out of Baluchistan, to Lahore.
First, they were strict we had to sit inside then they let us out at some short moments, allowing us to get some bananas and even gave us tea and some of their food. Unfortunately, we were a burden for them, so they didn’t really put us on the right bus in the end, so we ended up going to Sadiquabad.
We were we still asked to show our NOC and Passports quite often (every 20 min or so) at police stops, but we had a stop in a small village where we got warmly welcomed by the locals at the restaurant, offering us free food, accommodation and tea. We chose to continue, not to cause any trouble since we were still in the Baluchistan area. Once we stopped in Sadiquabad, we were forced by the bus driver to wait for the escort, but as we checked online the only bus to Lahore was leaving at the same time, we picked up our bags against his will, trying to look for our bus, to avoid having to stay there. We were really exhausted, not able to get the real food, or move on our free will for 5 days was not really in our comfort zone. Bus-driver tricked us, we needed to go to the other station for our bus but took us to the police station again. We thought, oh no.. this again, but police were on our side this time, they said we could move freely from now on. We finally found our bus, went for a tea and took a bus to Lahore. We were really happy at that point.
Finally, our eyes were opened for the real Pakistan.
More about that in the next post!
Travelling in your own vehicle
We have friends who travelled a few days before and after us with vehicles. They had a similar experience than us, many escorts. The positive site with having a vehicle was not having to change the pick-up cars the whole time, putting the luggage up and down. In Dalbadin and Quetta, they could just sleep in the vehicle, which saved up some money and gave some privacy. Through the whole time, they had a person sitting with them in the car, mostly on the front seat. The downside was they were being escorted for long periods without stopping, even though they wanted to rest or switch drivers, but the escorts just switched while driving so they had no time to stop. All have told us that they got the escort all the way to Lahore, where they finally had enough traffic to ditch the escort and travel freely.
Check out our friend’s blog on 8weels.blog