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Route Planning Where to go, when, what are the interesting places to see
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  #1  
Old 20 Jun 2011
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Advice sought for Iran-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Armenia

Hey everyone,

I'm setting off on a trip in a few weeks and would appreciate any nuggets of wisdom you may have for me. I'll be taking a total of just under 8 weeks for this trip but it still doesn't seem like enough time to see everything I want to see.

On arrival in Iran I'll buy a CG125 clone or Chinese 200cc Enduro (I know people have had problems with buying bikes in Iran but I have a well-connected friend who assures me they can make it happen), something cheap enough to dump if it breaks down or I get into border trouble.

The route is laid out as follows - some of the weird stops are because I'm trying to keep to a 150km/day average so I have time to enjoy myself. Most stops will be a couple of days to explore the surrounds so I'll take it very slowly. I'll be stringing up a hammock wherever possible and have already earmarked potential sleeping points along the way to break up the longer trips.

I'd love to hear from anyone who has been through the same areas (or would like to join in).

Shiraz
Shahreza via Zagros Mountains
Kashan
Abyaneh
Qom
Tehran
Alamut Valley
Rasht
Astara

Into Azerbaijan: (I have been told that despite the three-day vehicle limit, at worst I can pay duty which shouldn't be a problem if I'm riding a Nami, TVS or Lifan worth a few hundred dollars with a receipt to prove it)

Baku
Xinaluq (Vitally important to find out if I can ride the Xinaluq-Lahic pass or have to go back through Baku)
Lahic
Saki

Into Georgia via Kakheti:
Tusheti
Tbilisi
Possibly up to Kazbegi
Tbilisi
Gori
Tshkinvali if permitted

Into Armenia:
Dilijan
Yerevan
Goris

Into Nagorno-Karabakh:
Agdam if permitted
Matuni

Into Armenia:
Yerevan

Fly from Yerevan to Beirut for a well deserved holiday from the holiday.
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  #2  
Old 21 Jun 2011
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Hi Ed,

We were in Georgia, Armenia and Iran last summer (by car). Here there are real experts, but I will make my small contribution.

When are you going (weather and Ramadan)? The route planned is sometimes difficult to understand to me, as you warned.

IRAN is absolutely wonderful, never met anyone who did not fall in love; Iranians are great, so hospitable, count on staying long (after lots of hassle we got a 2 months visa). I assume you are definitely visiting Esfahan, the highlight with Shiraz (and Persepolis). On your way north I’d include Yadz, very nice traditional adobe architecture. We loved Alamut, but very steep to get out (overheating old car!). IMPORTANT: as you probably know from your friends, no Western credit cards, nor travel checks work in Iran, only cash (€ or USD, other currencies in some exchange offices in Amir Kabir st. in Tehran, not even in the big banks). Plenty of Hero Hondas, so be sure to be recognized as a foreigner (panniers, jacket, HELMET!) and it will be loooots of fun.

AZERBAIJAN, I do not know it, but heard many times about generalized corruption (police is harsh).

GEORGIA, first an advice: forget about sleeping with a hammock in a nice spot in the mountains, people warned us many times about jackals attacking and we could hear them many times in Adjara and in the south into Armenia. Kazbegi and the Georgian Military Highway are supposed to be very nice (missed them). Tblisi is a very nice city to stroll, seat, have a coffee, look at the people passing by. If you can, I would try to get to Vardzia, the underground city, apart from the nice churches spread all over the country. Great food.

ARMENIA, border officials are a pain. Disgusting. Get cash to pay “ecological tax”, bargain the “brokerage” they add, if you feel like. Do not miss the monasteries of Sanahin and Hagpat in the north east and around Yerevan. BTW, women are voluptuous (don’t know your status, just a curiosity I told my wife when we were there ).

Enjoy the beautiful trip and the ride,

Esteban

Last edited by estebangc; 21 Jun 2011 at 03:15. Reason: Space b/w paragraphs
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  #3  
Old 21 Jun 2011
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Cheers Esteban.

I'll be through Iran and out the day before Ramazan kicks in but have lived in the Middle East before and can deal with a few days of sawm (fasting). I'd be in Iran in July and the Caucasus across August, so pretty stinking hot. I was in Liberia for the end of the dry season and I kinda like that weather though.

I'm not sure I'll get to Yazd, if I have extra time I'd much rather fly to Khorramshahr, which a friend tells me reminds him a lot of Southern Iraq. The lowland heat might be a bit unbearable though.

Very interesting to hear about the jackals in Georgia - I had been thinking about all of the risks including brigands in Ossetia, Svaneti and the Pankisi Gorge but had not considered becoming dinner. Likewise, are there any issues with wolves in some areas?
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  #4  
Old 21 Jun 2011
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I didn't have any problems with corrupt police in Azerbaijan and was there for 5 days, no probs. As a tourist I 'officially' had to stay in good hotels but the locals are very friendly and hopefully you can find someone who will book a room on your behalf.

The Azeris hate the Armenians with a passion and vice-versa. Assuming that they will let you into Armenia with an AZ passport stamp it would be wise not to mention in either country that you have been/will go to the other.

The one place I wished I had visited in Az would have been the Nagorno-Karabakh trail. Nice countryside and an interetsing mixture of old buildings and apparently bits of tank etc.

Henry
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  #5  
Old 21 Jun 2011
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Your route through Iran sounds good; I've been to most of those places, and, frankly pretty much anywhere you go you will find places of interest, nice people and sometimes some nice scenery. I would spend as little time as possible in Tehran, and preferably avoid it all together. It has little of interest, and the traffic can be manic. It's a difficult city to by-pass however as there is no real ring road. For scenery, I would recommend taking the Karaj - Chalus road or the Tehran to Amol road, as they are both more scenic than the route from Qazvin to Rasht. The mountains along the Caspian are wonderful; try to visit Qaleh Rud Khan near Fuman. Iranians rave about Masleh, though it's nothing special really.

Regards AZ, the limit is 72 hours, not 3 days (slight difference). Beware that the customs deposit may be more than you anticipate. I can't tell you about the Xinaliq road as I haven't driven it.

Georgia is absolutely wonderful, far more interesting than AZ imo. There is no way you will get to Tskhinval from Georgia; you need to go through Russia (well worth it, but off your route)

I've not been to Armenia, but I know it's no problem to have an AZ visa in your passport. I've been told it's pretty much impossble to get to Agdam, though yo might be able to sneak through on a little bike.

Good luck!

Daniel
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  #6  
Old 21 Jun 2011
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Ed,

They warned us about wildlife in general as an actual threat (wolves, bears and especially jackals). Two cases: a) I walked at night to the car, just 200m of forest with a head-lamp, in Nigazeuli, Adjara (Georgia). They asked the morning after: when did you go to the car? (I had put a screen in the windshiled to keep it cooler, old Renault 5, no A/C). Last night. "DON'T EVER DO IT! They may really attack you!". b) Border Guguti (GE)-Gogavan (ARM), changing money at night and hear the "beasts". -Jackals? -Yes. -Problem, danger? -No problem. -Here no problem, there problem (pointing out of the village). The guy stands up, moves hands and says: YES, YES, big problem. So, according to locals, Problem, so no camping in the nature in the mountains. Other places, no problem (right in front of the UNESCO heritage monasteries in Armenia, for instance, no problem, no Spanish dinner for the jackals) (Guguti -Gogavan border to avoid, nothing to see, just more isolated and stupid officials -lots of shouting!-, just mistakenly got there).

Totally agree in all with Danielsprague, the expert advice, I take notes for next time. Georgia beautiful. Iran, anywhere may be great, because of Iranians. And yes, your interest may definitely differ from theirs. Strongly recommended Sarein, thermal waters... disappointment, not what you look for, I could stick even better to Torremolinos. Ah, we spent almost whole Ramadan in Iran with no worries, although nicer when everyone offers you a tea (2 years earlier). No fasting at all for us, just respect (no eating in the streets), but always a place for lunch as Christians and travellers.

PS: If you like heat, you will have tons! Near the Caspian really hot and humid (being southern Spaniards, we prefer it dry). Bandar Abbas is supposed to be a "religious experience" in summertime...
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  #7  
Old 24 Jun 2011
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Thanks for the advice everyone, but plans have changed for the worse.

I've been denied a visa to Iran for reasons unknown (possibly to do with the fact that I've had articles published on conflict in the region) and I don't want to spend 2 months limited to the Caucasus so I'm going to have to find a new path.

Thinking most seriously about the Balkans and Eastern Europe and would like to ride from the Baltic to the Adriatic, so I'll start a new thread for other tips!
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  #8  
Old 26 Oct 2011
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That's a shame. I am looking to go to do a trip that is very similar to this next year. Were you able to reapply for the Visa even if you get denied once?

Yours sounds like an amazing trip and I hope you get to do it soon. Just wondering what your plans were for travel insurance through Nagorno-Karabakh - I am having trouble finding someone to insure me in this particular area.

Is the customs deposit for leaving remaining in Azerbaijan refundable at the end?
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  #9  
Old 27 Oct 2011
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Went into Nagorno-Karabakh this summer. There's no explicit travel warning for the region by the German foreign ministry, but they do say that they wouldn't be able to assist you in any way.

It's not too big though, you could take a car to Armenia if anything happened.

Also, while it's a nice, twisty ride to Stepanakert, Southern Armenia is as beautiful as Karabakh, you could give it a miss.
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