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  #1  
Old 29 Apr 2016
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Pakistan - some fresh info for fellow overlanders

Of all the countries we planned to visit, Pakistan was the most difficult to get current information about; especially given it’s turbulent security situation. We have now passed through the country so I thought I’d share my experience for the benefit of fellow overlanders.

Firstly, it needs to be stated that of all the countries we’ve visited thus far, Pakistani people are by far the most welcoming and hospitable. Second to none. Over half of our night’s accommodation were home stays, and nearly all of our meals were provided by our hosts - they flatly refused to accept any sort of payment. It really was incredible!

There is a huge presence of armed forces in the country - both military and police. From this point of view, we have felt very secure - there are just so many security forces around that if (hypothetically speaking) something nasty were to unfold it would be dealt with very quickly. The downside to this is that when traveling in more remote areas, there are more check points than you can count on all of your fingers, toes and spokes put together. In certain areas, you can’t travel more than 10kms without being stopped and asked for your passport, so keep it handy! Generally speaking the security forces are very friendly, and will often stop you simply to invite you to drink tea with them - fantastic hospitality, but not exactly what you want when you’re trying to cover a good distance in a day.

A summary of roads travelled where we encountered some sort of difficulty:

- Karakoram Highway (N35) from Islamabad to Gilgit. We were stopped at Battagram and given an armed police escort. At each district border you are handed over to another escort. Some escorts are painfully slow (it is a talking point to see third gear!) and others travel as fast as you would dare to travel yourself on the road. Unfortunately for us, the weather was not in our favour - the road beyond Besham was closed due to significant landsliding (some we saw falling before our eyes). We were told a bridge over the river had collapsed and would take several days before it had been repaired enough to take traffic again. We were in contact with another overlander who traveled the same road 10 days before us, and he mentioned that the armed escorts lasted as far as Gilgit.

- We tried to head west from Besham on the N90 towards the Swat Valley, but were refused due to security problems. Apparently in years gone past there was a Taliban stronghold in the valley - it is no longer a problem, but the government does not want to take risks when tourists are involved. We had no choice but to return the way we came, traveling behind the same escorts again.

- N45 to Chitral. We decided to head towards Chitral instead as we had an invitation to stay at Nagah from a host in Lahore who had family there. The security on this road was considerably more intense than the N35. At one checkpoint (approximately 30kms south of Dir) we were stopped and had all of our luggage inspected by military personnel. The gentleman in charge berated us as to why we did not have an armed escort (we had not been provided one up to this point) and simply couldn’t understand why we should want to travel in these places. We needed to phone our friends from Lahore to explain clearly our purpose before he was satisfied and let us continue (ironically, despite his concern we were not given an escort at this point). We stayed the night in Dir and 30 minutes after checking into our hotel, 5 armed police officers arrived and explained that they would spend the night with us for our security. They explained that if we did not want their security we could write a letter to the commander in charge and they would be excused. We asked if there was any security risk and all present explained there was no risk at all so of course we wrote the letter. We learned in the morning that our letter had not been accepted and the police had spent the night regardless.

Setting off from Dir in the morning we travelled under escort and the road condition deteriorated very quickly. Following behind the police car we averaged 13km/h for the day (I’m not exaggerating - we did the math!). Thankfully Nagar is only 45kms north of Dir; should we have continued to Chitral it would have been a very long day. The Lowari Tunnel is an 8.5km long tunnel still under construction on this road which is apparently only open to traffic two days per week; Tuesdays and Fridays. The engineers we spoke with said they expected the construction to be completed by the end of 2017. In April the mountain road is closed due to snow and we were very lucky they let us through on a non-traffic day, otherwise we would have had to turn back. Strangely, we were allowed to ride our motorbikes through the tunnel as we were heading north - on our return however, we were told that it was unsafe to travel by bike, and that we would have to load the bikes onto a truck, so that we could travel through the tunnel in the safety of a car. This took several hours to facilitate.

Our hosts in Nagar were fantastic - their property was formerly a royal fort and they have been hosting guests for over 100 years. Of course, since 9/11 things changed significantly and they are only now starting to find their feet again. I would encourage all travellers coming this direction to plan a stay here; it’s simply stunning. Camping is also possible for the budget conscious travellers. Get in touch with them on their Facebook page. Our host, Razi, explained very clearly to us that there has never been unrest in the Chitral area, but the security presence is high due to it’s proximity to Afghanistan. We had armed forces with us 24/7 during our stay here also.

- AH1 motorway that links Lahore to Islamabad, and then on to Peshawar. This is an exceptional toll road that is heavily policed, so the traffic flows as we’d expect of a developed country. The speed limit is 120km/h, it is 3 lanes wide in each direction and in very good condition - it is a far safer way to travel across the country than the regular ‘duty roads’. The problem is that motorcycles are not permitted on the road. Apparently in years past bikes over 500cc were permitted with a letter of permission, but due to a serious accident involving a ‘heavy bike’, motorcycles are no longer allowed. We tried our luck regardless when travelling from Lahore to Islamabad but were refused. We tried a second time when travelling towards Peshawar, and thankfully the policeman noticed the capacity of our bikes written on the tanks so let us through. This was a blessing and a curse - the road was amazing, but we were stopped whilst riding on the road and told we were in violation of the law. It took 15 minutes of sweet talking to be allowed to continue. We were stopped again when exiting the toll road and our passports were confiscated - this time we were stopped for nearly an hour. In the end people were very friendly and offered us tea and juice, but it took quite some time for the necessary phone calls and approvals to be made for our release.

- The roads to Quetta and beyond to Taftan. The following roads are off limits:
N55 from Peshawar
N50 from Dera Ismail Khan
N70 from Dera Ghazi Khan
Don’t try your luck as we did, as you’ll just be wasting your time. The ONLY road you’ll be allowed to travel on is the N65 from Sukkur. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to travel as far as the Baluchistan provincial border without escort. You will likely be asked for the infamous NOC (No Objection Certificate) at this border, but if you show your passport with Iranian visa they should escort you to Quetta without too much protest. You will however need to get an NOC in Quetta for permission to travel westwards to Taftan.

DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE TIME YOUR ARRIVAL IN QUETTA FOR A WEEKEND. I can’t stress this enough - once you reach Quetta, you’ll be locked in the hotel and not permitted to leave, the only exceptions being:
- to get cash from the ATM to pay for the hotel (which will be done under escort)
- to go to the police headquarters to get the NOC
If you arrive on a Friday as we did, you’ll spend 3 full days in the hotel. We were taken to get the NOC first thing on Monday morning, but were not provided an escort to leave Quetta until Tuesday. We stayed in the hotel with another overlander who was travelling the other direction, and he too needed an NOC for permission to drive to Sukkur (even though we didn’t need one to ride from Sukkur). We stayed at the Bloom Star Hotel, and the staff there are very familiar with the procedures for overlanders and will help facilitate where they can.

We wanted to make our way out of Pakistan as quickly as possible, so requested a 5:30AM escort to Taftan on the Tuesday morning. The escort arrived at 7:00AM, so needless to say we did not make it across the border the same day. We did not arrive in Taftan until 9PM - it’s a long day, and we did not stop for lunch along the way. Organise plenty of snacks and water at the hotel the day before hand, so that you can eat/drink whilst waiting for escort hand overs. If this all sounds too much to you, it should be possible to spend the night at Dalbandin, which is almost exactly halfway.

Generally the road (N40) from Quetta to Taftan is good, although there is a section in the middle where a substantial amount of sand has blown over the road which you need to keep an eye out for - we actually had an accident as a result of not paying attention to this. Also, the road goes to absolute garbage for around 50kms, 100 or so kms before Taftan. Not ideal if you end up there after dark.

As we arrived after the border had closed (closing time is 4:30PM Pakistan time) we were taken to the police station to spend the night. We were given an empty office room to ourselves to lay our matts out and sleep. There is no shower, but otherwise the conditions are tolerable. We tried to cross early the following day, but the official responsible for stamping our Carnets didn’t arrive until 9:15AM, so there’s not much point rising early! For those worried about currency, there are unofficial money changers lurking about who will change both Pakistani or USD/Euro into Iranian Rials. Don’t change all your USD/Euro at once, as they’re not likely to give a very good rate - just change enough to last a day or two. On the Iranian side we were escorted as far as Zahedan (90kms from the border), after which we could ride free!

I am not an expert on Pakistan, but hopefully you’ll find this info helpful. Without a doubt, Pakistan has been the most challenging country that we have traveled through, but it has also provided some of the most rewarding experiences. Don’t be put off by what you read in the media about the country - with a can do attitude it will no doubt end up being one of the most memorable countries of your journey. If you’d like to read a more general reflection of our experiences, feel free to check out our blog.

Happy travelling!
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Old 2 May 2016
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nice, thanks for the info
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Old 4 May 2016
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Swat Valley is open

I'm the guy going the other way to Sukkur. Let me add a couple of details:

1) If you want to visit Sindh province (e.g. Moenjo Dero near Larkana) you will be accompanied by an escort _all the time_. The ISI agency will not let you stay with any locals and will make sure that police always accompanies you wherever you go. Having said that the policemen will not mind hanging out with you but don't expect to have total freedom. If you meet up with locals (i met a few in Quetta and decided to pay them a visit in Larkana) the ISI will take their phone numbers, names, etc and i found that quite a few Pakistanis are freaked out by ISI (as one normally is by any other secret police).

2) Going north from Larkana along N-5 (the national highway linking Karachi to Peshawar) the escort left me at Sukkur. The N-5 is bad in Sindh and southern Punjab. Surface gets better in northern Punjab but the traffic is always terrible - countless bikes, trucks taking over all the time. Going is slow.

3) Motorway system is amazing - smooth, straight, flat (boring!) and with very limited traffic. Motorbikes are not allowed.

4) KKH (N-35) from Hassan Abdal to Mansehra is a good surface road but rather crowded so the going is slow (especially through Haripur, Abbotabad and Mansehra). An escort picked me up at Mansehra and we followed the KKH to Besham. Road surface is very good but the road is understandably curvy. ALtogether Islamabad to Besham can be done in a long half day.

5) 200km between Besham (we stayed at Midway Hotel for $6 per night) and Chilas took 7h. The first 60km is same good surface as the day before, then there is a 80km stretch of horrible road - extremely potholed, covered in landslides (on the way up to China we spent extra hour waiting because landslides came down a few hours before; fortunately they were removed). Then the rest is an ok surface. In Chilas you have to go to a police station, they take your details and a photo.

6) Chilas to Gilgit - the first 50km the road is not good but the rest is a fantastic Chinese built road. The escort will leave you somewhere between Chilas and Gilgit. Halfway through there is Raikhot bridge which is a base to get to Fairy Meadows - a beautiful lake with a magnificent view on Nanga Parbat. They won't let you drive up the mountain yourself but you will have to leave the vehicle and rent a jeep (for 5000-8000 rupies). The 12km mountain road takes 3h and then there is a simple 5km trek that takes another 3h.

7) Nanga Parbat is visible from KKH a little further on.

8) Hunza is amazing an everyone should go there. This is probably most liberal part of Pakistan and one of the more educated one as well. A lot of people speak English. Karimabad has some fantastic views. Somewhere between Gilgit and Hunza there is an area with a pro-Iranian Shia majority and they painted 'Down with Israel' and 'Down with America' slogans on the road with flags and all. An excellent photo opportunity.

9) 12km north of Sost on KKH at a checkpoint there is a Snow Leopard in a cage. The police guys feed it 3kg of meat every day and it's been there for the last 6 years. It looks miserable but it is still a magnificent cat. Don't miss it!

10) The NOC letter requirement for Swat Valley has been lifted as of the beginning of April 2015. We had to make the police at the checkpoint in Besham call their superiors to confirm but they let us through. With an escort of course. Swat is amazing - lush and green with snow capped mountains - looks very different from Hunza and it does feel like Switzerland of the East. Although with most population being Pashtun and strong Afghan influences the vibe is definitely more conservative.

11) In Swat the roads are good up to village Bahrain and the last 30km to Kalam (with lakes, mountians and meadows) is ungraded dirt road that takes 3h. There are tons of Buddhist remains, Madyan and Malam Jaba mountian resorts outside of Kalam with spectacular views. We couldn't shake off escorts so i'm not sure whether it would be possible to hike in the mountains around Kalam.
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Old 2 Jun 2016
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Great!

Thank you so much for the information!
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Old 29 Aug 2016
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Thanks guys! I am planning my trip since the regulations for a LOI have been intensified. Good info, I have 1 question.

Is it worth to drive all the way up to Sost and then turn around again because I am not planning of going into China?
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Old 4 Sep 2016
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Adventurism, my apologies for not replying sooner.

Be aware that there is no relation to the itinerary on your LOI and your actual itinerary. Once you have your visa, the itinerary you used to apply for said visa is essentially meaningless - you do not need to show a copy at the border, nor is there any way for the authorities to make sure you're sticking to the original plan as you're travelling. I'd suggest only putting 'safe' places on your itinerary for the LOI, and worry about where you're actually going to go once you've got your visa. You can check out my thoughts on the LOI process here if it helps:

http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hub...sive-map-84557

Regarding Sost, you'd be an absolute fool to go to the trouble of visiting Pakistan and not venturing into the mountains in the north - I mean that very seriously - China or not, get up there! They're stunningly spectacular, and a different type of people inhabit them than that of the more populated low lands. To be clear, I didn't make it as far north as Sost itself (only due to the weather causing severe damage to the roads whilst we were there), but I did spend some quality time around Chitral. Make it happen!

For both good reasons and bad, Pakistan was the most standout country on our journey - it will likely be one of the most difficult places you travel through, but also one of the most rewarding. Please feel free to read more about our experiences on our blog:

Pakistan Archives - Blokes on Spokes

Best of luck, and don't hesitate to ask more questions if you've got them.

Jimmy
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Old 23 Oct 2016
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Thank you very much for sharing this information, can I ask how did you find accommodation on the route, I guess just checking on hotels, etc. I plan to buy a sim card there so internet won't be a problem. Thanks!
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Old 24 Oct 2016
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Cheers David - particularly in the east, we did a lot of home stays. On the occasions that we stayed in hotels we found we had to always ask multiple hotels before we found one that would take us - we were told it was because they were fully booked, but we highly doubted this. We suspected the reality was that most hotels could not be bothered with (or not allowed to) the beaurocracy that goes with hosting foreigners. When we were under police escort in politically sensitive areas we were escorted to a hotel of the police's choice - we didn't get a say in the matter. Generally, I would advise against free camping for security reasons

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Old 24 Oct 2016
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jamesa5454 View Post
Cheers David - particularly in the east, we did a lot of home stays. On the occasions that we stayed in hotels we found we had to always ask multiple hotels before we found one that would take us - we were told it was because they were fully booked, but we highly doubted this. We suspected the reality was that most hotels could not be bothered with (or not allowed to) the beaurocracy that goes with hosting foreigners. When we were under police escort in politically sensitive areas we were escorted to a hotel of the police's choice - we didn't get a say in the matter. Generally, I would advise against free camping for security reasons

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Thank you! I plan to camp in Tebriz if the weather is nice, I heard that is quite safe and Iranians love camping.
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Old 24 Oct 2016
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Camping in Iran should be no problem! You're right, the Iranians do love camping, and safety should not be an issue. Best of luck
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thanks for information
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Hello,
I'm planning to cross Pakistan/KKH next summer and trying to figure out how many days I need to plan.
I know pretty well this forum and already searched, but most of the infos are from the times before new Attabad lake road opened, so I'm going to use this thread hoping for some fresh infos/suggestions...

Does the following day by day plan makes any sense?
How many hours it takes to ride every section?
Are the places I wrote good ones to stop for the night?
Any other suggestion regarding this itinerary is very welcome, things not to miss etc etc

day 1 Tashkorgan-Passu through Khunjirab pass
day 2 Passu-Gilgit
day 3 Gilgit-Chilas
day 4 Chilas-Abbottabad through Babusar pass
day 5 Abbottabad-Islamabad
day 6 Islamabad-Lahore

Security/Escorts: from what I understood, security situation is normal now in the area, by local standards. Are foreigners forced to be escorted? If yes, in which part of the road?

Thanks very much!
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Old 23 Mar 2017
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KKH

Thank you Crisidsto for these questions. I will be in two months on the KKH I am interested with your post.
I beleive that in this part we don't need escort

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Old 24 Mar 2017
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There are 5 developments worth mentioning on the KKH,
1. The tunnels and bridges bypassing the lakes are open enabling a very pleasant and fast travel.
2. Due to completion of the Babusar route the distance to Islamabad is 100kms shorter and prettier.
3. Resurfacing and upgrading of KKH from Khanjerab to Raikot is completed. Only 30-40kms from Raikot to Chillas is below average.
4. Due to opening of the Babusar route you will be avoiding travelling the unstable Kohistan district which needed escorts. However even now on certain occasions I have seen escorted convoys in the Raikot-Chillas section.
5. Due to recent heavy influx of tourists the prices of hotels has skyrocked.
Have a great trip and feel free if you need any information.

Cheers
Omar
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