Task was given: I wanted to get to Islamabad from Budapest with my disassembled bicycle to start a bike & climb trip in the Karakoram. I wanted to avoid flying due to climate protection as I was aware that there was an opportunity to get to Pakistan by overlanding, using trains and buses thus reducing emissions and consumed fuel. I’m composing this article in a ’know-how way’ to assist you in case you wanted to travel east like that.
Depending on which country you live in you will have to obtain a number of visas. For me as a Hungarian citizen it was necessary to get an Iranian and a Pakistani visa. If you live in the EU, possibly you’ll have to get these two similarly to my case, otherwise go for your homecountry’s consular service site for info.
Acquiring an Iranian visa has always been a hassle and it is changing year-by-year. Currently you can only obtain it through an agency. The official governmental evisa site works but all the requests are refused. There are many agencies, generally Tappaersia is a favorable one. They issue the visa grant notice usually within 3 days and you pay 70 € for the service. As soon as you got the grant notice, you have to go to the Iranian embassy for passport data reconciliation. You’ll get a slip for a wire transfer to pay the visa fee in a desired bank. If you’re done with the transfer, go back to the embassy to finish the process. They will issue the visa then within an hour. Note that you’ll need a valid travel insurance during your visit in Iran. At the border entry you might be requested to show it to the authorities.
It is way easier to get the Pakistani visa. Go for visa.nadra.gov.pk and fill in the form. The only thing you’ll need is an invitation letter from any Pakistani citizen. Agencies do it as well, but it’s not a big deal to find a dude who just writes a simple invitation letter. Pay 30 € on the site and you’re done. Visa will be issued in 7 days most probably.
Budapest – Bucharest
Easy section. Just browse jegy.mav.hu to get the ticket for any of the trains commuting either with sleepers in the night or without during the day. There is a number of different sleepers: you can get tickets for 6 or 4 berth couchettes or 1, 2, 3 bed compartments. Make sure to get your ticket early enough in the summer season as the trains are often fully booked. Fares vary between 46 and 129 € but non-sleeper seats are also available for 34 €. Bike transportation is banned on every train, but there are no issues if you carry it disassembled.
Bucharest – Istanbul
Train commutes in the summer season between the capital of Romania and Istanbul. 4 berth couchettes are available for the 18-hour ride. The train leaves once daily, at 9 pm and it gets fully booked so make sure to reserve your seat on time! Ticket costs 35 €. I don’t have information about the bike carrying opportunities, as I unfortunately missed this train because there was no ticket available for the desired date and I had to take the coach.
As an alternative, one can take the coach provided by Flixbus or Lilian Express departing from Autogara Military bus terminal for a 10-12-hour ride. It is not as comfortable as the train and more expensive as well. The ticket costs 40 € and it is available on obilet.tr. Bike transportation is an option, I guess even without taking the wheels out. They might charge extra for it, depends on the driver. I took my bike disassembled here too, once I was charged once not.
Istanbul – Ankara
Probably the most fun section on the way towards Pakistan. A high-speed bullet train service is available to reach the capital within 4.5 hours. It takes nearly 2 hours to make the first 100 km as the train stops at almost every stations of Istanbul, collecting the passengers. Then it catches up with time after leaving the city. The train commutes almost hourly and it gets fully booked easily as it is the cheapest way of transportation in Turkey: it costs only 13 € to ride this 450 km section with this incredibly comfortable train including 2 + 1 row 1st class cars and a restaurant on board. Tickets are available on the mobile app called TCDD. The baggage allowance is a mysterious for me, as I was allowed to board the train with my disassembled bike on the way east, but when I came back, I was banned from boarding because they said I had too many luggages.
As an alternative, you can take a bus from Esenler bus terminal for a bit higher price. It arrives in Ankara after 7-8 hours drive and there is a plenty of bus companies to choose for the trip. Usually taking a bicycle shouldn’t be a problem, they didn’t charge me for the disassembled bike.
Ankara – Tatvan
As the Transasia Express between Ankara and Tehran is not running currently, this section must be done in four different sections. Boarding from the old railway station (right next to the high speed railway terminal) you can take the Vangölü Ekspresi overnight train to reach the eastern part of Anatolia. It is a 26-27 hours train ride through the steppes in comfortable, Turkish made wagons with 4-berth couchettes. The train leaves two times a week: on Tuesday and Sunday at 11:20. Thus it is preferred to build the whole overlanding schedule on this section. The ticket is hilariously cheap, it costs only 16 € and it is available on TCDD as well. Taking the split bicycle was not an issue at all, I could easily stow it under the bed. As an alternative, a train called 4 Eylül Mavi is available every day to Malatya, from where coaches are available to Tatvan or Van. This solution is also viable with a disassembled bicycle.
Tatvan – Van
In the best scenario, we have arrived to Tatvan early afternoon and we can take a bus to the nearby town on the opposite side of the Lake Van. It is a 2.5 hour bus ride and it costs only 3 €, tickets are available on obilet.tr. No issues with split bike transportation, no surcharges.
Van – Tabriz
Arrived at Van, it is the best option to get a hotel or a couchsurfing host and notify anyone about our travelling purpose to Tabriz. Locals know these minibus service providers which are not available online, so that tickets can’t be purchased in advance but a reservation can be made with the help of locals. Next day in the morning between 8 and 10 am we can board the minibus which drives us through the border and arrives to Tabriz 10 hours later. Payment only in cash at departure, price should be between 20 – 30 €. Bike should not be a problem if disassembled, but expect that it might be charged. I could not take this section in one row, only till the border. I paid 4 € for that and I had to take a taxi and buses on the Iranian side.
The books I published about my previous bike expeditions and my wall calendar are available now in my webshop, check them out clicking the picture:
Tabriz – Tehran
Daily three trains leave for Tehran: 14:05 and 16:45 and one in the evening which doesn’t have a daily fixed departure time. It is practically impossible to buy the ticket online as the website raja.ir allows to register only with Iranian ID and phone number, and the whole site is in Persian. An agency or a local friend can be helpful who buys the ticket online (before it gets fully booked even off-season) and sends us the ticket in pdf. It costs 5 – 8 € and we get a comfortable place in a 4-berth couchette with tea service and a sandwich at departure included. The train reaches the capital within 13 hours, as the rails aren’t quite up to date in this section. Disassembled bike is not a problem, no surcharges.
As an alternative we can take the bus for similarly low fares, and it is way quicker, with 8-9 hours travel time.
Tehran – Zahedan
A remarkable section of the trip through the deserts of Iran! The train leaves daily once from the central railway station of Tehran, at 11:15. The whole travel takes 24 hours with several prayer stops when most of the passengers get off the train to pray in a designed building of the station. We can travel in comfortable, modern 4-berth couchettes with tea service and a sandwich at departure included. AC is quite impressive, it cools extremely well even in the hottest temperatures in the desert. The ticket costs only 13 € and we can get it similarly to the one for the previous section. Split bike is not a problem, I could easily stow it under the bed.
Zahedan – Taftan
No public transportation on this 90 km section available. Take a cab to the border which costs about 8 €. Try to find someone to go along and split the price.
Taftan – Quetta
Depending on which direction we are heading, the opportunities differ: if we have just entered the border and heading east, we are only allowed to approach Quetta with a permanent police escort via police vans and pickups. It is a free of charge ride that takes two days, an accommodation is provided in Dalbaldin to spend the night halfway.
If we are headed west from Quetta, we must get the NOC (No Objection Certificate) and we can only travel with the coach that drives full speed all the way through the desert to the border in 8-9 hours. The fare is about 10 €, bike is not a problem, I wasn’t even surcharged.
Quetta – Islamabad
First of all, we have to get the NOC (No Objection Certificate) for this section so we leave our hotel compound around 9 am with a lovely police escort and go to the police station. The paper is issued within a couple of hours and then we can reach an overnight bus directly to the capital that takes us there in about 16 hours (but a flat tire is almost guaranteed once). The fares move between 16 and 20 € and a bike in the trunk is always surcharged, around 5 €. There is a possibility to travel by train but it only leaves daily once in the morning at 9 am so that we must stay one more night in our favourite hotel “Bloom Star” which is the one and only place we are allowed to stay in the town. The train has another disadvantage that it is way slower, the complete travel time is around 32 hours.
Energy consumed & Emissions
Altogether, with the round trip we consume 1229 kWh energy instead of 3290 kWh by a representative flight.
Altogether, we emit 357.4 kg instead of 850.4 kg CO2 caused by a representative flight.