Three days to travel 20 meters


Firstly, I should say that as I am writing this I have actually already reached Sweden. Not to worry though, the whole trip will be covered here on the blog (I am aware that the fact that I am back home safe and sound may be a little bit of a spoiler but hopefully the remaining blog posts will still be sufficiently exciting). At the end of my last post I was just about to leave Pakistan for Iran, so that is where we will pick the story back up today.

Day 104 – Becoming a “minor diplomatic incident”: After waking up early in Nokkundi and having some delicious Pakistani breakfast (naan and fried egg) we set off for the border town of Taftan. A couple of hours later we were there and slowly but surely worked our way through the necessary customs paperwork until I was finally ready to head to the actual border crossing a little bit before 11am. After the mandatory selfies with various people at the border checkpoint it was time to roll through the Pakistani border gate, a couple of meters of no man’s land and into Iran.

Taking a photo with my crew in Pakistan at the Pakistan-Iran border

You will remember from previous blog posts that I finally decided to get my visa on arrival at the border rather than waiting forever at an Iranian embassy, so I was mentally prepared for a little bit of hassle on the Iranian side. And indeed there was. A teeny tiny bit of hassle. First I sailed through a military checkpoint and document check for the bike without any problem. Then I got to the immigration check point, confidently handed over my passport and invitation letter from my Iranian friend in Tehran (thanks Arash for all the help!).

Now here is where the teeny tiny bit of hassle arose.

  • Border officer: You don’t have valid visa.
  • Me: I can get visa on arrival with a Swedish passport and invitation letter.
  • Border officer: No.
  • Me: Yes, last time I visited Iran I did exactly that.
  • Border officer: No.
  • Me: Yes, if you look on this page in my passport you can see the visa from that time.
  • Border officer: No.

Half way through this very stimulating dialogue a different official who spoke much better English came up to try and sort out the problem. Turned out they do not have “visa issuing facilities” (basically, they don’t have a printer) at the Pakistani border. A little bit of conversation in Persian ensued and then they very firmly asked me to leave and more or less tried to push me back into Pakistan. At this point Hamid, a very nice Iranian tourist guide had joined the fray to try and help me out. Granted, he had limited success in that endeavour, but I at least managed to grab his phone number.

  • Border officer: You need to go back! Then get visa at the Iran consulate in Quetta.
  • Me: But they have stamped me out already, and my Pakistani visa was only single entry.
  • Border officer: Not our problem.

And so I came rolling back into Pakistan, half an hour after I had left in the first place. Awkwardly waving and going “hello, remember me? I changed my mind, I want to stay with you guys”. Now luckily Pakistanis are the friendliest, so I was immediately shown to the office of the boss of the border station and given some tea. Said boss then asked me to just wait for a while whilst he made some phone calls to try and figure out what to do with this Swedish person who was stuck in the middle of the desert between Iran and Pakistan with a valid visa to neither country.

About 45 minutes later, Mohsin (my guide) and his crew came back, some more phone calls were made and eventually it was decided that I could indeed come back in to Pakistan by them just cancelling the exit stamp out of my passport. Since the Iranians had told me I could get a visa at the consulate in Quetta, we decided to leave the motorbike with Pakistani customs at the border and go the 10 or so hours back to Quetta by car. Now going back took a long time since none of the police and military checkpoints along the way had been notified in advance (which they had been of me coming the other way the day before), so each checkpoint took more like 20-40 minutes compared to 3-5 minutes when we came the other way.

Everything can be solved if you just have the right stamp for it

But eventually we made it back to Quetta around midnight, and I checked back in to the same hotel I had stayed in a couple of days earlier. Only this time I was sharing the room with the body guard I had kindly been lent by the local Assistant Commissioner (basically one of the highest ranking government officials in the province) to enable us to travel back to Quetta despite not having an escort vehicle.

Sharing a room with my police escort bodyguard (I’m in the right bunk)

Day 105 – coming up with a work-around: Obviously, our very first order of business was to head to the Iranian consulate and try and get me a visa. I explain the situation and hand my passport to one of the embassy staff and then Mohsin and I take a seat and wait while they figure things out.

  • Mohsin: Hopefully this works, but if it doesn’t, the other option would be for you to fly into Iran
  • Me: Yeah, I thought about that as well, but do you think we could arrange to get the bike across?
  • Mohsin: Shouldn’t be a problem, I know the people at the border customs office very well, they can help bring it across
  • Me: That’s great, if it comes to that I can check with this Iranian guy at the border who gave me his number

A few minutes later the embassy guy who took my passport came back: “Yes sir, it is no problem for you to get a visa here. You just need to fill out these forms and then wait 20 days”… So flying it was.

A couple of hours of googling and flight booking later everything was set. I was to leave Quetta that same evening around 6pm and make my way to the Iranian side of that very same border over the course of the next 36 hours or so.

  1. Domestic flight Quetta-Karachi
  2. International flight Karachi-Dubai
  3. International flight Dubai-Tehran
  4. Domestic flight Tehran-Zahedan
  5. Car/Taxi Zahedan-Border post

Very smooth, not the least bit complicated or expensive…
border crossing

Day 106 – arriving in Iran and mostly just sleeping: After spending the night completing points 1 to 3 on the list I landed in Tehran around 8am in the morning and got a visa in about five minutes, no issues whatsoever.

At least I managed to get a glass of wine at the airport in DubaiIMG_1953

But seeing as I had spent the preceding 9 hours suffering through a one hour flight, two hour stop-over, another two hour flight, another two hour stop-over followed by yet another two hour flight I hadn’t exactly slept much. And since my flight from Tehran to Zahedan wasn’t until late afternoon I checked in to the airport hotel in Tehran to grab a few hours of sleep (thanks again Arash for organising, life saving!). I finally arrived late in the evening to Zahedan where Hamid (the guy I met at the border the first time around) met me and we arranged to go out to the border the following morning.

Day 107 – reunited with my bike: I met up with my new found friend Hamid early morning and after a mere two hour drive through the desert we made it to the very same border crossing I had been about 72 hours before. Only this time I was already on the Iranian side but my bike was still on the Pakistani side.

Hence, our first order of business was explaining to various border officials that we intended to get my bike across from Pakistan without me actually crossing any borders myself. This triggered several iterations of “I have to speak to my boss” and judging by how long that took it probably continued until there were no more bosses left to speak to. To my great relief it was decided that they would indeed allow this to happen.

A couple of phone calls with the guy helping me on the Pakistani side later, I gave the key to an Iranian border guard who ran over to the border wall itself and handed it over to his Pakistani counterpart on the other side. Then followed some nervous waiting for about 10 minutes until the very same border guard came rolling across the border, at which point I was allowed to finally reunite with my bike. The relief!

Paperwork for the bike was really smooth (in fairness, they did have a practice run just three days before) and I was very soon through the formalities and good to go. Or so I thought. Because this region suffers from some criminality also on the Iranian side, a police escort had to be arranged before I could leave the border facility. I am pretty sure that was not necessary at the time of my research into Iran, but I didn’t have any choice so I kindly waited an hour or two for my police escort to arrive so I could start my journey through Iran.

The ride through the Baluchistan province (it’s called Baluchistan on both the Iranian and Pakistani side) ended up being very similar what it was in Pakistan, with mainly desert and police escorts swapping with each other every half hour or so as we passed into a different police district. The police officers in Iran were just as polite and friendly as in Pakistan, but also just as slow…

The plan was to get to a town called Bam before dark, which would take me all the way through the Baluchistan province and mean that I would no longer need a police escort. But because we were making such slow progress the sun started setting when we were still some 200km away from Bam. Consequently, all of a sudden the front escort car pulled over and stopped next to a walled compound. Then the one police officer in my escort who spoke a little bit of English explained that it is too dangerous to drive in the dark and that it would be best if I slept with them in this army base.

Hanging out with some of the police officers and army recruits at the base

Said and done. As we were all (me and maybe 5-6 police officers) gathered in an office doing some paperwork I decided to check what the food situation was like. Unfortunately they English speaking guy had left at this point.

  • Me: I’m really hungry, do you have any food here?
  • Officer #1: Huh?
  • Me (combined with gestures): Hungry. Food. Eating.
  • Officer #2: … no?
  • Me (still with the gestures): Nom nom nom nom
  • Officer #1: … heh?
  • Me: Ehm… kebab?
  • Everyone (laughing): KEEEEEBAAAAB!! YES MISTER!

Half an hour later a nice chicken kebab was delivered to me as I was sitting in the courtyard half reading and half watching a very exciting volleyball game between the police and army team stationed on the base. After completely annihilating that kebab I was given the prayer room to myself for the night and went to bed.

My very luxurious room for the night

Seeing as this was a really long post I will stop here and do the rest of Iran in a separate post. Until next time!

Pakistan is amazing!

Now this will be something new for those of you who have followed me for a while. Two blog posts within the course of just a few days! Anyhow, we are slowly catching up to my current whereabouts and this time I will tell you (almost) all about my week or so in Pakistan. The plan for Pakistan was to cross from the India border at Wagah in the northeast to the Iran border at Taftan in the far west. The first half of the journey up until a town called Sukkur I would do on my own and for the second half I would be joined by my awesome guide Mohsin and a security escort to take me through the province of Baluchistan (if you are ever planning a trip to Baluchistan in Pakistan – which is something you should be doing – reach out to Mohsin at City Express and he will help you out!).

My route through Pakistan

Day 96 – entering Pakistan: After a fantastic week in India it was finally time to enter Pakistan through the famous Wagah border crossing. I had my visa and everything in good order so the border proceedings were quite straight forward and I was through the whole process in less than two hours (which is quite normal when attempting to bring a foreign vehicle across borders). My first stop in Pakistan was Lahore (less than 30km from the border) where my dear friend and colleague Andrea had put me in touch with her dad Håkan who works in Lahore, so I was heading to his house where he had kindly offered me to stay.

About 30 minutes after entering Pakistan I had my first encounter with the wonderful Pakistani hospitality when I got a little bit lost in Lahore. When I stopped to call Håkan for some directions a couple of very nice gentlemen immediately pulled up and offered to help me find my way, and once I explained where I had agreed to meet Håkan (in an area of Lahore called Gulberg) they guided me onto the right road to get there. I know I have probably said this 10 times by now about 10 different countries, but Pakistanis are truly among the most hospitable people I have met in all my travels!

After another half an hour or so I eventually arrived in Gulberg and was immediately treated to a fantastic little oasis of Sweden in the middle of Pakistan. A comfortable bed, hot shower, cold beer, filter coffee, some good chocolate and even a gin and tonic! And as I arrived on a Sunday I got to join in on the weekly tradition of having a steak at a local steak house, which was most pleasant and much better than I would ever have expected in this part of the world. After that welcome protein injection we went back to the house and sat up talking about my trip, life in Pakistan and Australia until late in the evening (here is where that G&T came about).

Day 97 – accidentally buying a painting: As it was Monday, I had the whole day to myself to explore the local area as well as catch up on some of the detailed planning for the Europe stage of the trip. Also, sleeping in was on the agenda (and was successfully accomplished). My first mission outside of the house was walking over to the local shopping center to withdraw some cash and try to get a Pakistani SIM card for my phone. After succeeding with the former but not the latter, I gave up and went for a leisurely stroll through the lush streets of Gulberg back towards the house.

Met these kids as I was walking through Gulberg, Lahore

As I didn’t really have any plans I was very excited when I saw a sign for an art gallery (the unicorn gallery, no less) up a side street, “why not check out some Pakistani art now that I am here?” I thought and headed that way. That turned out to be a fantastic idea! Not only were the owner Seemah and her daughter Soraya absolutely delightful and friendly people, but Soraya was also a super talented artist herself and I completely fell in love with one of her paintings and spontaneously bought it. After spending the next few hours in the gallery talking about everything from the local art scene to world politics I headed back to the house but only after making plans to come back for lunch the day after (did I mention the amazing Pakistani hospitality?).

Buying a painting 

Back at the house Håkan soon returned from work and we largely repeated the activities from the night before, staying up much later than I am used to at this stage. Håkan also managed to get me that SIM card I was looking for earlier in the day, which would prove essential for the rest of my travels in Pakistan. Håkan, if you are reading this, huge thanks again for being such a fantastic host in Lahore!

Day 98 – mostly having lunch, but also going to Multan: I basically woke up, packed up the bike and then went back to the unicorn gallery for lunch. And what a lunch. I probably stayed for four hours, enjoying great local food (including, but not limited to a tasty brain masala) and more stimulating conversations. If you ever find yourself in Lahore, be sure to stop by the unicorn gallery! After finally leaving Lahore, it was an easy drive on smooth highways down to Multan where I arrived just after dark and more or less went to sleep straight away.

Day 99 & 100 – getting a police escort and hot weather: It took two days to pass the eastern parts of Pakistan from Multan to Sukkur. Upon leaving Multan I had to check in with the local police who decided I needed a security escort (initially in the form of a police car going in front of me on the road) from there onwards, a couple of days earlier than I had expected but no issue as it is free of charge and the Pakistani police usually are a jolly bunch to hang out with. So although the only thing I could see myself needing protection from was the risk of excessive hospitality, I was not too fussed about having them around. Particularly entertaining was observing the vast variation in type and quality of escort vehicles, ranging from perfectly modern pickup trucks to tiny 70cc mopeds to finally just having a police officer sitting on the back of my bike!

The most fun form of police escort!

Another thing. I don’t know how many times I will say that I am experiencing the hottest temperatures of the trip but hopefully this will be the last. As I was making my way southwest in Pakistan the thermometer crept up to settle around 44 degrees, which makes for very challenging riding. Especially as the police escorts usually swap (one district handing over to the next) in the middle of nowhere with no shade in sight and every minute of standing still feels like being steamed alive inside my riding gear. So upon reaching my hotel in the evenings my first order of business would be setting the AC on 16 degrees and curl up in shivers on the bed for about an hour until my body was back to normal.

Day 101 – meeting up with my guide and heading into Baluchistan: In the morning I finally met up with Mohsin and his crew (Mohsin, Khawar and Ashfaq), who would be going with me in their car for the remainder of my stay in Pakistan. The plan for the day was to make our way from Sukkur (located in the desert in central Paksitan) to Quetta (located in the mountains in the western part of the country). Imagine my excitement when Mohsin explained that on the way we would have the pleasure of passing through the hottest city in all of Pakistan… Anyway, after some hours of excruciating heat and the occasional break for me to sit in the air conditioned car for a few minutes to cool down we made it to the mountains and started getting to more moderate temperatures.

Mohsin and I waiting at police checkpoint somewhere along the way

No desert is complete without camels!

In Quetta I stayed at a super charming little hotel with a nice garden and (as far as I could tell) no other guests but myself. After unpacking and having a shower Mohsin and Khawar came back in the evening with some dinner and after that I went to bed, exhausted after another day mostly spent in 40+ degree heat.

Day 102 – a bonus day in Quetta: The plan for this day was to start our journey towards the Iran border, going from Quetta do Dalbandin which is roughly half way to the border. Only that did not happen at all. Instead, about an hour after dinner the night before my stomach started feeling a bit odd… I then proceeded to spend the whole night in the bathroom and by 6am or so in the morning I decided I was so dehydrated it would probably be a good idea to go to the hospital. So I woke the hotel receptionist up, hopped on the back of his motorbike and he took me through the empty streets of Quetta to the nearby hospital.

At the hospital, I was quickly showed to a bed in the medical ward and my arm hooked up to an IV drip. There were about 12-15 other people in the ward in various levels of distress (the guy on my right seemed to be completely fine, the guy on my left had been bitten by a cobra), but being a bit of an exotic guest at a regional hospital in Pakistan I got plenty of attention and was soon diagnosed with some good old food poisoning and my drip was spiked with various things to speed up my recovery. Eventually, after some moderately successful communication between the hotel, the police and my guide Mohsin my whole crew also showed up at the hospital, followed by lots of discussions (including a little bit of flirting) between my guys and the doctors whilst I was dozing off…

My view for most of the day

When I woke up again early in the afternoon I already felt much better and after a while I was asked to go see the head doctor in charge of the whole medical wing of the hospital, who had a quick look at my tongue and concluded that I was recovering just fine. He then insisted I have some tea with him and then I would be moved to a VIP room for another batch of drip before being signed out a couple of hours later. Again this amazing hospitality! Unfortunately I have no photos but the VIP room was like a luxury time capsule from the 70s, complete with dark wood paneling and plush beddings in various shades of brown and yellow. It was amazing! After another couple of hours of napping I was signed out, driven back to the hotel where I had the prescribed diet of white rice and yoghurt and then went to bed.

Day 103 – heading towards Iran: In the morning I was feeling like a somewhat capable human again and hence we took off towards the Iran border, only 24 hours delayed. This is a very remote area of Pakistan, with few towns and stunning desert landscapes complete with camels and sand dunes trying their best to consume the road. But the road was good and our police escorts were mostly fast so we made some very good progress and decided to continue past Dalbandin and head closer to the border.

Riding through the desert landscapes of Baluchistan

Where the boundaries between road and desert are sometimes a bit fuzzy

We eventually made it as far as Nokkundi where there are not really any hotels but because Mohsin and the guys know everyone who’s someone in Baluchistan we were offered to stay at the resting house for government officials located in the local Customs compound. So we had a very pleasant evening, sharing photos from all the various cameras and enjoying some very nice homemade food.

We then set our alarms for an early departure to get us to the Iran border by 10am. But I will tell you all about that in my next update!

India – a moment in the limelight

Hello everyone! Again, I am lagging a bit behind on the blogging. But don’t worry; everything will be covered here eventually. Now as for this update I will take you through my second week in India, which was very different from the first week. A few weeks earlier I had started working with Triumph, doing some promotional activities along the way and New Delhi was the first big stop for that. In addition, I would be able to leave the bike at the Triumph workshop where they would fix her up for me.

The route for my second leg in India

Day 90 – entering India for the second time: I left Bardia national park in the morning and continued heading west towards the Nepal-India border near a town called Bhimdatta. Now as I was down on the lowlands it was getting really hot, and the temperature quickly settled around 37-38 degrees before I had gotten very far. Otherwise, this day was mostly about a desperate hunt for fuel. I started the day with less than half tank and went on without any worries as I assumed there would be plenty of petrol stations along the road (being the main highway and all).

But apparently fuel supply in Nepal is a bit intermittent at the moment, so when I stopped at a station to fill up they kindly explained that they were out of petrol. No worries, I still had some 70km worth of fuel left in the tank and they said the next station is only 40km away. Half an hour later I pull up at the next petrol station. They are also out of petrol, but they say the next station is just 20km away and they might have some. They did not. And at this stage I had about 10km worth of fuel left (half a litre), with the next petrol station being 25km away…

Luckily, the shop across the road had a couple of plastic bottles with petrol so I could fill up two litres to keep me going (two litres gives me about 40km). And the day continued like this, for the roughly 150km from Bardia national park where I started to the border there was no petrol except for the odd plastic bottle some shopkeepers kept for the locals to top up their motorbikes. So the relief when I finally got across to India and could stop at a real petrol station and fill up a full tank of fuel was absolutely divine. After that I just went on the highway and made it half way from the border to Delhi before nightfall.

Day 91 – getting to Delhi and meeting up with the Triumph team: After a couple of short hours in the morning I reached Delhi in the middle of the morning rush hour… Which obviously I should have figured out beforehand, but I obviously wasn’t paying attention. So after wrestling my way through Delhi for two hours, averaging something like 20km/h in the 44 degree heat I made it to the Triumph shop. Only it was the wrong shop. There are two in Delhi and I had set my GPS to the wrong one. Well, they let me in (even though they were closed) and since I was dying from the heat I just sat there in this air conditioned heaven for an hour or so before I dared brave the heat and chaos of Delhi traffic again.

After another stint of excruciating heat and slow traffic I made it to the right Triumph workshop, and it was worth it! The workshop itself was brand new and state of the art and the team were super helpful. So they installed me in the waiting room overlooking the shop floor whilst they cleaned the bike and got everything organised so we could go through what needed to be done. It felt great getting some first class care for the bike after the beatings she had taken over the last few weeks.

Bike left in the safe hands of OneTriumph in Delhi

Once we were all done in the workshop, I took a taxi to my hotel for a quick shower before heading to the Triumph India head office to meet the team there. At the Triumph office I met with Siddhartha who heads up Triumph’s marketing in India, and together with their PR team we put together a plan for an event three days later on the Friday flagging me off from Delhi. It was really exciting getting to meet some of the Triumph team and I am really impressed with the India operation in general and the people in particular!

Day 92 & 93 – running errands in Delhi: The following two days were primarily spent running various errands in Delhi. I had a loan bike from Triumph whilst they were taking care of my bike, and I used it to go around town to check up on my bike, have some more meetings with the Triumph team and last but not least, visit the Iran embassy to sort out my visa.

Checking in on my bike at the OneTriumph workshop

Over these two days, I spent what felt like the majority of my time at the Iran embassy. To begin with the embassy was in a different part of time from where I was staying, so each trip there took a solid 45-60 minutes one way. First I went there to pick up my visa which was applied for online by my friend in Tehran, only to wait around for an hour and then be handed a new set of application forms to fill out in addition to the online application. Then the next day I went back with all these forms filled out, waited for an hour or two only to find out that actually my online application had not yet been processed so I would have to wait a few more days for that. At this point I decided that getting a visa in advance was hugely overrated and I would just get one on arrival at the border.

Day 94 – becoming famous (well, trying anyway) in India: Finally, the big day when I would get my bike back and we would have the big event at the Triumph dealership (OneTriumph) in Delhi. I thought that maybe a couple of local motorcycle magazines and enthusiasts would show up, but it was much bigger than that! I spent the whole morning bouncing around the shop talking to bloggers, magazines, TV stations and motorcycling celebrities who all wanted to know everything about me and my trip. It was a fantastic experience and I had the privilege of getting to know some fantastic people in the process. But after a few hours it was time to be flagged off on my bike which was now almost as good as new.

Doing a TV interview at the OneTriumph showroom

I didn’t go very far though, as it was midday in Delhi and way too hot to be riding a motorcycle. Instead I stayed at a nearby hotel and arranged with Siddharth at OneTriumph to head out early the next morning (before it got too hot) with him and a few other fellow Triumph riders.

Day 95 – leaving Delhi for Amritsar: I had not realised what getting up early means for local bikers in Delhi, but now I got to appreciate the concept in all its glory. The alarm was set for 3.15am and we set off a little bit after 4am, rolling through an almost traffic free Delhi just before dawn. It was a really nice and social experience to ride with some fellow bikers for the first time since Thailand, and we rode together about half way to Amritsar where we stopped for breakfast. Over breakfast we talked about the kind of things bikers talk about; bike rides, bike gear, tire choices etc – very stimulating!

Early morning ride with some fellow Triumph riders

Stopping for breakfast half way to Amritsar

After breakfast I went on to Amritsar, where the weather blessed me and everyone else with some well deserved rain after a week of intense heat. So for the first time since I could remember I arrived at my destination without being soaked in sweat, an utterly delightful experience! In Amritsar, my dear friends Johan, Jonas and Emma had arranged for me to stay (and have a massage!) at the Hyatt as thanks for me hosting them in Melbourne earlier in the year, so I made my way there and treated myself to some excessive comfort for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Doing some express sightseeing in Amritsar

Before going to sleep I also made sure everything was in good order for my entering into Pakistan the next day, an endeavour which will I will cover in my next blog post!