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Agence Future Logo 4.8: Overland to India


the last meters in Pakistan

We decided to travel overland from Damascus to Delhi. Of course we could not cycle the distance in the time available. We had originally planned to fly because we believed that it was impossible to cross the border from Pakistan into India. We learned about a group of British cyclists who did manage to make the crossing and made new enquiries. It turned out that it was quite possible to travel overland. Moreover, it was the less expensive option as well as being far more interesting and ecologically sound than flying. So we applied for visa's for Iran and Pakistan. The Irani visa turned out to be the most difficult. After several weeks of waiting for a tourist visa, we applied for a transit visa to be prolonged once inside the country. We decided to catch a train from Alleppo but first we wanted to test the health of Maya's knees and enjoy a few days of quiet cycling through the Orontes Valley. We visited Hama and Apamea and rode 210 km in three days.

The train ride from Allepo to Teheran took two and a half days. On the train we met Saber Sanami, a good-natured family man from Teheran. Later we visited him at his home in Northern Teheran. We also met a couple of German 'travelling carpenters' with whom we shared a sleeper compartment. They were dressed in traditional frock and were partaking in an 800 year old tradition of craftsmen having finished their formal education travelling to further their knowledge and skills in other countries. The two will be on the road for three years and a day. They travel with no more than their tools, a walking stick and a change of underwear. Except for their plastic water bottle and toothbrush, nylon sleeping bags and a list of e-mail addresses, the two were carrying nothing that they might not have had on them two hundred years ago as well. The contrast with our technology-laden bags could not have been bigger. During their interviews the two talked about the need to get back to bare essentials and their uncertainty about the effect their journey might have on the rest of their lives.

the start of the great train trip great snowwhite views in Turkey

From Teheran we travelled on to Esfehan. Getting our bikes on the train was an adventure with a happy ending thanks to the help of a resourceful railway assistant who had us buy tickets for a whole compartment so that we could take the bikes in there with us and who convinced the train chef that this was a good idea too. After that rush a young man from Esfehan came to sooth our racing hearts with the wonderful music from his beautiful sitar. The following nights we stayed with his family of whom we interviewed every member: Kamiar himself, who had stopped his studies in Botany to 'play the sitar from six in the morning till twelve at night', his dad a successful orthopaedic surgeon (who took a look at my knees and helped me look through his books), his mum, a housewife who has fought hard to provide a safe and stimulating home in a limiting national environment and his younger brother who wants to be a robotic engineer and dreams of encounters with aliens and space travel.

In Esfehan we extended our visa but got only five days on top of the seven we already had. So we travelled on towards the border with Pakistan. We stopped a few days in Yazd and in Bam where we had interesting evening conversations with our host and were we visited a Zurchane or 'house of power'.

wonderful detail in Persian Architecture Imam Khomeini Mosque in Esfehan riding by the river, under cover

Upon arrival in Pakistan we spent a very tough 17 hours on a bus to Quetta and from there we travelled on to Lahore in a far more comfortable train compartment. On the train we talked with a police supervisor from Karachi who had surprisingly philosophical ideas about the future. In Lahore we visited the vast campuses of the Punjab University and the University of Engineering and Technology where we also attended a symposium on draught and water management making use of the opportunity to talk with some of the academics and government representatives present about longer term questions concerning water.

From Lahore we cycled to Amritsar across the Indian border, read all about our times in India in the next instalment of this overview.

Read more on Agence Future's adventures in the middle east:

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Last changed: May 20, 2012