When writing this episode of our trip, we are already in Iran. We were not able to find the time and now the possibility to write and refresh our blog. Here in Iran it is not possible to open certain website, including facebook and our own blog…… But writing, we can! (At this very moment we are allready in Turkye...)
The last place we wrote about was Amritsar, where we were waiting for our visa. And they came, finally. After visiting the DHL office and getting in contact with Mr. Singh, the manager, we were assured that the next day our visa would arrive. To our big surprise that next morning Mr. Singh in person stood in the lobby of our hotel. Waiting to bring me to the DHL pick up centre with his scooter! What a nice surprise and what a generous gesture. And then after 4 months of waiting, I received the emergency passports with the visa of Pakistan and Iran……. What a hell of a fight that has been to get them. It influenced our trip and the week before our departure to Indıa a lot…..
Mr. Singh gave us some addresses in Pakistan and some sweets to give to a friend in Lahore, our next stop and then we left to go to the border. The Wagah border, the same border as we went to see the ceremony. We were welcomed nicely as ever at the Indian immigration office. The most sophisticated border that we’ve seen so far: computers, nice big building, with airco etc. And off course we got our cup of tea as usual at the costum office, where another Mr. Singh took care of us. We were about to leave India….. A very special country, with very special people…..
A bit afraid, because of all the stories and off course the impressions of the Wagah border ceremony, we entered at the Pakistani side….. For that we really passed the scene of the ceremony and could ride at the same road between the tribunes. How special.
And there they were the Pakistani officers, not at all what we expected. Long manly men, nice, laughing, making jokes that we understand (the Indian humor is slightly different than ours). When they looked at our Indian flag however, they made clear, that they didn’t like the sight of it and we immediately asked for Pakistani flags, which they did had! We rolled up the Indian flags and covered them with the plastic Pakistani ones, what resulted in the following reaction: You are such a intelligent woman! How nice to enter a county and to be judged correctly J
At the Pakistani border everything went very swift and we could drive on to find a hotel in Lahore. We had a contact person from Mr Singh (DHL) and decided to drive to the railway station, a good location for a meetıng. I couldn’t reach the contact person but directly after calling, a German couple came to us and advised us their guesthouse: Lahore Backpackers. They also were traveling with motorbike with span, a 30 years old BMW GS… What a coincidence! The owner of the guesthouse was present also and showed us the way from out a motorized riksha. Michael and Rosemarie, the two Germans, were right, it was a nice stay. In Lahore it was really warm, also waiting for the delayed monsoon to come. We have been so lucky…. The monsoon was delayed for a month already. Although it was warmer than usual, we haven’t had a lot of rain during our whole trip. Some of the things we were afraid of…. Lahore has a beautiful old center and ıs one of the most advanced cities of Pakistan.
The German couple told us about their travel so far. They came from Iran, from the side where we were heading for, so it was interesting to share some information. They arrived from Quetta by train, motorbike in the train as well and after some thinking we decided to do the same. The direct road to Quetta was blocked so we had to ride an extra 600 km in the hot dessert. Not a nice thought…. And then Pakistan is not the most safe country to travel in. All things together made us to decide for the trainride. So we went to the railway station in the afternoon, brought by the tuk tuk driver that we met at the guesthouse. We bought the tickets for us, and went to arrange the tickets for our motorbikes. That seemed to be a lot more difficult…… At the parcel office we were told that it was very unsure that our motorbikes could come with us on the same train. Maybe a day later. No option for us off course. They couldn’t assure us a place on that train either. We went from office to office, had to shout, be angry etc. but finally we got in touch with the head station manager (we always seem to meet the most important people) who could guaranty that the motorbikes could come with us in the same train. There is only one train per day going to Quetta, so we had to be really sure. After hours we finally had solved this problem….. It is a real struggle to get something done in this country. We, as women were not always taken seriously and we had to fight against a lack of interest to find proper solutions…. The Pakistani government was to blame for everything… The words: “this is Pakistan” we’ve heard a lot of times…….
That night we went for diner at the food market at a wonderful terrace restaurant at a very special, old building, accompanied by Michael, Rosemarie and a Spanish guy: Jezus. The view was amazing. We were right next to the big mosque, which was lighted out really fantastic. The food was very tasteful, the company great, so we could say that we had a wonderful evening.
The next morning we had some time to make a touristic tour in the city. The tuk tuk driver picked us up at 08:00 and we went to see the most important mosques and the fort. Really beautiful. It was however so hot, that we decided to go back to the guesthouse to take a rest before we had to go to the railway station to arrange the tickets for the motorbikes. At 13:30 we arrived at the railway station and I went to the office off the station manager at platform 4. Although the man who helped us said the day before he wasn’t on duty until 16:00, he was sitting there, waiting for us. He came earlier, especially for us! He sent a man with us to go to the parcel office where we were sent away the day before with a “ no go”. The man at the office, another man then yesterday, repeated the same message: not possible, even after the interference of the station manager. So I went mad and got back to the station manager. The man who was sent with me, came a minute later and was briefed again and now it seemed to go into the right direction. Suddenly the parcel office man was willing to help us all the way. Gave us a good price for the tickets, but said also, that we had to take care of the loading of the bikes ourselves, off course with the help off 5 men, but we had to guide them. It was mend to be a disappointed message, but I said to be glad, because we wanted to have the control over the loading. We had to pay some hand money and everything seemed to be arranged. The train would arrive at about 16:00.
We had to park our bikes at platform nr. 4 and so we had to drive through the station, on the platforms, passing the Mc. Donalds. Really weird. And off course we had a lot of spectators…..
The train was late. At about 16:00u I went to the parcel office again to ask where the helpers were, but they said the train had a delay. When the train actually arrived two hours later, our helpers just didn’t show up….. Luckily for us, that the bikes were so popular. We became a lot of help and managed to get the heavy bikes, with luggage into the train. The wagon was almost a meter higher than the platform, a heavy job…… We secured the bikes and after that the wagon was loaded with some boxes. The door didn’t close very well and they wanted to close it with an old peace of rope. Of course we didn’t agree and again after some shouting they put chain and lock on the door…. Our 31 our train ride could begin. In the meanwhile Marika had bought us some nice snacks; we were ready!
We shared our 6 person compartment with a mother and her 2 sons of 16 and 17 years old. A rather peculiar situation, because they didn’t spoke a word wıth us during the whole ride, unless we asked them something….. And even then the answers were as brief as possible….. The woman was very unfriendly and turned her back to us. What a difference compared to the Indian experiences on my train rides! Luckily we had the companionship of some soldiers who were sitting in the compartment next to us, and two army men. One of them is serving at the Wahag border. He also explaıned the sılence trio ın our compartment. The boys are not allowed to speak wıth women, because of the presence of theır mother…..
To sit in the train for more than 30 hours is not funny! But when we came nearer to Quetta, we saw the changes in atmosphere around us. The soldiers were more strictly and went with us when we walked in the train, which we didn’t do very often and went with us on the platform if we wanted to buy some drinks. The scenery changed a lot. In the begınnıng the train was riding along the Indus and everythıng was very green. There were growing a lot of dades an other fruit, very vertile ground. After we crossed the Indus a totally new scenery appeared. Dry, desert, poor sometımes totally empty, no vıllages, no people. Also we saw in the villages a lot of graveyards….. The graves looked quıt fresh….. Not a comforting sight.
Finally at 01:00 we arrived in Quetta…. In the middle of the night we had to unload the bikes… This time no big audience. The platform managers said that helpers would arrive in a few minutes, but only 2 men came and started to unload the mango boxes that were put into the wagon on and around our bikes. The worked very slowly, smoked a cigarette in between so Marika and I started to unload the boxes ourselves. We were tired and wanted to go to the hotel… When some more helpers arrived, we organized a chain of people to unload the last boxes and then we started to organize the unloading of the bikes. Luckily the height of the platform was better and one of the men had a good idea by putting some tires on the platform to form a sort of slide. The bikes were free! But sad to see that the mango boxes had damaged the saddle of Marika’s bike……
One of the passengers, a very friendly young man, had stayed with us all the time and helped us translate. He also showed us the way to our hotel by driving in front of us with a riksha. So nice! So we arrived at 02:30 at the Bloom Star Hotel, a really nice place to stay. At arrival we were made clear that we had to arrange a police escort to the border of Iran at the Home department. Strict regulations! He also said that the convoys normally leave at about 09:00. At the parking we say another Dutch motorbike (Yamaha Tenere). The next day we found out that the bike belongs to a Dutch couple, Sander and Joyce, who were traveling already from april and left from Holland goıng to India and back. They traveled in Pakistan for about 6 weeks without any problems.
So the next morning we packed up and went to the home department. No one there. Ramadan…. After 15 minutes the first people arrived and made us clear that a convoy that day was impossible…. We had to wait 3 days before the next convoy was about to leave. No way for us. So again we made clear, that we had to leave as soon as possible, because of our schedule. I have to say, that other motorbike travelers didn’t arrange convoys, They were held up on the road and were escorted from there on. We were sent to the District Commissaries office, the highest man in the whole region, to arrange an emergency convoy. I think they didn’t expected us to succeed, but they’ve never met us before J. Because of course we were let in to the office of the “ big” man. A very gentle man, who indeed arranged the transport for us for the next day. He even arranged us a place to stay at the border for free! We had to go back to the Home Department for a form. The manager at that office was at first not willing to give us the form, but again after a big word fight we left with the wanted form. It again was hard to get what we wanted. A tip for travelers: know what you want and stick to it!
The hotel had a nice yard, so when we came back there, we bought us something to drink, arranged us something to eat and sat in the garden for a while. We also met Sander and Joyce. It was really nice to talk in Dutch and exchanging our experiences…. We visited the city centre and felt the difference in approach of people. The young men were treating us like we were the lowest, something to laugh at. But there were also friendly people like everywhere. We really entered the Islamic side of our voyage. A strange feeling….
We were picked up from our hotel the next morning by the escorting soldiers. 4 men, heavily armed….. That’s not a friendly sight… It was serious. We left and picked up the first of 2 busses who were also in the same convoy. We wanted to reach the border that day, more than 600 km, but the convoy went so slow….. 40 km/h….. We asked them to speed up, but they didn’t, so we decided to leave the convoy and took of on our own, knowing that if it was really a problem they would follow us. It was a hard decısıon and we both felt strange and a bit afraıd the next few kılometers….
There are a lot of checkpoints, where the soldiers were chanced for others, so at every checkpoint a new hustle started! At the first check point one of the police officers pointed me at my front tire. Flat….. We took out our compressor, but it not seem to work properly. My tire remain flat….. So I had to drive for 10 km with an almost flat tire to the next village….. Pumped it up and moved on. Really strange. The tire is still hard…..
We didn’t make it to the border that day, we had to stop at Dalbandin. The escort leaded us to the police station. We needed money, petrol and a hotel. We were offered to stay at the police station, but that for us was no option. We wanted a good night sleep, shower…. During the search for money and petrol we were all the time under surveillance of the police men. They stayed with us until we were in the hotel. We agreed to leave the next day at 07:00. We arranged us something to eat and were able to use the computers to check our mail and post something on facebook.
The policemen didn’t show up the next morning at 07:00, so at 07:15 we decided to leave. The same ritual started as the day before: at every checkpoint we were asked to wait for escort, and when it took too long we took off. Again we had the strange experience of flat tires…. First Marika had a flat front tire… Always at one of the check points where we had to go in to fill in some dates. And later on my back tire was soft….. again after a checkpoint….. When we came at a village to pump it up, 2 boys helped me and we made a nice game out of it. Pump first, then check the pressure and then pump again. So the commanders “ check” and “ pump” became an official part of the pumping ceremony. Unfortunately during this “ game” my sunglasses were stolen. I was wearing them but they fell of so I’d lay them on one of my panniers. It is such a hard feeling that someone steels something from you when you are making fun with the children. Trying to be kind…… In Amritsar my bum bag with my Euro’s already had been stolen, along with the nice presents I received from the my rowing team and my wallet with drivers license and house key……. I really felt so bad when I also lost my special sunglasses…..
At one of the last checkpoints, we were offered tea and we got a escort team that was able to keep up with us. We had an interesting conversation with the soldiers sitting in a bunker with a big machine gun. I asked if they really used the machine gun and they looked at me as if I was stupid: every day we have to use it, they said….. It is so unreal to drive through a beautiful desert, not seeing “the enemy (Taliban and some tribes)”, not feeling them. It gave me a false sense of security. It was seriously unsafe there……. Still it was amazing to drive through the desert with the dromedary but also sand storms that made sand dunes up till the road…. We also saw some small cyclones. One of them almost got me…… A very special experience, the desert…..
Around noon we arrived at the Pakistani, Irani border. A really strangely located office complex. The offices where laying far away from each other and the procedure was different as well. Because the border was about to close at 13:00 we were helped by driving us from the one to the other office. At the custom office we had to wait for the manager and as we knew already, it mostly is not an advantage to be helped by the manager if you need to arrange paper work. They don’t have a clue what to do and where to begin. Luckily also this manager had an assistant who swiftly took over. It’s so embarrassing to see the manager beıng put aside by his assistant…… But we got our paperwork done on time. Up to Iran! No convoy, no danger, we thought……
In Iran the rules for women are really strict. We had to wear a scarf, long sleeves and long trousers or skirt. We also felt the difference in treatment right away…. It took a long time before the paperwork was done and as we wanted to get back our passports and carnet de passages we were asked to wait for the escort to arrive. The what? We said. Do we need escort here as well? We’d never heard of that before from the travelers we met and had been in Iran at the same border. But even if we had to wait for the escort, we wanted our passports and carnets back. The carnets we received but not our passports….. Than the escort arrived: a young man, very friendly and soft, no gun, and……. no transportation. He wanted to sit at the back of one of the motorbikes…. No way! It was a really strange situation. If it was that dangerous to travel why was he alone, with no gun and no transportation…….. He got the passports from the border police and when we asked him to give us back our passport he said that he was keeping them because we were women….. That was again a “no way” for us and we had to force him to give back the passports. Marika just grab them out of his pocket. He had to arrange transportation and started hidge hiking!!!!! What a fantastic way to protect your foreigners! We needed to change money and our tanks were empty as well. The policeman leaded us to the next village (lifting with several people to come there). ATM’s are not available in Iran, because of the boycott of foreign banks, so we had to change our euro’s somewhere. That was a no go. The policeman hidge hiked through the village. It took us more than an hour…. We decided to ask the man at the petrol station if we could pay in Euro’s and that was possible….. We finally could leave and go on to Zahedan…..
And again we passed police posts…. At one of the checkpoints we had to stop and again they wanted to have our passports. We didn’t wanted to give them, knowing that there was a chance to not getting them back, but the guy who lifted with us assured us that we got them back. He lied…. Another policeman came out of the building that was behind a gate and again didn’t give us our passports. We succeeded to get behind the gate. We were so angry. İ’ve never been so angry in my whole live….. Marika ran to the guy who held our passports and started to really fight with him. İ shouted to give our passports back and held him too. We managed to grab the passports out of his hand, went to our motorbikes and left. Later we heard that if we’d had been Iranian, we had been behind bars for this. But is so denigrating to not been seen as a human being, just because you’re a woman……..
After a while we finally arrived at Zahedan. At a checkpoint… And again the same story. The guy we attacked before was waiting for us. I already saw him somewhere on the way to Zahedan in a car behind us. We finally could explain that we were not willing to hand over the passports and let them look at it. Again we had escort the last few kilometers. They stopped at a roundabout by a small police office and I saw a nice hotel at the other sıde of the street. Just a few meters from the office. We thanked our escort but they didn’t want to let us go. They went with us to the hotel. Really just 50 meters away and again asked us for our passports to give it to the hotel employee….. I guess you know our answer…..
Welcome to Iran!!!