Guns, weed but no booze: Pakistan on a GS (150..)

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Asianrider, Apr 19, 2019.

  1. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    It's been a while I haven't posted done an epic ride. In fact, about 10 years since I've come back from my ride around Africa. In the mean time, I've bought a 4x4 and driven a lot around with my wife (yeah, you know...). But I've always missed riding my bike - on a big trip I mean.

    So why Pakistan ? you've got it all over there: challenging mountain roads, incredible vistas, nice people and great food. Plus, it's dirt cheap and, most importantly, well outside the mainstream tourist trail. In other words, it's much like Ladakh but without the crowds. Well, there's one downside of course: no beer ! alcohol is illegal in this country, although there are exceptions..

    My first big trip actually brought me to Pakistan, it was in 2006, I was riding with a friend who didn't quite share the same objectives as me so we rode through rather quickly. But it was enough to leave me in awe. Since then I've always wanted to go back and explore other parts of this great country.

    So last summer when we were traveling in Iran (yeah, in 4 wheels), the logical thing would have been to cross to Pakistan. But my wife wanted to go back home - in addition, she'd had enough of muslim countries where women are forced to wear hijab and/or not considered equal by men. Pakistan isn't like Iran but in some places it may be even worse.

    So we drove back but I still had an unused Pakistani visa in my passport. So I decided to book a flight to Pakistan and rent or buy a bike locally. Alone, which is how I prefer my trips. Unfortunately, I had to leave my 800GS at home, there was no point riding back across Europe and Iran to reach Pakistan - and then return the same way, because the China option is complicated and very expensive. But I've always thought that there's an advantage in using local bikes instead of big adv bike that stand out too much. I'd done this already in India when I bought a Royal Enfield, so I knew it was making sense.

    First off, here's a map of my itinerary (in red) with the famous KKH (in green) for reference. As you can see, the target was the mountains :


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    And in no particular order, a glimpse of what's to come:

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    My name is Laurent, I'm a software engineer and book writer and I like to ride in crazy places.

    Attached Files:

    #1
  2. Brent T

    Brent T 2014 R1200RT

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    The Blue Mountains, ON
    Looks fantastic - looking forward to seeing more!
    #2
  3. grelcar

    grelcar Been here awhile

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    SE VA
    Outstanding photography!
    #3
  4. td63

    td63 Been here awhile Supporter

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    Stunning shots! Wow.
    #4
  5. Critic

    Critic More or less!

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    Location:
    West of the Illinois, heart of the state!
    Nice images; but then, I can be critical!:-)
    Your photo's show much more of the beauty, that is there.
    Thanks
    #5
  6. AFroes

    AFroes n00b

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    Marvelous photos!! Where are you now?
    #6
  7. Blader54

    Blader54 Long timer

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    Well, you, sir, have my attention! What a great beginning! Looking forward to the rest of the story!
    #7
  8. williecoyote

    williecoyote Adventurer

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    Location:
    Outer Banks, NC
    Beautiful scenery.
    Thank you for sharing.

    Your wife is missing out on a beautiful country.
    #8
  9. flei

    flei cycletherapist

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    Western Mass.
    Wow. In.
    #9
  10. steved57

    steved57 Been here awhile Supporter

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    I'm in !! Great pic's and what looks to be an incredible journey
    #10
  11. jbski

    jbski Adventurer

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    Ontario, Canada
    Wow...beautiful pics. Following...
    #11
  12. pdedse

    pdedse paraelamigosincero

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    My goodness...the photos! But you've saved a bit for later, right?
    #12
  13. Thomas B.

    Thomas B. desert racer

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    Switzerland and around the globe
    Hey Laurent, Looks great! I´ll be watching.
    #13
  14. nk14zp

    nk14zp Long timer

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    Flying in and buying/renting makes the most sense to me. Get a bike like everyone else. Easy to find parts and mechanics. It doesn't stand out. In case of the trip getting pear shaped you can leave it.
    #14
    makad likes this.
  15. black 8

    black 8 coddiwompling motographer

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    Great start, I'm in... :lurk
    #15
  16. Dan Alexander

    Dan Alexander still alive and well

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    Montreal
    great pics, I haven't been to Pakistan in many years and forgot how interesting it can be, looking forward to more especially up high where I didn't get a chance to visit.
    #16
  17. dezertpilot

    dezertpilot Been here awhile

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    Conroe, Texas
    Looks epic, I'm subscribed.
    #17
  18. love2ridefla

    love2ridefla n00b

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    Miami, FL
    Wow. Can't wait! Where are you renting from? I was just there a few months ago, you can buy brand new Honda 125 for about $850-$900 US. I am considering doing that next time and just riding out.
    #18
  19. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    Thanks for the nice comments. Yeah, there will be many more good photos to come, the country is incredibly photogenic. And some gopro videos (short, don't worry). Not many shots of me though as I'll be riding solo and I'm not a selfie maniac !
    #19
  20. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    OK, let's get this over with: Pakistan gets some pretty bad rap about being taliban home turf and rigged with bombs going off every so often. Well, both are somewhat true but it doesn't mean you shouldn't go. There are definitely places foreigners (and even police..) shouldn't go, but the vast majority of the northern part, the mountainous region that attracts us bikers, it pretty safe. The Tribal areas and Balochistan (the southwestern province), on the other hand, are not under the control of the government, so anything can happen there. Indeed, a couple weeks ago terrorists (for lack of a better name) stopped a bus and killed 14 persons onboard, all Pakistanis from other provinces. So that's why when you ride to or come from Iran, they force an escort on you. But north of Lahore, you're pretty much on your own and feeling safe.

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    Here's a nice map from the French government. Red is "no go" and orange is "only if absolutely necessary". Pretty bad uh ?

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    The British website goes:

    I've been many times in such "red" places so I know these advices are BS - well, not entirely, but just useless because they mix really dangerous areas (FATA, the tribal areas) where you probably won't return in one piece, and others (Peshawar and the Lower pass) that are mostly safe - safer than some areas of Marseille (where I live) or Detroit, for example.

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    That hasn't been always the case. A few years ago, the situation was so bad that many parts of the country were off-limits to tourists. When I was there the first time (2006), Swat had just been freed from the Talibans, and to go to Chitral you needed a special permit. Nowadays, the situation is as good as it's ever been since 2001, so if you have the opportunity, go there before it goes FUBAR again. Note that before 2001 Pakistan was actually a pretty popular tourist destination.

    On the up side, this reputation means there are very few foreign tourists there. If I compare Gilgit-Baltistan with Ladakh, a neighbor region in India which is pretty similar in term of landscape, trekking opportunities and price, it's in another league. For every tourist in Pakistan there are 1000 in Ladakh. Now of course, there are many domestic tourists. In fact I was pretty amazed at how many tourists there are compared to 12 years ago: at that time, I hardly met any Pakistani tourist at all. But now they are coming by the busload. Still, compared to the crowds of Manali and Leh (many of them Indians), it's totally bearable.

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    The main problem for the overlanders is and always has been the visa. Of course you need a carnet de passage, but that's also needed for India and Iran so it's a given. But unlike neighboring countries, you can only get a Pakistani visa in your home country. In addition, you need to provide an LOI (Letter of Invitation), proof of revenue, etc.. for all intent and purposes, the government has been trying, to discourage tourists from coming. The first time I didn't know that and I quietly went to the embassy in Dushanbe (Tajikistan) to buy a visa. It's only after I received the help from my own embassy (Swiss) and a letter from the consul that they made an exception for us, which saved the day.

    But this time I was leaving from home by plane, so it was feasible. I'm a Swiss citizen but living in France, so I started by calling the embassy in Paris. After several tries, I got hold of a very rude person asking what I wanted. I asked what was needed. They wanted an LOI, hotel reservations and return plan tickets. The original idea was for us to drive overland from Iran, so I explained that I could show no ticket. That raised a red flag in his head, he was quick to tell me that no visa was given for people coming overland from Iran: too dangerous. Of course I knew that it was bullshit as many people do it every year. But he wouldn't budge, so time for plan B: I called the Pakistani embassy in Bern, Switzerland.

    That was a totally different experience: a nice person asking me what I wanted. They didn't care how I entered the country, but I needed to show an LOI. Well, I didn't have one, but I already had a visa in an old passport. So the guy went: OK, bring the passport and we'll work something out. So I went to the embassy, talked to the person there. He asked me for LOI, plane tickets, etc. I replied I had sone of those, so he gave me a form to fill in, took my money and told me to come back in a couple weeks… that simple! I even told him that since I was driving there overland (the original plan), I wouldn’t reach the broder before 6 months. OK, we can manage that, he replied. And indeed, I received a 3-month visa valid for 1 year, whereas most people get only 1 month (or none). I guess that’s one of the perks of coming from a small country that doesn’t mess with other ones.

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    Since then, things are moving in the right direction. The new Pakistani government is trying to encourage tourism by relaxing the visa rules. They’ve announced that they will introduce a new visa-on-arrival system for a series of countries. It’s still not fully in place and doesn’t include the land borders, so it’s still a long way until it becomes easy to visit Pakistan, but it’ll get there, eventually. All that’s left is a plane ticket for Lahore - I like Lahore better than Islamabad, which is an artificial, soulless city. Lahore is farther away from the mountains, but that doesn’t matter. So I booked a Pakistan Airlines flight from Barcelona to Lahore - around 500€ so that’s not too bad.

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    But before we get to the least I’ll have to talk about the geography of the country, which will be the next post. So if you’re interested only in the riding, check in again a a few days.

    The photos here are from my past trip in Pakistan, when I rode from Switzerland to Nepal through Mongolia and Pamir on my ’84 Tenere. There’s even an excerpt of a video that shows the KKH at that time from the Kyrgyzstan border to Kashgar and down KKH until Islamabad and the Indian border. Enjoy:



    Any question you have, fire away. But I'll get to the subject of security in later posts, as I ride to some dodgy places.
    #20