Getting there & away
Expedia (www.expedia.com) Cheap air fares and car hire.
Flight Centre International (www.flightcentre.com) A discount agency with sites for Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US.
Flights.com (www.tiss.com) An international site with cheap fares and an easy-to-search database.
Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com) Use Travel Services to book multistop trips.
STA Travel (www.statravel.com) The leader in student travel discounts (you don’t need to be a student), with links to worldwide STA sites.
Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) This US site allows you to search fares (in US dollars) to/from practically anywhere.
Buying tickets in pakistan
Although Pakistani travel agencies don’t offer exceptional international flight discounts, prices are usually more competitive than those charged by the airlines.
If you buy a non-PIA international ticket in Pakistan, you can pay with credit card or cash. If you pay in cash rupees you must prove they were bought with foreign currency by furnishing foreign-exchange receipts totalling the ticket price. You don’t get the receipts back. Domestic and PIA international tickets don’t require receipts.
International tickets bought in Pakistan attract a foreign-travel tax and an international departure tax, plus a few smaller taxes. Always ask if these are included in any fare you’re quoted.
After you’ve bought your ticket, it doesn’t hurt to call the airline yourself and confirm that you’re booked on the flight.
At the time of writing there were no scheduled international passenger services to/from Pakistan apart from the haj ferries (for Muslim pilgrims to Mecca).
At the time of research there was no problem with bringing a bicycle into or out of Pakistan, although you’re expected to mention it on your visa application. It’s hard to get a definitive answer about bringing a bicycle into China. Chinese embassies often say foreign tourists are not allowed to bring bicycles into China and other sources say all you need is an import permit. No cyclist has been prevented from bringing one in or out at Tashkurgan for years, and no permit is needed to cycle the Kashgar–Tashkurgan route. It’s wise to contact the embassies of both countries to find out if any new rules have been introduced.
If you’re bringing your bike in by air, you can dismantle it and put it in a bag or box, but you may also be able to wheel it to the check-in desk, where it should be treated as baggage (you may have to remove the pedals and turn the handlebars sideways). Always check in advance with the specific airline involved (preferably before you buy a ticket) whether it will be treated as baggage or as (expensive) cargo.
The only legal overland crossing between India and Pakistan is at Wagah (Attari on the India side), 30km east of Lahore. You can cross by rail, road or foot. After the Grand Trunk Rd, the most famous road into Pakistan is the KKH, over the Khunjerab Pass from China. There is a busy road crossing to Kabul in Afghanistan beyond the Khyber Pass at Torkham, and another at Chaman on the road to Kandahar. With an Afghan visa the crossing is pretty straightforward. Zahedan in Iran is linked to Quetta via the border post at Taftan (also called Kuh-i-Taftan; Mirjavé on the Iran side).
Car & motorcycle
You can bring your own car, minibus or motorcycle into Pakistan duty-free, for up to three months. You’ll need a carnet de passage – essentially a passport for the vehicle – plus registration papers, liability insurance and an International Driving Permit (IDP). On entry, you may be required to sign a form stating that you won’t sell the vehicle while you’re in Pakistan. Spare parts and reliable mechanical expertise are best found in the major population centres. For more information on paperwork, insurance and the availability of fuel and spare parts, ask your automobile association before leaving home. It’s also worth checking the latest formalities with the relevant embassy in your home country.
At the time of research it was reasonably straightforward to cross from Peshawar via the Khyber Pass to Jalalabad and Kabul. However, the crossing from Quetta via Chaman to Kandahar through haphazardly lawless countryside was considered highly dangerous and was positively discouraged by local authorities – a situation that was unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.
Single-entry tourist visas (US$30) can be obtained from the Afghanistan consulates in Peshawar and Quetta and at the embassy in Islamabad.
In Peshawar, you need a permit to get to the border and you must also be accompanied by an armed escort. Go to the Home & Tribal Affairs Office at least 48 hours before departure, and present your visa (plus photocopies of the data pages of your passport and Pakistan and Afghanistan visas) to get the free permit. On the way to the border you need to go to the office of the Khyber Political Agent to collect a gunman to accompany you to the border. There is no cost for this service, but the gunman will expect a tip (Rs 200). You have to organise your own transport (about Rs 1800 for a 4WD to the border). On the Afghan side of the border, turn right to go to Immigration (a large new building – you can’t miss it). After this, taxi drivers will assail you for business, but public transport is another 500m walk from here. Expect to pay around 300Afg (US$6) for a seat in a minibus to Kabul, double that for a seat in a shared taxi. Get a copy of Lonely Planet’s Afghanistan and check the security situation with your home country’s travel advisory service before entering the country.
The only overland route to/from China is the KKH, over the 4730m Khunjerab Pass. The pass is open to foreigners from 1 May to 15 November, unless snow closes it sooner.
Northern Areas Transportation Company (Natco) and PTDC (Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation) vehicles go to the Chinese post at Tashkurgan (Rs 1500), with Chinese buses carrying on to Kashgar (Y62). Bus travellers from China ride a Chinese bus from Kashgar (Y270) to the Pakistan customs and immigration post at Afiyatabad (New Sost). The trip takes two days, with an overnight stop at Tashkurgan. You can also hire a minibus or 4WD from Afiyatabad to Tashkurgan or from Kashgar to Afiyatabad. Also available is a 14-hour, nonstop bus (Chinese and Natco) that runs between Gilgit and Kashgar. This is of no interest to travellers wishing to see the best of Northern Pakistan, but it may be of use for the time-limited traveller retracing their tracks.
Customs and immigration at Afiyatabad is open daily from 8.30am to 11am for China-bound travellers and until 5pm for Pakistan-bound travellers. You must have a valid China visa to enter China – they are not issued at the border. You must have a visa to enter Pakistan.
The overland crossing between Pakistan and India is at Wagah (Attari on the India side), 30km east of Lahore. The border is open daily from 9.30am to 3.30pm (10am to 4pm India time). Unfortunately the crossing remains hostage to Pakistan–India relations, so it’s not a bad idea to double-check that the border can still be easily crossed at the time of your visit.
Before crossing into India, you must clear immigration and customs formalities at Wagah. At the immigration office your passport will be checked for a valid Indian visa, and then you’ll be directed to the nearby customs section where the contents of your bags will be examined. Be warned that any drugs found will be seized and you’ll face the penalties of illegal possession. The entire immigration and customs procedure usually takes about 45 minutes, sometimes longer if there’s a crowd. Once you clear customs you’re given the green light to walk across 100m of neutral territory into India. If you have a lot of baggage, there are porters to lug your load (around Rs 50).
You can drive your own vehicle across with a valid carnet. If you’re catching the direct Lahore to Delhi bus or the train, you’ll still have to go through the standard immigration, customs and security procedures.
It’s definitely worth coordinating your crossing with the theatrical closing-of-the-border ceremony (Rs 10 to watch from the Pakistani side) that takes place here before sunset each day.
There are a couple of small shops at Wagah selling cold drinks, tea and snacks. There’s also a little bookstall, Latif Old Book Shop (042-6582611), with a selection of (usually old) travel guides, novels and general-interest books. You may also be able to sell and exchange books here. The amicable owner, Mr Latif, is happy to answer any questions you may have about Wagah.
Few travellers stay overnight at Wagah, but if you’re stranded here there’s a PTDC Motel (042-6583072; s/d Rs 600/800, s/d with air-con Rs 1000/1300; ), which also allows camping on site (Rs 100 per person including car parking and use of a bathroom). The hotel has a restaurant (mains Rs 65 to Rs 350) that welcomes nonguests; it’s a convenient place to chill if you have time to kill – a cup of tea is Rs 25. In the PTDC Motel is an information centre and a bank (open 11am to 1pm) where you can change money.
There’s a direct bus service (Rs 1500, 12 hours) between Lahore and Delhi. You can pre-book a ticket on this bus between 9am and 1pm daily at the PTDC (reservations 042-5755940) office in Lahore, but do check if it’s operating at the time of your visit, as in the past it has been suspended whenever India–Pakistan relations turned sour.
The bus departs from the PTDC office every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 6am (but you must report an irksome two hours prior to departure). A ticket costs Rs 1500 and the journey to Delhi takes about 12 hours (you’re required to go through customs and immigration formalities at the border as described earlier in this chapter). The luggage limit is 20kg (each kilogram after that costs an additional Rs 60).
There are local buses that travel to the border (Wagah) from Lahore. To get to the border from Lahore’s Regal Chowk (The Mall), catch bus 3 (Rs 4) to the main train station and from there take bus 4 (Rs 12) to the border (be warned that not all number 4 buses take you all the way to the border, so make sure you ask the driver before hopping on).
The Samjhota Express departs Lahore at 8.35am twice a week (Tuesday and Friday) to India’s Attari (Rs 50) and then onwards to Delhi (economy/first class Rs 177/864, around eight hours). Note that passengers have to go through the same immigration and customs formalities as anyone else crossing the border (described earlier).
The alternative, and easier, journey is to take a bus, taxi or train the 30km from Lahore to Wagah, then to walk across the border to Attari. If it’s the afternoon, check out the closing-of-the-border ceremony on the India side before making the 28km bus or taxi ride to Amritsar, where there is a plethora of daily train options to Delhi and beyond. This will allow travellers to make the journey any day and avoid the long delays on both sides of the border that the Samjhota Express experiences – at times more than three hours each side.
There is a fortnightly train service between Zahedan and Quetta, via the border post at Taftan (also called Kuh-i-Taftan; Mirjavé on the Iran side). At the time of writing, it departed Zahedan on the 3rd and 17th of every month at 10.30am, or Quetta on the 1st and 15th of every month at 12.30pm. There is one class and fare (Rs 650) and the trip takes 24 to 27 hours.
Between Quetta and Taftan there are several daily buses (Rs 350, 15 to 16 hours) – these are a considerably quicker (but somewhat less comfortable) option than the train. Minibuses tend to leave early in the morning, travelling in the heat of the day and requiring an overnight stay in Taftan before crossing into Iran. Note that buses from Quetta to Taftan tend to be overnight to avoid the heat of day, and by arriving at the border in the morning there’s plenty of time to get connections in Iran. However, travelling through wild Balochistan at night isn’t always recommended, as there’s a small but very real security risk. Taftan feels like the end of the road if you’re coming from Iran – the Tarmac road disappears once you cross into Pakistan. Overland drivers should note that petrol smuggling is big business here, and while there are no petrol stations from the border until you’re almost at Quetta, there are lots of truck stops with barrels of cheap Iranian petrol and hand pumps (prices increase the further you get from the border, so it’s worth filling your tank).
The border is open between 8am and 5pm (to 7pm in summer) daily throughout the year. The only formality is that you’ll need to get an entry stamp in your passport (of course, you must have a valid visa to get into Pakistan too – these are not issued at the border).
Frequent Iranian buses make the two-hour trip between Mirjavé and Zahedan. Check current timetables before you head out.
For those driving their own vehicles, once you arrive in Quetta, seek advice from the PTDC about the current safety situation (including whether convoy travel is recommended) and appropriate resthouses en route to your next intended destination. Hotel Bloom Star is also good for advice – it being a favourite with overlanders for years.
Taftan is a dusty border town and not of great fascination to travellers, but if you miss your bus to Quetta or absolutely must spend the night in Taftan, there’s a PTDC Motel (0886-510248; s/d Rs 600/800). Cheaper (more basic) hotels are also available in Taftan and Dalbandin.
The National Bank of Pakistan in Taftan changes money between 9am and 1.30pm Monday to Saturday. Alternatively, private moneychangers clutching calculators and plastic bags full of rupees and rials will accost travellers as soon as they leave passport control. It can be tough changing travellers cheques, so always have cash on hand; exchange rates are generally better in Quetta. If you’re crossing from Pakistan to Iran late in the day or on Sunday, it’s probably best to change money in Quetta.
Entering the destination
Entering the countries
Entering Pakistan or China by either land or air is relatively straightforward, with simple immigration and customs forms to fill out. However, everyone needs a visa to enter Pakistan or China, and you must obtain a visa before arriving.
Airports & airlines
A number of major airlines serve Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore. A few (from the Middle East) fly to regional destinations such as Peshawar and Quetta.
Allama Iqbal International Airport Lahore (LHE; 042-9211604; www.lahoreairport.com.pk)
Islamabad International Airport (ISB; 051-9280300; www.islamabadairport.com.pk)
Jinnah International Karachi (KHI; 021-9248792; www.karachiairport.com.pk)
Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is the national carrier. Its safety record isn’t notably worse than other subcontinent-based airlines and crash data should be read with an understanding of the difficult mountain terrain where PIA is the sole operator. However, concerns about the safety of its ageing fleet led the European Union to bar the majority of PIA’s fleet from flying in its airspace in early 2007. Air Blue and Shaheen Air International are private Pakistani airlines operating on popular domestic routes and short-hop flights to citiesin the Middle East. A third private airline, Aero Asia, had its licence suspended in 2007 for failing to meet safety standards. If it re-emerges it will almost certainly be under a different brand.
Numerous international airlines list Pakistan as a destination and have offices in Pakistan; however, services are routinely cancelled/reinstated, so it’s definitely best to check out the latest details on the internet or with your travel agent. The airlines listed here have offices in Pakistan, mainly in Karachi (021) or Lahore (042).
Air Blue (ED/ABQ; 111-247258; www.airblue.com) Hub: Jinnah International Karachi.
Air China (CA/CCA; 021-4542559; www.airchina.com.cn) Hub: Beijing Airport.
Ariana Afghan Airlines (FG/AFG; www.flyariana.com) Hub: Kabul Airport.
British Airways (BA/BAW; 042-6300701; www.britishairways.com) Hub: Heathrow Airport, London.
Cathay Pacific Airways (CX/CPA; 042-6300701; www.cathaypacific.com) Hub: Hong Kong International Airport.
China Southern Airlines (CZ/CSN; www.csair.com/en/) Hub: Bayun International Airport, Guangzhou.
Emirates (EK/UAE; 021-5684500; www.emirates.com) Hub: Dubai International Airport.
Gulf Air (GF/GFA; 021-5682265; www.gulfairco.com) Hub: Bahrain International Airport.
Indian Airlines (IC/IAC; 042-6360014; www.indian-airlines.nic.in) Hub: Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi.
Iran Air (IR/IRA; 021-516293; www.iranair.com) Hub: Tehran International Airport.
Kuwait Airways (KU/KAC; 021-5685754; www.kuwait-airways.com) Hub: Kuwait International Airport.
Malaysia Airlines (MH/MAS; 021-5682629; www.malaysiaairlines.com) Hub: Kuala Lumpur Airport.
Pakistan International Airlines (PK/PIA; 021-45794769; www.piac.com.pk) Hub: Jinnah International Karachi.
Qatar Airways (QR/QTR; 111-310310; www.qatarairways.com) Hub: Doha International Airport.
Saudi Arabian Airlines (SV/SVA; 021-568213; www.saudiairlines.com) Hub: Ar-Riyadh International Airport.
Shaheen Air International (NL/SAI; 111-808080; www.shaheenair.aero) Hub: Karachi International Airport.
Singapore Airlines (SQ/SIA; 042-6307418; www.singaporeair.com) Hub: Changi International Airport, Singapore.
Thai Airways (TG/THA; 021-5660163; www.thaiair.com) Hub: Bangkok Airport.
Australia & new zealand
Flights from Auckland, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney connect with PIA, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways or Malaysian Airlines in Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Return fares start at A$2300 to/from Islamabad/Lahore. Flying to Kashgar to start the Karakoram Highway (KKH) may involve up to four connecting flights and add considerably to the cost. For online bookings, try www.travel.com.au in Australia and www.goholidays.co.nz in New Zealand. Well-known agencies for cheap fares with branches throughout Australia and New Zealand:
Flight Centre Australia (133 133; www.flightcentre.com.au); New Zealand (0800 243 544)
STA Travel Australia (1300 733 035; www.statravel.com.au); New Zealand (0508 782 872; -www.statravel.co.nz)
Central asia & china
PIA has weekly Almaty to Islamabad and Tashkent to Islamabad flights, and flies regularly from Kabul to Karachi (Rs 17, 290 one way), Islamabad (Rs 13, 800), Lahore (Rs 13, 800) and Peshawar (Rs 8000). Ariana Afghan Airlines may recommence weekly Kabul to Islamabad flights.
From Hong Kong and Beijing, there are flights to Karachi and Islamabad (via Bangkok) once a week with PIA and Air China (US$1100 return). The only places you can fly to/from Kashgar are Islamabad and Ürümqi (Y1230), from where you can catch flights to several Chinese cities plus a few ¬international ¬connections. China Southern Airlines flies daily between Ürümqi and Islamabad (US$450), Wednesday to Sunday; and stops over in Kashgar (US$370) on Saturday only.
Several carriers have daily or multiple-weekly direct links to Pakistan from European cities. To Islamabad, PIA has weekly direct flights from Milan, Oslo and Paris. To Lahore, PIA has weekly direct flights from Copenhagen, Milan, Oslo, Paris and Rome. From Italy, return fares to Lahore start at around €650. From France, fares to Lahore start at €800. Some sites where further options can be explored:
Anyway (0892 893 892; www.anyway.fr)
Lastminute (0899 705 000; www.lastminute.fr)
Nouvelles Frontières (0825 000 747; ¬www.nouvelles-frontieres.fr)
OTU Voyages (0155 823 232; www.otu.fr) Specialising in student and youth travel.
Voyageurs du Monde (01 40 15 11 15; ¬www.vdm.com)
Expedia (0180 500 60 25; www.expedia.de)
Just Travel (089-747 33 30; www.justtravel.de)
Lastminute (0180 528 43 66; www.lastminute.de)
STA Travel (0180 545 64 22; www.statravel.de)
CTS Viaggi (06 462 04 31; www.cts.it) Specialising in student and youth travel.
Airfair (020-620 5121; www.airfair.nl)
Barcelo Viajes (902 11 62 26; ¬www.barceloviajes.com)
Thai Airways flies direct from Bangkok to Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad several times a week. Singapore Airlines flies to Lahore via Karachi (S$880) three times a week. PIA flies Bangkok to Islamabad/Lahore/Karachi at least four times a week. From Tokyo, PIA flies direct to Islamabad/Lahore/Karachi at least once a week. From Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Airlines flies to Karachi twice a week. STA Travel (Bangkok 662 236 0262; www.statravel.co.th; Tokyo 03-5391 2922; www.statravel.co.jp; Kuala Lumpur 03-230 5720; fax 03-230 5718; Singapore 6737 7188; www.statravel.com.sg) can offer more details:
Iran Air has a direct Tehran to Karachi flight once a week, while PIA and Shaheen Air International have regular connections (mostly with Karachi) to/from Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Doha, Dubai, Muscat and Kuwait. Recommended agencies:
Al-Rais Travels (www.alrais.com; Dubai)
Egypt Panorama Tours (2-359 0200; www.eptours.com; Cairo)
Orion-Tour (www.oriontour.com; Istanbul)
Flights to/from India have been abruptly halted in the past (when relations between the two countries have deteriorated). Indian Airlines flies Delhi to Lahore once a week, and PIA flies Delhi to Lahore (four times a week) and Karachi (three times), and Mumbai to Karachi once a week. PIA flies Colombo to Karachi, and PIA and Biman fly Dhaka to Karachi at least five times a week between them. PIA flies Kathmandu to Karachi twice a week. STIC Travels (www.stictravel.com; Delhi 11-23357468; Mumbai 22-22181431) is a recommended agency with offices in dozens of Indian cities.
Uk & ireland
From the UK, the Middle East carriers such as Emirates and Gulf Air offer the most competitive fares. Return fares from London to either Karachi or Lahore start at around UK£600. PIA flies to Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore several times a week and British Airways flies to Islamabad three times a week.
Discount air travel is big business in London. Advertisements for travel agencies appear in the travel pages of the weekend broadsheet newspapers, in Time Out, the Evening Standard and in the free magazine TNT. A selection of recommended travel agencies:
Bridge the World (0870-444 7474; ¬www.b-t-w.co.uk)
Flightbookers (0870-010 7000; www.ebookers.com)
Flight Centre (0870-499 0040; ¬www.flightcentre.co.uk)
North-South Travel (01245-608 291; www.northsouthtravel.co.uk) Donates part of its profit to projects in the developing world.
STA Travel (0871-2-300 040; www.statravel.co.uk)
Trailfinders (0845-058 5858; www.trailfinders.co.uk)
Travel Bag (0800-082 5000; www.travelbag.co.uk)
Usa & canada
From the USA and Canada, most flights are via London or Frankfurt and one of the Middle East capitals. From Los Angeles, expect to pay around US$2400 for a return to Islamabad/Lahore. From New York, fares to Islamabad/Lahore start from US$1600. From Vancouver, return fares to Islamabad/Lahore start from C$2700, and C$2300 from Toronto.
The Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Examiner, Chicago Tribune, New York Times and Canada’s Globe & Mail and Vancouver Sun have good weekly travel sections.
San Francisco is the discount-ticket capital of America, although some good deals can be found with agencies in Los Angeles, New York and other big cities. Websites recommended for online bookings: