By Donovan Murphy, SYI Facebook Group Member
Hi everyone. I recently posted this in a group focused on backpacking and low budget, low impact travel. People were intrigued by my overland journey from India to Germany, but many people were asking me about safety in Iran and Pakistan. I’ve decided to share it here as well, since it outlines my thoughts on Iran, and may also be useful for backpackers in this group who are thinking about heading from Iran to Pakistan.
So here goes.
First things first, any perception of danger you have about Iran, forget it. It’s the safest country I’ve ever visited. Safer than Australia, safer than England. I never once felt threatened, the locals will take care of you (it’s their cultural and religious compulsion to do so), it’s reasonably clean, the tap water is clean and drinkable and there are chilled tap water stations on the sidewalk.
I hitchhiked everywhere in Iran and camped and took advantage of Couchsurfing. I spent only €250 in three weeks there and could have spent even less if I wanted to. Note that Iranian ATMs won’t work for foreign cards, so bring cash.
To hitchhike, don’t use your thumb, as it’s a rude gesture. Put your arm out and pretend you’re dribbling a basketball. That means “come here” and drivers will stop for you. If you’re a solo female, only get in a car if there’s also a woman in the car, but you shouldn’t have any problem with truck drivers (just make sure they aren’t drunk or high). If you’re an unmarried couple, say that you’re married or cousins. When you stop a driver, say “Aya shoma be (Esfahan) mirid?” Which means “Are you heading towards (Esfahan)?” “Salavaati” is a way of asking for something for free, and “Pul nadaram” means “I don’t have money.”
Always make sure it’s not a share taxi if possible. Some drivers will drop you off at a bus stop. If they do this, it’s easiest just to get out and find another ride. There’s no point trying to explain that you’re a hItchhiker, because a lot of Iranians don’t understand hitchhiking, and there’s no word for it in the Persian language. If it’s after dark, you’ll struggle to find a ride. You can find a camping spot, ask to sleep at a mosque, or try your luck at a gas station. I had a gas station attendant take me home for the night, feed me dinner and breakfast, and take me back to the highway in the morning.
In every city, you’ll find Iranians camping in parks. Iranians love parks. You’ll find families playing with their kids there until 2am. It’s legal to camp anywhere, and city parks have police watching over them.
As for Pakistan, it’s been the highlight of my trip so far. Some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. A vast kaleidoscope of ethnicities and cultures. Amazingly warm, friendly people.
Is it safe? Mostly. The areas where there are issues, the police and military will do everything to make sure that you remain safe, so if you follow their procedures, you will face no danger whatsoever. I didn’t hitch there, but I have friends who did.
The border crossing from Iran takes at least two days, as there is a lot of safety protocol. It requires patience, but if you do what you’re told, there are no problems. I’ll explain the procedure below:
When you reach Zahedan in Iran, you take a share taxi to the border station of Mirjaveh. I’m not sure of the cost, but it should be no more than 6 euros or so.
Once you cross over into Pakistan, you will be escorted by police all the way to Quetta. Be patient. It’s a 630km trip and Taliban do operate on that road, so you may have to deal with some red tape while the police ensure you can reach Quetta without compromising your safety.
Once you reach Quetta, you’ll be taken to the Bloom Star Hotel. It’s the only hotel in Quetta that accepts foreigners. The price is PKR2500 for a single, or PKR4000 for a twin. You can’t pay in euros, so make sure you exchange some cash at the border, but not too much because the guys at the border are sharks. Once you’re at the hotel, you won’t be allowed to leave. The staff speak English and can give you any advice you need.
In the morning, the police will come and escort you to the Civil Secretariat Home Department, where you will be issued an NOC, which is basically a permission letter, allowing you to travel through Balochistan.
The police will then escort you to the border of the next province. You can choose to head to either Lahore or Peshawar by road, and I strongly recommend visiting both cities. I didn’t visit Karachi, although it is also reachable by road from Quetta. You can also take the train from Quetta, and there will be police on the train.
For more information, join the Facebook group Backpacking Pakistan, which only has 800 members, but is an extremely useful group full of experienced travelers with a wealth of knowledge about Pakistan.
Read more in See You in Iran facebook group