This truly is one exciting border crossing! Not so much because of the crossing itself, but of what follows. 1000 kilometers of police escort through a stretch of land where smuggling fuel, drugs and people in between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan is a major business. We crossed the Iran Pakistan border at Mirjaveh/Taftan on November 8th, 2016.
The paperwork at the border is straightforward and as Iranian Army wants you out of country as quick as possible, here, one soldier will most likely walk you through most of the process. The key to success happens before. Before you leave, stock up on food, fuel and water. The first Pakistani ATM is in Quetta. For every rupee you spend on the way there, you will have to pay a generous 10% commission to one of the money exchange sharks at the border.
Approaching the border
You have to do some long-term planning: Paperwork is waiting for you in Quetta. The office there is closed on weekends and it is a two day drive from the border. So plan on arriving in Quetta Wednesday night or earlier in the week.
The escort on Pakistani side leaves the border post early in the morning around 7 am. So either arrive as early as the border opens (check current timings beforehand) to be escorted the same day or in early afternoon. Then you will spend the rest of the day and the night in the Balochistan Levies’ compound in Pakistan and leave the next morning.
Best is to approach the border directly from Bam, rather than spending a night in Zahedan. Escort on Iranian side starts just after the city, or in case you try to go in, before entering Zahedan. Our friends did the latter. Getting out of the city, the next morning, took them almost three hours. Mostly waiting for the first escort to arrive at the hotel. They arrived two hours after us in the Levies’ compound. We had left Bam at 6.30 in the morning. It’s a fast and easy five hour drive on good roads.
There is a diesel fuel station close to the highway when you turn onto the Zahedan bypass. Fuel up here for an almost full tank of cheap diesel once you have crossed the border. This is even more advisable, as until Quetta, the fuel available in Pakistan will be smuggled Iranian fuel at a higher price, anyway.
At one of multiple military check-points behind Zahedan, the Iranian Army will put a soldier in your vehicle, or – in the end – a vehicle in front of yours. For us, being escorted started 30 kilometers from the border.
Passport control and customs clearance
You receive a gate pass and have to show your vehicle paperwork upon entering the border compound. But one of the officers in your last escort will most likely assist you and bring you to the right counters in the right sequence. He will leave you, once your passport is stamped out. This happens in a passenger hall with restrooms, where you will have to wait for a couple of minutes. Once that is done, you drive up to the gate. The officers here gave us a bunch of oranges as a farewell present. Customs may take a brief look at your vehicle. They stamp your Carnet and off you go!
Do not forget to drive on the left side from now :).
The welcome is warm and an unique experience. The process is pretty straightforward, but already tells so much about the country you are about to enter, that we will describe the details anyway.
Right after the gate, there is a small office that has seen many people pass by in the past 30 years. But they have new webcams to take a picture of you. We had to fill in a form and five minutes later we had stamps in our passports. There are money exchangers outside the office. This is the only opportunity to get Pakistani rupees before the end of the next day.
Also, this is the place to make first contact with the Levies. One of them will guide you through the process from here on.
Whatever happens next
Next, you meet a customs officer for a short chit-chat. He looked into our car very briefly and asked if we had strong pain killers for his back pain. At some point, the Levies guy became quite impatient and we had to skip the small talk and move on.
Then, there is a 4 sqm big hut with a dirt floor, funny wiring, an officer with a laptop and AKs leaning in the corner of the shanty. A true sight! They note down your personal details.
The man leads you to the Levies compound, from where you will be accompanied to the customs house around the corner. It’s time to do the Carnet. The guy behind the big desk gets his almost as big book, notes down the details and stamps all paperwork accordingly. In the meantime, he had tea brought to us. Our fist encounter of the great sweet, milky and spiced up version of the ever popular black tea.
You go back into the Levies compound, watch TV (English channels available) or use up the remainders of your Iranian data pack. Irancell is still working. At some point, one of the guys starts cooking. Your first Pakistani dish is about to be served. Expect a couple of pictures to be taken. Not all of them for official use, we guess.
You can sleep in your vehicle in the courtyard full of seized vehicles or on the floor of a room. Blankets provided.
Traveling through Balochistan, Pakistan
What lies ahead are two days of driving to Quetta, two nights and one day there to obtain the NOC (non objection certificate) and one more day of driving across Bolan pass, out of Balochistan.
The way to Quetta
Your first morning in Pakistan starts early, around 7 am. The escort changes several times on all driving days. Waiting for the next escort vehicle may take some time. You will also have to write down your personal and vehicle details in a book at every Levies checkpoint. And maybe take a couple of photos with the guys.
The officers are all very friendly, speak little English and are mostly young. If somebody is nice, why not hand them some sweets or cookies? Only one was constantly asking for “a gift”. He did not want any cookies and left sad.
You spend a night halfway to Quetta in a crappy hotel in Dalbandin. Sleeping in your vehicle in their yard for 500 rupees is way more hygienic than taking a room for 1000. The greasy officer in Dalbandin may take you to a money exchange office, if necessary. He was also the one, constantly asking for a gift.
If you are brave, you simply take a right onto the Quetta bypass once you arrive at the turn-off in the evening of your second day of driving. The escort will be in front of you. Turning around and chasing you takes time and gives you the opportunity to make some kilometers before they catch up. Then just do not stop and get as far away from this city, as possible before you need to explain yourself to an officer. If you have made it far enough, they will probably not bother and make you go back. We heard first-hand that this had worked.
The Bloom Star Hotel
Neither did we know that this may work, nor do we know if we would have had the guts. So we followed the escort to the Bloom Star Hotel. A tourist rip-off. Our friends had to pay 4000 rupees per night for a double room including a microscopic breakfast. Locals pay less, of course. We paid 1600 rupees for sleeping in our vehicle in the gated parking lot. Rooms are OK, but a little old. Showers are hot.
Although this price is nothing but a ripp-off, the Bloom Star seems to be the cheapest of the three options in Quetta. The other one is the five star Serena, the third one is called Lourdes. We had no opportunity to check their prices, as the hotel staff would not call the police to take us to the other hotels. Without a SIM card, there was no way of calling them, either.
We negotiated long and hard, but the only response were sh*t arguments about taxes and electricity prices in Pakistan. We were trapped and they knew it. In the end they threatened us to not call the police the next morning. We would then have to obtain another NOC the following Monday and spend three more nights in their evil place. So we paid what they had asked for and promised to give our best to sabotage their rip-off business.
That we want to do herewith: You probably know when you have to stay in Quetta, anyway. Get a local to call them up, reserve a room and agree on a price beforehand! MAP members will be happy to help you.
Another thing: they will overcharge you with food as well. Street food dishes, that the hotel staff buys for around 150 rupees at stalls around the corner, will be sold to you for 250. Put that into relation to the 700 rupees a day laborer in a brick factory gets for a day of hard work and you understand how much they rip you off. Heiner sneaked himself out of the unprotected and open gate, bought food and did neither get killed nor kidnapped.
Obtaining the NOC
Pakistan loves bureaucracy. In any governmental office you will notice piles of paper in different stages of decay. The NOC is a document that permits foreigners to travel through Balochistan. Ask the staff early in the morning to call the police for a pick-up. At least in our beloved Bloom Star, they seemed to avoid calling them before 9 am. The earlier you arrive at the office, the better are your chances that they will issue it valid for the same day. But in this case, you would only need to spend one night in this beautiful place.
The Police drops you at the Secretariat and guides you to the right office. You will be handed over from officer to officer. We told every single one of them that we wanted to have the NOC valid for the same day, everybody replied positively. In the end it was valid on the next day, same day “not possible”.
Police will then take you to the hotel again. We had very friendly officers that went to an ATM and shopping for food and SIM cards with us, on the way.
The last day in Balochistan
Police will pick you up the next morning after you have made the hotel employee call them. On your last 300 kilometers of escorted driving in Balochistan, you cross Bolan Pass. It is the border between Central Asia and the Subcontinent. Too bad you cannot really enjoy the landscape because of your companions.
The escort will also inform police in Sindh about your arrival. So expect to be escorted for another bit there. We managed to shake them off north of Sukkur.
Haha, imagine a Pakistani police officer asking for your insurance papers! Not going to happen. They have other worries. We assume, you can buy an inexpensive insurance somewhere in larger cities.
If you have crossed the same border crossing and want to share your experiences, please leave a comment!