Kindness of strangers

Across the road from where I’m staying in Istanbul is a cool bar where I met a lovely American girl who is travelling around Europe. She told her parents about my trip, they checked out my website, and emailed to say when I get to the US I’ll have a place to stay with them, and probably with their family in other parts of the US.
I’m blown away! Thankyou!

It also meant when I got back to the bar yesterday I got to say “guess who I got an email from?! Your mum!”

Pakistan

Situation seems to be deteriorating.
Fergus said he had armed police escorts the entire way from Quetta to India, and a secret intelligence officer in Taftan (border town with Iran) told him: “Get your petrol, I will get you water, and get the h*ll out of here!” for his own safety.

There was an earthquake in Quetta just hours ago, with reportedly 150 people killed. The FCO hasn’t picked up on it and advised on travel in the aftermath yet, but my hunch is it’s not going to make things any better.

From that it’s looking increasingly unlikely that I’ll dare to cycle across most, if any, of Pakistan.

Also, the FCO did update its advice on Pakistan a couple of weeks ago adding:

The Ministry of Foreign Afffairs has informed diplomatic missions in Islamabad that “all foreigners, including diplomats, may not move out of their city of residence without proper security and prior co-ordination with the law enforcement agency with regard to their move or visit.”  No further information has been provided by the Pakistani authorities on how this requirement will be implemented.  The British High Commission is urgently seeking further information on the procedures and whether they will apply to all British nationals.

After reading that, who knows if I’ll even be granted a visa! My passport is currently in the care of Fedex on its way back to London for my brother to go to the Pakistan High Commission and get me a visa – I can’t apply anywhere except my home country of residence.

It’s a shame, Fergus also says the people are fantastic, which is what I’ve heard from many others as well. At the risk of sounding like a beauty queen contestant: why can’t we just have world peace!

Iranian Visa

This is how to get an Iranian visa in Istanbul. Again, this is for British citizens, and it may vary for other nationalities, but this should help.
To get to the Iranian Consulate, walk up the hill from Sultanhamet tram stop, take the first major right and walk down the hill – the Consulate is on the left.

The easiest way to apply is online through an agency such as www.iranianvisa.com – indeed, if you go to the consulate and ask to apply for a visa, you will be directed to this website instead. To apply online you will need the relevant information and a scanned copy of your passport. The application takes however long it takes – mine took 3 weeks, but it was the end of Ramadan. If you are lucky enough to be granted a visa, you will be emailed a code, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran will fax an approval to the consulate in Istanbul.

You then need to go to the consulate with this form filled in. You will be given another form and told the fee and to get things photocopied. For British passport holders the fee is 95euro, or you can ask to pay 125euro for the same day service.

Fill in the additional form, get photocopies of the additional form, the info page on your passport and the Turkish visa in your passport, pay the fee at the bank across the road from the consulate, and go back to the window in the consulate.

Hand everything across including two passport photos, and wait for an hour if you paid the extra, or return the next day if you didn’t pay the extra. Obviously throughout the process give sensible answers – probably not a good idea to tick the box for “politics” where the form asks for your reasons for visiting for instance…

Indian Visa

If anyone needs to get an Indian visa in Istanbul, here are consise instructions for British citizens, but will apply to most other nationalities as well.
To get to the Indian Consulate, from Taksim Square walk north along Cumhuriyet Cadessi until you see a sign for the “Crazy Horse Show” on the right. Next to the Crazy Horse Show is the Dortler Appartments – the Indian Consulate is on the 7th floor.

Visa applications close at 11am. You will need:

  • your passport;
  • a photocopy of your passport;
  • a “letter of introduction” from your own countries consulate;
  • payment of US$50 in cash;
  • two passport photos;
  • the visa form (available at the consulate at the time).

You also need to know where and when you will enter and leave India. It’s no big deal, just pick somewhere sensible and put approximate dates in – you won’t be held to them. Passports can be picked up between 5pm and 5:30pm four working days later, i.e. if you get your application in by 11am on Monday, it will be ready at 5pm on Friday.

Rip off (also known as “consular fees”)

This is the “letter of introduction” I need to get an Indian visa, that cost me 150ytl (59gbp). No wonder at the Consulate-General they referred to me as a ‘customer’. No way that letter should cost 59gbp – it only took them a minute to put the information in the template and click print. For information: the letterhead is a black image printed on with the text (it starts as a blank white sheet of paper); the name, passport number and passport issue date are all in bold. I’m posting all this for information only. If people see this and decide to make their own version and avoid a 59gbp fee, that’s their decision, and I certainly can’t condone their (probably illegal) actions, however sensible they may be.
Hmm, photo was hosted somewhere else and has disappeared. Will put it back up when I get a chance.

Don’t Panic! visas are a-coming

Had a few concerned emails recently of the “are you still alive” variety. Don’t worry, I’m fine, and making bureaucratic, although not geographic, progress. I arrived in Istanbul 3 weeks ago. That’s how long it takes to get approval for an Iranian visa, which came through today. I’ll pick it up tomorrow morning and apply for the Indian visa in the afternoon. I should have that by Friday. In the mean time I can work out how to get a Pakistani visa.
Pakistan aren’t issuing visas in Turkey to non-residents of Turkey. The options are:

  • Apply in Iran (crazy, going into Iran with no way of exiting in the direction I want)
  • Mail my passport to London so my brother can pick up the visa there then mail it back
  • Wait and hope my contact here can pull some strings (more on that later)

Anyway, now I’m making some progress with the bureaucracy I should start preparing the bike and things for the upcoming stage, which will be much tougher than the leisurely jaunt through Europe!

Folding bike destinations – guest post

The most observant fanatical followers of my website (so probably no one!) may have noticed I updated the Links page. One of the links I added was for Folding Bike Destinations, Ben Tyler’s blog about his travels with a folding bike. Ben asked me to write a guest post for his blog about my travels, and this has now been publishd on his site. Read it here!
Edit: the Folding Bike Destinations blog has disappeared from the internet, so I’ve made a .pdf of the blog post. Read it here!

Visa’s

This is a bit of a rant, not at foreign countries, but my own. In Istanbul I’ve met up with an Irish cyclist called Andrew who is heading the same way as me hopefully through Iran and Pakistan to India. We both arrived without visa’s. When applying for visa’s in Istanbul, the Indian Consulate requires a letter of introduction. Andrew found out from the Irish consulate that one for him is free. I went to the British Consulate to get one, and it costs 75gbp.
I know my government is currently bankrupting itself rescuing banks that are failing, but come on, 75 pounds for them to write my name and India in a template and click print.

Anyway, rant over.

edit: I was so ranty I even added an apostrophe to visas. What would Linda say!