Route + Planning

Route

It was a challenge to combine as much of the old trade routes (mainly via parts of the Silk Road and the Pamir Highway) with modern day political realities and safety issues. For example, we had to find a route around Afghanistan as well as Iraq, both places not currently ideal for a bike trip. The original idea was to drive off from my home in Singapore to Germany. And that’s when the first of many, many problems (MJo prefers to think of them as challenges to be overcome) started. Obtaining permission to cross Myanmar (Burma) by motorcycle (and then head via Bangladesh into India) was at the end not possible. Hence we needed to start the journey in India and had to ship our Africa Twin by boat from Singapore to New Delhi.

From there we anticipate to follow the below outlined route:

India (via Ladakh) → Pakistan (via Karakoram Highway) → China → Kyrgyzstan → Tajikistan → Uzbekistan → Kazakhstan → Russia → Ukraine → Moldavia → Macedonia → Albania → Croatia → Serbia → Italy → Switzerland → Germany

Click here for larger version of the animated map

As we only have 2 months’ time off, we will need to keep a good daily average in order to cover the roughly 10,000 km journey within this time.  There are many challenges in trying to cover such a great distance in a relatively short amount time, including this one highlighted by Sabby.

Planning

This is by no means an easy trip to plan, even for experienced travelers. We’ve learnt a lot over the course of planning this trip. So we hope to share a little with you in case you ever think about doing a trip like this.

Carnet de Passage

This is like a passport for your vehicle. You will need to apply for this with your local Automobile Association for your vehicle to enter and exit countries. Basically they’re afraid you ride your vehicle into the country and re-sell it. Be warned – you will be asked to put up a deposit bond roughly equivalent to the value of the vehicle (depending on the countries you wish to visit, India and Pakistan for example have very high import duties, hence a higher bond will be required). Some countries don’t recognize the Carnet at all (like China), then creativity is required (usually in the form of local agents).

Visas

Although many of these countries have visa-on-arrival for European citizens, these are only available at the airport and not if you enter by land. The visas you will most likely require for this route are:

  • India
  • Pakistan
  • China
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Kazahstan
  • Uzbekistan
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Russia
  • Ukraine

Before you apply for visas, you will need to have worked out your route and approximate schedule as you will need to specify entry and exit dates on your visa applications. For some of these countries, you will also require visa support letters i.e. letters of invitation. You can either get this from a local travel agent or some of the hotels along the way can issue you these for you. Remember that these visa support documents also require time, so factor into your planning.

We used an agency in Berlin who was able to simultaneously get us visas for Krgyzstan, Kazahstan and Uzbekistan within 2 weeks. Great if you can find a similar agency in your home country coz all these visa applications take time! Allow yourself enough time for the process.

Entering China with your own vehicle

So here comes one of the trickier bits of the trip. You are technically not allowed to enter China and exit from a different border point with your own vehicle. Like all things in China, there’s a way around it. We have been coordinating with a Kazahstan-based tour agent to help us with this.

Just to illustrate quite how tricky this is, a friend’s friends spent seven months planning this (without using an agency), got all sorts of official approvals from the Chinese Ambassador in the Netherlands etc but still got refused entry at the border. Ultimately one only knows once he arrives at these remote border outposts.