Archive for August, 2009

Visas and permits for man and machine

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

After designing the route, I started looking at one of the most important part of the journey – Visas and permits required for us and for our vehicle.

My dad put me in touch with a senior representative at the Automobile Association of India who told me that every car that enters India on a temporary basis needs a document called carnet. This document is like a passport for the car. He told me that in UK, RAC issues the carnet document.
So I got in touch with RAC and found that RAC is infact the only organisation in UK which issues the carnet. Carnet is not cheap to obtain. From my conversation with RAC a few months back, I remember that to get a carnet, you need to block an amount worth 5 times the cost of your car with RAC. RAC will charge this amount ONLY if your car does not return to UK at the end of the expiry date of the carnet. Another option is to pay upfront somewhere around 25% of the cost of your vehicle, half of which is refunded when the vehicle returns to UK. It takes around a month to receive the carnet from the date you apply for one. I have not yet applied for a carnet as I dont yet have the car that I will be taking for my journey. Also, it makes more sense to apply for the carnet 2 months before you intend to start the journey so that the validity of carnet stays for longer. I think a carnet generally lasts for 6 – 12 months. When I get my carnet, I will scan and put it on the website.

Indian passport holders require visas for most countries of the world. So in our case, we would need to apply seperate visas for the Schenghen states, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China and Tibet. Nepal is one of the few countries for which Indian citizens dont require a visa. That makes a total of 8 visa applications! Through experience I know that obtaining a Schenghen visa is a very straightforward process and can be issued on the same day, if applied from the French consulate in UK.

Ukraine visa too is a standard procedure and requires standard documents that are needed to obtain a schenghen visa. Getting a Russian visa could have been difficult, but fortunately with my dad living in Russia, I am in a good position to get that done without much problem! To get visas for Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, I got in touch with a company called who specalise in providing invitation letters for these countries at a nominal cost.

China and Tibet are the trickiest of all countries for getting visas and permissions. After doing some research on the net, I found a local chinese travel company called NAVO who specialise in obtaining all permits required for entering and driving in China and Tibet. I also discovered that in China, foreigners with a non-chinese drivers license are not allowed to drive their own car without having a local approved chinese guide physically present in the car with them at all times!
In addition to this, the drive from China to Tibet and Nepal is one of the most difficult drives, it includes driving on the highest roads in the world. This will make the journey slow because of which it will take us atleast 12 days to cross China and Tibet. However, I must mention that we are taking a slight detour and driving to Lhasa before going to Nepal. This detour will add a couple of extra days to the journey. For all these reasons, driving through China and Nepal is also the most expensive part of the entire journey.

Designing the route

Friday, August 21st, 2009

I started by looking at the world map and tried to figure out the best route possible. Though the quickest, shortest and the best route is the classic silk route going through Iran and Pakistan but unfortunately due to unrest between India and Pakistan, I realised that driving through Pakistan may not be practical or even possible for me. This is where technology became my best friend. Its amazing how much information can be found online just by clicking a few buttons. I went on forums, visited travel websites, started a forum on lonely planet where I discussed my route with other travel fanatics. I looked at several mapping softwares like Google and Bing. I would like to mention here that Bing is an excellent piece of software which can provide directions to some very remote parts of the world. Though I am a big fan of Google, but in this case, Bing beat Google hands down!

The only other route that I could figure out was going through Russia, Kazakhstan, China, Tibet, Nepal and finally enter India through the India Nepal border. This route is much longer, but based on my research, is the only other route possible (atleast at the moment) to enter India overland. I researched the border checkposts between all countries on this route and used Bing to get the route and directions between the various checkposts. Bing also provided me with other useful information such as the distance and time needed to travel from one place to another. The route section of the website shows the tentative route that I plan to take. Ofcourse this is not the final route as I have yet to look at local maps of all the countries. However, it gives a good idea about the overall journey.