We really wanted to cycle all the way to India and were seriously thinking about cycling through Pakistan from Iran. Concerns about instability in the region ( now even in the South) and of course the recent flooding made us wary. As one backpacker put it “the last thing they need is tourists.”
But what finally put pay to our cycling was the visa. During the summer Pakistan visas for all foreign nationals applying ouside of their home countries were cancelled, certainly for territories west of the border. Other people attempted sending their passport home by fedex to get the visa stamped in their own country. Indeed we met a German couple who tried to do this in Iran until they were told that it was illegal to post passports out of Iran. (And to be honest you don’t want to be caught without your passport in Iran).
So what to do? We didn’t want to cram into one of those flying sardine tins. Not because we’re we’re holier than thou eco invaders but because it just didn’t feel right. We’ve come this far clinging to the circumference of the earth and we’ren’t yet ready to give up on gravity.
So Jet posted a note on a Dubai internet forum and asked for advice, any boats going to India? Well the consensus seemed to be you could get a Dhow, one of the traditional wooden trading boats that flit across the Persian gulf, the same kind of sloop that Michael Palin took in his “Around the World in 80 days”. However Jen and I hung out on the docks for a bit having a gander, with the all crews gazing down at these foreign strangers on bikes and didn’t feel so comfortable. Then the subsequent entries on the internet forum mentioned that a couple of overloaded dhows had overturned in Dubai harbour earlier in the year. This coupled with Dhow rustic living (ie wooden ring over the side of the boat for toilet) and the fact that Jen would be travelling with fifteen other men neither of us knew for seven days in open sea and we decided no. I think this option would be realistic for a group of men travelling with a personally recommended crew (perhaps with a BBC Michael Palin vouchsafe) but it wasn’t for us.
So what to do? Jet had been in contact with an agent for an International Freighter shipping company who offer limited spaces on their cargo boats. These ships are the giant mammas that carry consumer boff round the world and look like oversized, well, um sardine tins.( But oversized sardine tines that travel over the surface of the waters). It seemed a bit touch and go and the shipping agents weren’t the most communicative of souls. But after tracking down a doctor willing to prove we were medically fit to travel on a boat without a doctor(cycling 8000 km wasn’t sufficient evidence) getting Yellow Fever Vaccinations, signing about 12 pieces of paper and sending them to Canada we were granted passage on one of these beasts. Oh yes and paying lots of money. You’d think this would be an economy way to travel but it ain’t cheap. Who cares we thought we’re gonna darn well get to India on a boat. The kind of container ship that scares tiny wooden dhows senseless but at least we’ll have our own loo, and won’t be clinging to each other like wet flannels if the winds pick up.
We managed to get a 3 month India visa. The boat trip takes 6 days from tomorrow and gets us to Bombay. From there we cycle south to Goa and down to the Kerala backwaters and then, well then we figure out how to get back home…
j n j