We’ve spent a week in Istanbul. It’s a bucket list city, so I’m somewhat surprised it’s taken us this long to get here. No matter, because now after a week of sating kebab cravings, mosque callings and seeing more tiles than I’ve ever seen in my life we’re leaving. That’s right, we’re off again. This time we’re overlanding the Silk Road – heading from Istanbul to Kathmandu.
We’re taking an overland trip with a small UK outfitter called Madventure – their full route is from London, United Kingdom to Sydney, Australia and takes 7 months. We’re joining them in Istanbul, Turkey, and leaving them in Kathmandu, Nepal.
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Istanbul to Kathmandu – in 90 days
Our part of the trip – from Istanbul to Kathmandu – will take around 93 days. Our transport is a custom-built passenger compartment and storage area on a truck body. She’s called Alice. At least for this trip. We’re carrying all our camping gear, our cooking gear, spares and food with us. We’ll be camping for around 60 of those 93 nights, spending the remainder of our nights in hostels.
When we camp we prepare or cook breakfast and dinner. Everyone has to cook once every 7 days or so. We’ve all been allocated to a cook group. Lunch is our own responsibility, to buy and consume at a place of our choice. The cook group gets to clean the truck each day.
Traveling the Silk Road with Madventure
Madventure is run by Will and Karen, but our trip overlanding the Silk Road is being run by James and Gayle. In total by the time we (hopefully) get to Tehran, Iran, we will be 41 people in the group. As we leave Istanbul we’re 30. There are others to collect along the way. One traveller is making his way on his motorbike, meeting us on a night and sharing cooking and camping facilities with us. Another has a Land Rover and will be catching up soon. We’ll pick up a cyclist in Georgia and take her and her bike to Kathmandu.
There’s a mix of ages and nationalities on board. We range in age from 23 to 71. We have Australians, Kiwis, Brits, German, Americans, Canadians, Dutch, a traveller from Malta, a Syrian immigrant living in the USA. Some are going all the way to Sydney, lots are taking chunks out of the itinerary. Most of us have never overlanded in a group before. There’s at least a couple who’ve never camped. We’re all searching for what drove us all to take this route. The best we’ve come up with so far is that it’s an adventure and it won’t get any easier to go to some places, so it might as well be now.
Want to know what to pack for an overland trip? Our overland packing list is here.
Our Route for Overlanding the Silk Road
Roughly this is where we’re going. But things change.
In Turkey – there will be the WWI Battlefields of Gallipoli, Historic Troy, the Roman ruins of Ephesus, Pamukkale’s natural terraced pools and the byzantine city of Hierapolis. Then we head to Cappadocia for canyons, caves and underground cities. Here’s 10 reasons that you should visit Istanbul! We might get to look at the outside of the Sumela Monastery, but it appears the inside is closed for renovation. You can read about our first week from Istanbul to Goreme here.
Georgia will see us visiting the Roman fortress of Gonio, the city of Kutaisi and the world’s largest collection of dinosaur tracks in the Sataplia Nature Reserve before we head to the cave monastery at Vardzia.
We’ll take in culture in Armenian’s capital city, Yerevan and solitude in the monastery of Khor Virap, close to Mount Ararat. There’ll be Lake Sevan, Debed Gorge and the Haghpat Monastery. We cover most of Armenia in our second week on the Silk Road, when we go from Goreme in Turkey to Yerevan in Armenia.
Our second trip to Georgia will see us in the incredible city of Tbilisi – which is perfect for a weekend or longer and hiking near the Russian border town of Kazbegi.
We’ll take our first stop in Azerbaijan at Sheki and visit the Khan Palace, then head to the capital, Baku and move onto the Gobustan petroglyphs and mud volcanoes as we head towards the Iranian border.
From Masuleh in the mountains around the Caspian Sea to Iran’s modern capital Tehran, we then head for Esfahan’s bazaars, bridges, and mosques. We’ll visit the ruins of Persepolis – where Alexander the Great conquered the Persians and then head to Yazd before we head towards Turkmenistan.
We start our visit to Turkmenistan by calling in at the capital, Ashgabat. From there we head to Geok-Depe and then head north to the Karakum desert and the famous “Gates of Hell” (look it up, you know you want to). Finally, we stop at Konye-Urgench to visit ancient ruins that were once the center of the Islamic world.
Khiva, the UNESCO World Heritage town is our first stop in Uzbekistan before we head to Bukhara, then the red sand desert of Kyzylkum. Samarkhand, of Silk Road route fame is our next stop before we head to Tajikstan. We picked up our visas for Uzbekistan in Istanbul – getting a little-known express Uzbek visa.
We’ll get to hike near lake Iskandar Kul before heading to the capital Dushanbe. One of the world’s most scenic drives, the Pamir Highway is next on our itinerary.
Here in Kyrgyzstan, we’ll camp in glorious valleys, head to the alpine lake of Song-Kol, stay in a yurt, and trek around the Issyk-Kol lake. We’ll also visit the capital Bishkek before heading to Kazakstan.
There are bronze-age petroglyphs at Tamgaly, the mountainous Ite-Alatau National Park and then the city of Almaty. From there we head to the Charyn Canyon National Park and then it’s towards western China.
China & Tibet
We’ll camp on the edge of the Taklamakan and Gobi Deserts and then visit the hottest place in China – Turpan before visiting Jiaohe. Then it’s Dunhuang to visit the Mogao caves before we climb to the Tibetan plateau and Lhasa. From there we follow the shoreline of lake Yamdrok to Gyantse with Tibet’s largest stupa, before we head to base camp on Mount Everest (!!!) > We got to Base Camp on the Nepal side in 2015.
We have one stop in Nepal, the Last Resort, where the world’s highest bridge swing is situated, before we arrive in Kathmandu and the end of our journey with the group. We’ve travelled in Nepal previously, when we trekked to Everest Base Camp. They’ll continue on through India and Myanmar and all the way through South East Asia then Australia.
What’s our time frame for overlanding the silk road
We left Istanbul on July 31st and we hope to be in Kathmandu by 3rd November. We’re tied to a few dates and certain countries – China for instance, which we have to enter by a certain date.
Tourist Visas for the Silk Road
Although we’re taking the budget option with Madventure (this is NOT glamping), this isn’t a cheap way to get to Nepal. We need a visa for many countries along the way and they’re expensive. Here are the details of how much they cost. Note that these are for a British citizen in 2017.
Cost of Visas for the Silk Road
- Turkey e-visa – US$20.70 per person
- Georgia: No visa required for up to a year
- Armenia: No visa required for up to 90 days
- Azerbaijan: E-visa – US$24.00
- Iran: LOI required (US$70.00) plus visa of 180 euros
- Uzbekistan: US$70 or US$95 for an express visa.
- Tajikistan: e-visa – US$71.75
- Kyrgyzstan: No visa required for up to 60 days
- Kazakstan: No visa required up to 30 days – this may change from 31 December 2017
- China & Tibet: Visa required, depending on length of stay. We have a two year multi entry visa, applied for using the Visa Machine in London with an LOI (US$90) plus visa cost of US$275.38
- Nepal: Visa at the border US$40 for 30 days.
So there you have it. That’s what we’ll be up to for the next 3 months. I’m in the back of the truck and we’re driving between Troy and Ephesus as I write this. We’ve had two nights under canvas so far. It’s hot. It’s not uncomfortable yet, but I expect it to get so. It’s a bucket list of a trip for us – to be overlanding the Silk Road and we’re excited by so many of the places that we’ll visit.
Follow us along the Silk Road – we’ll post as often as we can, but who knows what internet access we’ll get, or if the battery on the laptop will even last. Check out our Instagram posts, for more photos than you can shake a stick at. Let us know where you’ve been that we’re heading to – and tell us what not to miss, what we have to eat and what we shouldn’t drink!
- Read about out first week on the Silk Road – Istanbul to Goreme
- Check out our second week on the Silk Road – Goreme to Yerevan
- We’re travelling with Madventures overlanding the Silk Road
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