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advice cycling

Cycling Advice

In this section we have tried to give a few hints and tips to any would-be cyclists following in our tyre tracks.
We haven't covered the European stretch of the trip (after all London - Istanbul only took us 6 weeks) and Pakistan hasn't been included as we took the train for most of it, but the others have been covered. If you have any particular queries regarding cycling in the countries we have visited, please don't hesitate in contacting us, and we'll see what we can do. Please refer to the progress charts one and two for a detailed day to day log of our route.

Go straight to:
Turkey     Iran     India     Nepal


Road conditions
On the whole OK. Most main roads are in good condition, but made from large gravel tarmac rather than nice smooth asphalt. Usually there was a "cycling lane" (i.e. a narrow strip of road to the right of the white line), but some busy stretches (e.g. Edirne - Çorlu) were very narrow and a bit dangerous. You drive on the right-hand side in Turkey.

Traffic conditions
Traffic volume varies remarkably. The road from Edirne to Istanbul via Çorlu was very busy and Istanbul was a cyclists worst nightmare (the worst traffic of the trip for us). However the rest of Turkey was fairly quiet, especially once away from the Aegean coast.

Accommodation & food
Hotels vary in price - typically we paid between 10 and 20 million Turkish Lira for a triple - we usually took the cheapest option as long as it didn't smell.

Rough camping is easy in Turkey - there's lots of wild and remote spots. We found petrol stations great for camping - they're usually quite friendly, there's running water and toilets, and often a truckers restaurant for dinner and breakfast. We stuck to hotels in Eastern Turkey however - it was too cold and wet, but this would be great rough camping territory.

Turkey has some great eating possibilities - the roadside restaurants are good value and serve up delicious stews and kebabs (just check on the prices first), also try the fresh fish on the coast. There are plenty of good shops selling food, delicious fresh fruits are very cheap, and even a few large supermarkets are dotted around. Lots of dried fruit is available - great power food, but dodgy side effects! Adrian thought the Turkish food was just mouth watering - best of the whole trip.

Maps & signs
Good maps are difficult to find in Turkey. The maps we used were the large scale tourist maps (covering the whole country on one sheet) available in the Tourist Information centres in Istanbul (and Ankara etc.), and are OK but at times a little inaccurate. If you are just cycling through on the main roads that's all you'll need, however there is a set of 12 smaller scale maps, but we know a couple of Germans who spent a week in Istanbul searching for the right ones for their route. Get some at home if you need them.

Road signs are pretty good in Turkey, on the main roads at least, and you wont easily get lost!

Istanbul and Ankara are the only places in Turkey where you will find new Shimano etc. components. In Istanbul you can find some Shimano bits in a few shops around Eminonu and one good one (who will service your bike for you) on the Asian side. They are European in prices and don't have a great range of stock. You can buy however spare spokes (DT and Sapim, on the Asian side), good tyres, chains and cassettes - enough to keep you going a few more thousand kms!

Elsewhere in the country, bicycle repair shops are in every town, but just expect cheap local and Chinese stuff - fine if you don't mind, or it's an emergency. The Turkish produced tyres are actually very good, they roll well and are very cheap!

Apart from the hot spots of dense traffic, there doesn't appear to be too many problems cycling in Turkey. In Eastern Turkey (Kurdish areas) we had a few groups of very young and bored kids throwing stones - but nothing serious. Just shout "No!!".

Internet cafes are all over Turkey and it's very cheap (usually around 750 thousand Lira per hour). Just find a young student and they'll know the nearest one - even in the smallest of towns!

• Ayvalik to Bergama through the hills - quieter than the coastal road, and beautiful lush green forests. Superb view of Pergamum on the descent into Bergama.
• Cappadoccia - wacky rock formations and nice roads make this a place of outstanding natural beauty.
• Sivas to Erzurum - high passes through rugged mountain scenery entering the Kurdish region.


Road conditions
Very, very good. There aren't a huge number of roads in Iran - there is generally only one road from A to B, and this is usually the main road. For cyclists the roads are great - asphalt as smooth as a baby's bum, very fast, and there's usually a "cycling lane" (i.e. a narrow strip of road to the right of the white line) too. You drive on the right-hand side in Iran.

Traffic conditions
Outside the main towns, the roads are pretty quiet - Iran has a growing motorway network to take the heavy traffic. Iranian drivers trust in Allah even more than the Turks and can be quite reckless - "God willing" they'll say. It was in Iran we experienced our nearest near-miss. A mirror is useful.

Iran's cities, especially Tehran, are very polluted - a combination of old car technology and heavy industry. A pollution mask wouldn't be a bad idea. After 2 days in Iran we all had headaches due to the pollution. Cycling into Tehran was not too bad - nothing like Istanbul (nightmare!).

Accommodation and food
There are guesthouses or hotels in most towns, but beware, not all are allowed to accept foreigners. They are generally cheap (~10000 Rials each) and normally have hot water. Hotels will often want you to leave your passport overnight, don't! They can usually be talked out of it - leave a photocopy instead.

Rough camping, like in Turkey, is fairly easy - plenty of quiet open spaces. On the quieter roads in southern Iran we often stayed under road bridges - they offer dry shelter and you are well hidden from the road, with the added bonus that you don't need to get your tent out. On the Shiraz-Bam stretch we also stayed in a few deserted Nomad winter homes - just simple huts. Our most atmospheric night was in an old deserted caravansary 185km south from Esfahan on the east side of the Shiraz road.

Food isn't quite so easy as in Turkey - there are fewer roadside restaurants and shops generally have a lower range of foods - but pasta, tuna and tomato sauce are usually available. Fruit is cheap and fresh, but eating out in Iran (especially during Ramazan) can be a rather dull, monotonous affair. Be sure to buy the famous Bam dates - they are cheap and just delicious! Iran also has the best milkshakes in the world - in most of the large cities are shops just selling freshly blended banana and other fruit milkshakes as well as fresh juices. They are very cheap and soooo nice.

Maps & signs
Iranian maps are OK, but not that good. There is however a great map shop in Tehran (Gitashenasi Geographical and Cartographic Institute, Razi St., Tehran, www.gitashenasi.com) that produces the best. It's better to get a map in both English and Farsi, to identify signs and ask directions. There's a handy pocket sized detailed road atlas but it's only in Farsi. The rest of the maps are just touristy and only show the major roads and none of the hills. At Gitashenasi they are only about 7000 Rials (~65p, and good quality paper!).

Road signs you'll be pleased to hear are in both Farsi and English, so no problem there!

There's a few outdoor shops in Tabriz with mountain bikes and Shimano bits, but otherwise it's all just cheap and nasty stuff - emergency tyres etc. We heard rumours you can get modern Shimano in Tehran but we didn't see any, but we weren't really looking.

Apart from the reckless drivers and pollution, Iran is fine for cycling. A couple of kids threw stones at us in the North, but they were just isolated cases. People you meet along the way are so friendly and it is one of the safest countries to cycle in. We all loved it!

Rather than incur the wrath of the police, it's best to wear long trousers in Iran (showing skin is against the law! T-shirts are becoming more accepted though. Polo shirts are fine for men, but a smart shirt is better). Women have to wear a headscarf, so travelling in summer in Iran could be pretty hot and uncomfortable. Believe it or not women are well respected in Iran, much more so than in India or Pakistan, and you should feel quite safe travelling as a female (even solo).

Available in the bigger towns, but quite expensive (~12000 Rials per hour) and usually quite slow. Just ask someone in smaller towns.

• Qom to Esfahan via Natanz - beautiful jagged mountains on one side, desert on the other, quiet roads.
• Shiraz to Bam via Baft - high (2800m), rugged scenery, "off the beaten track", brand new road, 50km/2000m descent into the Jiroft valley.


Road conditions
Not great. OK in the lowlands but some of the roads through the hills are pretty hard going. The road between Dharamsala and Mandi seems to be prone to landslides. It's passable, but very muddy in parts.
The Grand Trunk (GT) Road is, as you would expect, grand. It's a full on highway (at least between Chandigarh and Delhi) and is in very good condition. It even has a "cycling lane" (a narrow strip of road to the left of the white line) along most of it's length. You drive on the left-hand side in India.

Traffic conditions
Terrible. Did I say terrible, well let me say it again - TERRIBLE! Not only do Indian drivers have no respect for cyclists (especially Western ones) they lean on their horns constantly - which gives you a headache far quicker than the bad pollution in the cities. However there are hundreds of other cyclists (and rickshaws and horse drawn carts) around, so you're not a lone target. To be fair we didn't see any accidents on our foray through India (amazingly).

We thought cycling into Delhi was going to be our worst nightmares - but surprisingly it was quite easy with no real hassles involved. It was like cycling into Bournemouth compared to Istanbul!

Accommodation & food
Hotels vary in price and standard greatly - on the road we treated ourselves occasionally ~450 rupees for a triple with hot shower and TV, and other times we slummed it for under 200 rupees. There seems to be plenty of hotels, even in the smaller towns.

Rough camping in India would be very tricky - there are too many people. Even in the mountains finding a spare piece of ground would be difficult - we just didn't bother in the end.

There are plenty of shops and roadside restaurants, many of dubious hygiene but they are cheap and dhal bhat (lentils and rice) and tea is a pretty safe bet. Most hotels have their own restaurants and every town has hundreds of small restaurants and stalls.

Maps & signs
Good maps are difficult to find in India. There are simple maps for each of the states and road atlases are very cheap, but they are not particularly accurate. A good bookshop should have something of use.

Most signs are in English and all main roads have frequent mileposts - route finding is pretty simple and the locals are very good at giving directions.

Bike shops everywhere, but all cheap local and Chinese stuff. The roads are awash with Indian bikes - if you get a puncture or need minor repairs We don't think you'll have a problem!

We didn't have a great time cycling in India and escaped to Nepal as quickly as possible. India was a hassle all the time - from constant noise to the impolite people. We don't recommend cycling in India - it's not particularly dangerous, just annoying!

Every town and even some villages have internet cafes. Very cheap - usually around 30 rupees per hour.

• Crossing into Nepal ;-)


Road conditions
Good - most of the major roads have been rebuilt in recent years with aid from various countries, and still have a new feel to them. The Mahendra Highway is smooth and wide, and the Prithvi Highway has recently been widened. You drive on the left-hand side in Nepal.

Traffic conditions
Compared to India, Nepal's roads are a dream. The Mahendra Highway is virtually traffic-free until Butwal and after that there are just a few horn-blaring trucks to contend with. It's also very quiet - you can hear birds and trees in the wind - great! Kathmandu is a little congested however but nowhere near as bad as Tehran or Istanbul.

Accommodation & food
There are a few hotels in the towns, and most are pretty cheap (around 300 rupees for a triple with TV and shower) and relatively clean. Just watch out for the brothels in Mugling and try not to end up in Naubise (just out of Kathmandu) - there's only one "hotel" and it's disgusting.

There are a few spots for rough camping in Nepal, but there are still a lot of people around so you might get rumbled. The Nepalis are dead friendly though, so it shouldn't be a problem. Along the Mahendra Highway there were some great places on the western banks of the Karnali River.

Again, there are plenty of shops and roadside restaurants and teashops, again of dubious hygiene but they are cheap. Watch out for the samosas and doughnuts - they are particularly good! Noodles are a nice change from dhal bhat and the fudge sweets are yummy power food.

Maps & signs
Good maps are difficult to find in Nepal. But because you can count the number of roads in this wonderful country on one hand, you don't need them! You can pick up the one-sheet-does-it-all types in most places, but they are not particularly accurate.

Like India, most signs are in English and the main roads have mileposts.

Kathmandu has some top quality (and top price) bike shops - Dawn Till Dusk (www.nepalbiking.com) is nice and friendly. For the first time since Istanbul you will be able to buy virtually any spares you are ever likely to need, and get your bike properly serviced.

Apart from the odd vulture along the Terai, none really! There may be a few roadblocks due to the recent "State of Emergency", but the smiling policemen always waved us through. A few towns on the Terai have curfews at night so it's best not to travel after dark - like we did one night!

All over the place in Kathmandu (20 rupees per hour). Elsewhere, expensive or non-existent. Best to ask someone.

• The Mahendra Highway between Mahendranagar and Narayanghat - stunning scenery, friendly people and good new road. Delicious fudge too!