If you only get to take only one major trip in your lifetime, make sure it is this one! Europe, The Middle East, and India are some of the most beautiful places on the planet, and with this useful (and economical) travel guide, you can see it all! And wouldn't you rather see the world on a gorgeous, well-facilitated train than an ugly bus?
Facilities are plentiful in the prime tourist countries of Britain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. Trains are luxurious and well-running.
Facilities are almost as good in Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Macedonia, and Greece as those of Western Europe. However, there are not nearly as many trains. Note: All international trains to and from Greece have been canceled as of September 2012.
Western Turkey is accustomed to tourists and have the usual facilities. However, Eastern Turkey is generally more sparse and there are not as many tourists there.
Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan are mostly tourist-friendly. They are mountainous but the people are very nice. Note: There are no trains running between Armenia and Azerbaijan. You have to go through Georgia to get from one of these countries to the other.
WARNING: Travel to Syria is strongly not advised due to the state of severe political crisis, which has now escalated into, essentially, a civil war. Since January 2011, the unrest within the country has continued to intensify and thousands of people have been injured or killed. There also have been reports of some fighting between troops who have cast their lot with anti-government demonstrators and others who remain loyal to the government. If you are already in Syria, stay away from large public gatherings and try to gain independent information about the political and civil situation. If requiring assistance, EU citizens should contact the embassy of another EU state if they cannot make contact with their home country's representatives. Some countries have issued travel warnings, so consult your foreign office before traveling to Syria. If you must travel to Syria, see War zone safety
Israel is not a place you should go, because any evidence of having been in Israel will deny you access to Syria, Iran, and possibly Pakistan.
Jordan is an excellent tourist destination. Very modern and liberal. No strife here!
The situation in Egypt is not great right now, but if you really want to travel there, you can. Be 'extremely' careful, though!
Do not visit Iran (or any Muslim country) during Ramadan, unless you want to fast. Other than that, Iran is not visited a lot, so the people aren't accustomed to tourists, but they are very friendly. Keep your cool when dealing with the police, as well as in Eastern Turkey, Pakistan, and the Middle East.
Pakistan has always been a tourist destination, so most facilities are in working order.
India is a hotspot for tourists. Hotels and restaurants are here, but India is a very poor country, so be prepared for dirt, filth, and poverty.
Visas are required for Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, and India. These can be acquired through the embassies of those countries. The other nations on this route either do not require a visa or issue travelers visas on arrival. Total costs for these visas can come to about $500.
US citizens can apply for a visa at the Iranian Interest Section of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, . However, US citizens must have an MFA-approved guide to accompany them for the entire trip and must have an exact itinerary. This generally precludes crossing into Iran at any border, as your guide would have to meet you at the border. Tour guides, however, are generally friendly to Americans, understand the process, and can work with you to set up a custom itinerary for you.
To get the visa, US citizens must work in advance with an Iranian travel agency to set up a guided itinerary; only then, that travel agency may apply for a visa authorisation number from the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Once approved, the authorisation number is transmitted to the interest section. At that point, the applicant can then apply for the visa. Turnaround times can be as short as a week, but the interest section does not reliably answer emails or phone calls.
This trip actually can be done if you just hop on buses and trains and never take any of the side trips. In the fastest way possible, the journey's schedule could look like this:
London to Istanbul: 3 days
Istanbul to Tehran: 3 days
Tehran to Lahore: 3 and a half days
Lahore to Kolkata: 3 days
Of course, that is if you do not actually spend any time in any of those places and just hop from one train to another. Those times do not include the side trips to the Caucasus, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, or Bangladesh.
This trip is quite expensive, a lot more than a flight from London to Kolkata. Visa costs alone come to $500 or $600, depending on which countries you plan to visit.
The transportation costs from London to Dhaka via Italy & Greece are $904.
The transportation costs from London to Dhaka via Germany are $774.
Visas also are quite costly. Citizens of the United States do not need a visa, just a passport, to enter the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria, or Romania.
Turkish visa: $20
Iranian visa: $112
Pakistani visa: $120
Indian visa: $81
Bangladeshi visa: $50
Altogether, the visa costs for US citizens are $383.
You can travel Eurasia by rail in every season, but autumn and spring are the best because in the winter snowfall is heavy in Turkey and Iran. In the summer India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are quite hot.
London is in the southern United Kingdom and the starting point for this trip, but you could start anywhere on this route, or in Kolkata at the other end. Trains from many European countries run to London, and cheap flights are available from the US and Canada.
From many eastern United States ports, the Cunard Line runs passenger ships to Southampton, 128 km from London.
Kolkata is in eastern India and there are trains from Dhaka as well as many other Indian cities.
London to Istanbul
Via Italy and Greece
From London St Pancras, the Eurostar leaves between 09:15 and 09:35 every day, arriving in Paris (Gare du Nord) at about 12:47.
From Paris, a daily high-speed TGV departs at 14:41 and enters Milan at 21:45. This train has great scenery and cuts right through the Alps. You can stay a night (or longer!) in Milan.
To get to Bari, the Frecciabianca train leaves at 07:35 from Milan and travels along the beautiful Adriatic coast, pulling into the city of Bari at 15:12.
Side Trip: Rome
There are daily trains from Milan to Rome, as well as from Rome to Bari. You can look up train times at www.trenitalia.com
From Bari to Greece, Superfast Ferries sail from Bari to Patra every day except Sunday, departing at 20:00 and arriving in Patra at 12:30 the next day.
There used to be a narrow-gauge railway from Patra to Athens, but it is being rebuilt so you have to take a bus. The buses depart every half hour from Patra station, which is right by the port. The journey takes about 3.5 to 4 hours.
To get from Athens to Thessaloniki, there are seven trains daily, and the trip takes about 5 hours.
There is a bus from Thessaloniki to Sofia, leaving at 08:00 and arriving at 14:00.
Another train journeys to Bucharest, departing Sofia at 20:30, and entering Bucharest at 06:25.
There is an express sleeper train from Bucharest to Istanbul called the Bosphor. It departs from Bucharest every day at 13:00 and enters Istanbul's Sirkeci station at 07:50 the next day, but it is usually an hour late. Note: On the Bosphor between the Bulgarian towns of Stara Zagora and Dimitrovgrad, there is a bus replacement because of engineering work on the rails.
Bosphor terminates at Kapikule on the Turkish border while Istanbul's railways are being redone. Yet another bus will take you from Kapikule to Istanbul.
London to Istanbul via Italy and Greece costs about $690 in transportation costs for 2nd class.
Via Germany and Hungary
From London St Pancras, the Eurostar leaves between 09:15 and 09:35 every day, arriving in Paris (Gare du Nord) at about 12:47.
The Cassiopeia sleeper train journeys between Paris and Munich, leaving Gare d l'Est at 20:05 daily and entering Munich at 7:10 the next day.
Onwards from Munich, the RailJet travels from Munich to Budapest, departing at 09:27 and arriving at the Keleti station at 16:49.
The Ister sleeper train leaves Budapest's Keleti station at 19:10 and pulls into Bucharest at 11:00 the subsequent morning, winding through the Carpathian Mountains.
There is an express sleeper train from Bucharest to Istanbul called the Bosphor. It departs from Bucharest every day at 13:00 and enters Istanbul's Sirkeci station at 07:50 the next day, but it is usually an hour late. Note: On the Bosphor between the Bulgarian towns of Stara Zagora and Dimitrovgrad, there is a bus replacement because of engineering work on the rails. Bosphor terminates at Kapikule on the Turkish border while Istanbul's railways are being redone. Yet another bus will take you from Kapikule to Istanbul.
London to Istanbul via Germany and Hungary is about $560 in transportation costs for 2nd class.
The high-speed rail line between Istanbul and Ankara is now closed. You will need to take a bus, a journey of about 5 or 6 hours. The buses between Istanbul and Ankara depart every 15 minutes and cost $34.
The Trans-Asia Express runs every Wednesday from Ankara to Tehran, Iran. It departs at 10:25 and arrives in Tehran on Friday later at 20:20. Note: The Trans-Asia Express not one train, but a train from Ankara to Tatvan, a ferry across Lake Van, and another train from Van to Tehran.
The Trans-Asia Express costs $58
The Istanbul to Tehran transportation costs are $92.
The Dogu Express runs from Ankara to Kars, departing at 18:53 and arriving in Kars at 22:14 the next day.
Minibuses travel from Kars to the Turkish-Georgian border, and then to Batumi.
From Batumi to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, there are sleepers every day, leaving at 22:25 and pulling into Tbilisi at 7:25.
To Yerevan, Armenia, another sleeper that runs every other day carries passengers from Tbilisi. It departs Tbilisi at 20:20 and arrives in Yerevan at 7:10. From Yerevan back to Tbilisi, a train that travels every second day leaves at 22:35 and enters Tbilisi at 9:05.
From Tbilisi to Baku, Azerbaijan, an engine leaves daily at 16:30 and pulls into Baku at 10:20 the following morning. Back to Tbilisi, another train that runs every day from Baku departs at 20:45 and arrives at 11:40.
You would have to take a train from Tbilisi to Batumi, minibuses from Batumi to Kars, and a second train from Kars to Ankara.
Side Trip: Syria, Lebanon, Jordan
Another idea for a side trip is to visit the Mediterranean countries of Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.
If you pass through Israel, you will be denied access to Iran.
The Çukurova Mavi Train travels between Ankara and Adana daily, leaving at 20:05 and arriving in Adana at 7:25 the next day.
From Adana to Aleppo, you will first have to take a bus (one departs every hour) to the town of Antakya.
From Antakya to Aleppo, buses depart at 8:00, 11:00, and 13:00, and the journey takes 3 hours.
There is a sleeper train every day from Aleppo to Damascus, departing at 00:10 and entering Damascus at 6:25. It is unbelievably cheap; $9 for a 2-bed couchette. There are also four daytime trains running the Aleppo-Damascus route; $5 for a 5-hour first-class journey.
There are daily buses from Damascus to Beirut, and Beirut back to Damascus. However, visa processing at the border can take 2+ hours.
The JETT bus company has a daily bus from Damascus to Amman, leaving at 7:00 and arriving at 15:00.
Another option is to take a bus from bus from Irbid to the port of Aqaba. ($16).
There is a ferry from Aqaba to the Egyptian city of Nuweiba every day but Saturday. It leaves at 13:00, takes an hour, and costs $70.
Tehran To Lahore
There is a daily first-class sleeper train from Tehran to Zahedan, via the city of Kerman . It departs at 16:55 and arrives at 17:45 the following day, a 25-hour trip. The train costs $15-$23.
A train runs from Zahedan to Quetta on the 3rd and 17th of every month. It leaves at 08:00 and pulls into Quetta at 15:15 the next day.
The best way to get from Zahedan to the Iran-Pakistan border is a taxi. These taxis cost about $15. Then you must go through border processing at the town of Mirijaveh.
It is an hour's walk from the border to the Pakistani city of Taftan, or you could take another taxi.
There is a bus every day from Taftan to Quetta, leaving Taftan at 16:00 and arriving the next day in Quetta at 02:00 the next day. It costs $10.
To get from Quetta to Lahore, take the Jaffar Express, which journeys between Quetta and Rawalpindi, but you can get off in Lahore.
The Jaffar Express is a daily express train that costs $27, departing at 09:00 and stops briefly in Lahore at 07:30 the next day, a 23-hour trip.
The transportation costs from Tehran to Lahore are $75.
Lahore To Dhaka
On Mondays and Thursdays, the Samjhota Express travels to Atari, an Indian border town. It leaves at 08:00 and arrives at the India-Pakistan border at 09:15. After customs checks, the train departs again at 11:30 and pulls into Atari at noon. The Samjhota Express costs $1.50.
There is a daily train from Atari to the city of Amritsar. It leaves at 19:10 and arrives 45 minutes later at 19:55. It costs $0.07.
On Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays, the Shaheed Express departs Amritsar at 11:45 and arrives in Delhi at 20:45.
On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, the Saryuyamuna Express journeys between Amritsar and Delhi. It has the exact same timings as the Shaheed Express. Both trains cost $20.
The Lal Quila Express is a daily express train from Delhi to Kolkata. It leaves Delhi every day at 20:50 and arrives in Kolkata two days later at 07:30. That's a 33-hour trip! A sleeper on the La Quila Express costs $10.
A new train, the Maitree Express, now runs between Kolkata and Dhaka on Tuesdays and Saturdays. It departs Kolkata at 07:10 and arrives in Dhaka at 18:05. It costs $14.
The transportation costs from Lahore to Dhaka are $47.
This is what the trip would look like as an actual itinerary. I am going to use the month of April in 2013 as an example.
Day 1: Sunday, March 31st
Arrive in London.
Spend the night in London.
Day 2: Monday, April 1st
Take the Eurostar to Paris.
Arrive in Paris.
Spend the night in Paris.
Day 3: Tuesday, April 2nd
Take the Cassiopeia sleeper train to Munich.
Day 4: Wednesday, April 3rd
Arrive in Munich.
Spend the night in Munich.
Day 5: Thursday, April 4th
Take the Austrian RailJet to Budapest.
Arrive in Budapest.
Spend the night in Budapest.
Day 6: Friday, April 5th
Take the Ister sleeper train to Bucharest.
Day 7: Saturday, April 6th
Arrive in Bucharest.
Spend the night in Bucharest.
Day 8: Sunday, April 7th
Take the Bosphor to Istanbul.
Day 9: Monday, April 8th
Arrive in Istanbul.
Spend the night in Istanbul.
Day 10: Tuesday, April 9th
Take a bus to Ankara.
Arrive in Ankara.
Spend the night in Ankara.
Day 11: Wednesday, April 10th
Take the Trans-Asia Express to Tatvan.
Day 12: Thursday, April 11th
Arrive in Tatvan.
Take the ferry to Van.
Arrive in Van.
Take the Trans-Asia Express to Tehran.
Day 13: Friday, April 12th
Arrive in Tehran.
Spend the night in Tehran.
Day 14: Saturday, April 13th
Take the sleeper to Zahedan.
Day 15: Sunday, April 14th
Arrive in Zahedan.
Spend the night in Zahedan.
Day 16: Monday, April 15th
Take a taxi to the Iran-Pakistan border.
Arrive at the Iran-Pakistan border.
Walk to Taftan.
Arrive in Taftan.
Take the night bus to Quetta.
Day 17: Tuesday, April 16th
Arrive in Quetta.
Spend the night in Quetta.
Day 18: Wednesday, April 17th
Take the Jaffar Express to Lahore.
Day 19: Thursday, April 18th
Arrive in Lahore.
Spend the night in Lahore.
Day 20: Friday, April 19th
Take a taxi to Atari.
Arrive in Atari.
Spend the night in Atari.
Day 21: Saturday, April 20th
Take the train to Amritsar.
Arrive in Amritsar.
Spend the night in Amritsar.
Day 22: Sunday, April 21st
Take the Shaheed Express to Delhi.
Arrive in Delhi.
Spend the night in Delhi.
Day 23: Monday, April 22nd
Take the Lal Quila Express to Kolkata.
Day 24: Tuesday, April 23rd
Travel on the Lal Quila Express.
Day 25: Wednesday, April 24th
Arrive in Kolkata.
Spend the night in Kolkata.
Day 26: Thursday, April 25th
Take the Maitree Express to Dhaka.
Arrive in Dhaka.
Spend the night in Dhaka.
This is a guide itinerary. It has good, detailed information covering the entire route. Plunge forward and help us make it a star!