Fantasy Train Trips — From Leeds to Kabul

Hello, and welcome to the first in what will hopefully become a series of posts on fantasy travel plans. We are known for doing some ridiculous adventuring, but some trips are so epic that even we haven’t yet completed them.

In this first post, we’re going to plan a trip from Yorkshire to Afghanistan to take place in Autumn of 2019, departing on a Thursday morning. We’re picking this time period because one of the train services we are relying on is a seasonal one which only runs in Spring and Autumn, and the first irregular service departs Paris on Thursday evening. Some of these trains won’t be bookable until closer the time, but we’ll do our best at figuring out timings.

Leeds — London

Leeds Train Station

Leeds to London is a route regularly serviced by LNER, with trains departing roughly twice an hour and taking 2.5 hours. Substantial discounts are available booking in advance, but you can just turn up and travel if you want to. This will take you to London Kings Cross, which is right next door to London St Pancras, where the next leg of our journey departs from.

London — Paris

London St Pancras

Trains to the continent run from London St Pancras, through the Channel Tunnel and on to Paris Nord. There are roughly 15 of these a day, taking around three hours. You can book these trains directly from Eurostar, however if you want to guarantee your connection from Leeds then you’ll want to book via a company Loco2 who will sell a through-ticket, providing you with CIV protection.

Paris — Moscow

The Paris to Moscow Express is one of Europe’s secret routes that very few people know about. It runs once per week, departing Paris on a Thursday evening.

This is probably where you will start needing visas. For this train journey, you will need both a Russian visa and a Belarus transit visa. Visa requirements are out of scope for this post, but the Belarus transit visa is relatively painless to obtain and allows for a much more direct route. Russian visas can be quite difficult, typically requiring a letter of invitation, but there are agencies who can help with this.

You can book this train directly from either Russian Railways or French Railways. The above mentioned Loco2 can sometimes sell you this ticket, but be careful about fare conditions.

Moscow — Samara

We should be arriving into Moscow on Saturday morning. From here there are seven trains a day to Samara, with a journey time ranging from 13 hours to almost 22 hours. These are quite easy to book using the Russian Railways website, with trains being cheaper the further in advance you book.

We don’t need to reach Samara until Friday morning, which gives us several days in Moscow and the surrounding area. Samara itself is the sixth largest city in Russia, so worth spending a little time in to see a different part of Russia.

Samara — Tashkent

This is a seasonal route, running only on Fridays in Spring and Autumn, so we’ll need to make sure we get there on time. We’re still on Russian Railways, so this journey can be booked again with them. The journey will take 54 hours, and travel through Kazakhstan along the way. Both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan now have visa free travel for British citizens staying less than thirty days.

Tashkent — Termez

Now we’re into Uzbekistan, things start getting difficult. Booking train tickets can be done at the train station, but having some basic Russian is going to be a big help with this. Alternatively there are agencies who can help you book these tickets in advance, with a decent markup.

Assuming you do actually manage to book a ticket, the trains run daily, plus some additional services at weekends. The journey will take 14 hours, and will put you into central Termez, just across the border from Afghanistan.

Termez — Mazari Sharif

The bridge from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan

It’s at this point that we need to leave the trains behind and walk or hitch a ride across the long bridge over the river between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. There are some freight trains running from the Afghanistan side down to Mazari Sharif airport, but we’ll need to travel by road instead.

Whilst it is technically possible to travel to Mazari Sharif yourself, it’s a far safer bet to use a local guide and have someone waiting to pick you up.

Visas for Afghanistan are fairly straight forward to obtain, but tend to require a local tour guide to assist.

Mazari Sharif — Kabul

Blue Mosque, Mazari Sharif

Mazari Sharif and the local surrounding area is an interesting place, full of history, and we cover this in a separate post. Local guides will be able to show you around, which is probably the safest option.

From Mazari Sharif to Kabul, you can either continue the journey by road or catch an internal flight. The journey to Kabul through the mountains is absolutely beautiful, but is not always considered safe to do.

Kabul

We’ve now reached our destination for this blog post, and can enjoy the sights and sounds of Kabul. The entire trip has taken us around ten days, with a large amount of that time spent in Moscow and/or Samara waiting for the train to Tashkent. We could of course break our journey in other locations along the route, with Berlin and Warsaw being very tempting, though of course this could drastically change our route due to the once-weekly trains being used.

In a future blog we’d like to continue the journey, potentially backtracking to Kazakhstan and then continuing to Hong Kong.