A story about the Irkeshtam pass

This will only be in English. My blog suffers from China’s internet restrictions, and the VPN I use on the computer doesn’t seem to cope… so this is from my phone.

There are two overland ways from Kyrgyzstan to China, the Torugart pass and the Irkeshtam pass. Both high up in the mountains, far from everything.

Sary-Tash. Ever heard about it? Didn’t think so. It is situated on the the highway exit leading to China, thus making it a place all the trucks and cars have to pass on the way. It is also a perfect location for mountaineering and getting out in fantastic nature, far from everything that’s already far away.

For overland buffs like me, places like Sary-Tash, Kashgar and Tashkurgan have a magic ring to them, because I understand how vital they are for overland travel in this region. On Monday, I went from Osh to Sary-Tash, using it as the jump-off point for crossing into China the next day. Sary-Tash in early March 2019 meant half a meter of snow and – 20 at night. And yes, the bathroom was outside…

Tuesday morning and the hired driver showed up at 7 am. Getting to the border meant watching the sun go up over the mountain ranges almost 4000 meters above sea level.

Exiting Kyrgyzstan took ten minutes. Entering China would take thirteen – hours.

There is a no man’s land of about eight kilometers between the countries. Lone travellers like me can only get driven to the actual Chinese gate – indeed, a steel mansion-like gate – and from there we catch a ride with whatever vehicle that comes along. I got to ride in a big truck for a while before the Chinese got me out and drove me to customs.

There are two customs at the border, with a good hour drive in between. At both stations they went thru all of my things. Down to the laundry. They went thru every single picture on the computer, on the cameras and on the external harddrive. They took pictures of half of my equipment and cataloging in the process. They went thru my iPhone as well. (But I managed to slip my Samsung pass every control.)

It took such a long time that the customs officers and the second station bought dinner for us (us = me and my driver on the Chinese side). So we ended up having dinner with them during the almost five hours we spent at the second customs station. That station also functioned as immigration. During these hours I was constantly asked questions about why and how and where. They were very interested in my last time in Kashgar. The question “So which countries have you been to now?” came up about five or six times.

A number of check points later – I think six of them in total – we got to Kashgar. It was midnight Beijing time, making it a 15 hour travel day.

Oh well. It is fun now. But I wasn’t laughing yesterday. But I took some enjoyment in the fact that I have my pictures on memory cards, on an external hard drive and on the computer. That meant that they saw the same pictures over and over again, looking for something that they couldn’t explain. And judging by the conversations now and last them, they don’t even know. But this is Xinjiang province and this is a place where they don’t want foreigners.

Which in my somewhat twisted mind makes it a perfect place to go.

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