When I applied for my visa months before entering the region, there had been unrest in Kyrgyzstan, and the president had fled the country. Speculations were that things would quieten down, but around the time I entered Tajikistan, things went out of control resulting in some 2,000 death and a million refugees in the southern region of Kyrgyzstan. As much as I could, I tried to read news on the Internet, but still, most of it was conflicting information, and it seemed impossible to get reliable news about the situation. The closer I came to the border, the more people I met who were also heading north to Kyrgyzstan. And the more I started to doubt.
While on the way to Murgab, through the Pamirs and void of any source of information bar the driver, who was a Kyrgyz Tajik, I thought that in Murgab I would get reliable information on which I could base my final decision. My main mistake had been to have no overlap between my Tajik and Kyrgyz visa: the latter started on the day the other ended, so I had precisely one day to cross. And that day proved bad timing: a Sunday, national holiday in Tajikistan, the Tajik president was touring the region, and the Kyrgyz referendum about the political future was on. Furthermore, rumours were that the Chinese/Kyrgyz borders were also closed, further complicating the situation. After all, where would I go if I would get stuck in the south of Kyrgyzstan? In Murgab, it seemed that I could share a car with a Swiss couple all the way to Bishkek, but in the end, they got scared by the stories we heard about a lawless situation in which snipers and armed robbers had the upper hand in Osh. When asking around at the taxi/bus stand near the bazaar of Murgab, I still got conflicting information: one driver saying that yes, there were still shared taxis going to osh, while another said that no, of course there was no transportation, as osh was in a full war. But in the early morning, the Osh bus stand was totally empty, and I ended up finding someone willing to drive me to Sary Tash, the first village on the other side of the border. So it was that in the afternoon, another Swiss couple and I were in a white Lada Niva, driving to Karakul as a stopover on the way to the Tajik/Kyrgyz border.
After a great stay in Karakul, we left the windy, cold, and high (3900m) village on our way to the border crossing at Kyzyl-Art mountain pass. The day before, we had seen one car; now, on the spectacular road to the border, we did not see any at all. The landscape around us was worth the trip by itself, and we were thoroughly enjoying it. At some points, we were driving just metres away from the Chinese border - protected by a fence with barbed wire. When we arrived at the border, Kyzyl-Art pass at 4282m, we found the barrier closed - literally locked. Perhaps the border was closed after all? The soldiers, playing with their dogs, laughed at us: the border had been closed since four days. Our driver disappeared with our passports, came back after a while, saying that the border might open if only we would pay 20 USD each, but we said we had time and could wait. Which was not entirely true of course: this was the last day of my Tajik visa and GBAO permit. While the driver was still negotiating, we talked to some other officials, were invited to tea in one of their caravans, and were getting always more curious: what was going to happen to us? Some of them told us not to go to Osh as according to them, it was a war zone - reviving my old worries. Sooner than expected, our driver showed up, we were summoned into the car, our passports had been stamped and: one of the soldiers just opened the padlock that had kept the border closed, and let us through! After a spectacular drive over a dismal road with landslides, we finally reached the modern Kyrgyz border post, we found friendly and relatively efficient officials, assuring us the situation in Osh was stable, and wishing us a good stay in their country. From the border, Sary Tash was an easy drive. When we reached it, we all felt relieved. This had been the trickiest border crossing of our lives.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Kyzyl-Art border crossing (Kyrgyzstan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Kyzyl-Art border crossing. Read more about this site.