After a very short night, caused by a late arrival in Naryn after impossible fights with Kyrgyz taxi drivers, and watching a semi final of the World Cup, I was up at 6am to have a quick breakfast. I was ready for departure, to find out that unfortunately the very pleasant guy I had met the night before, had also been watching the game, and did not feel able to do the drive himself, so he delegated the task to his friendly young, and silent son. In a way shockingly, I found out that the father was younger than me, which meant that the son could have been my own. Also, he just had a child - I could even have been grandfather! Somehow, I had expected a wild, desolate landscape from the beginning, without a living soul. Instead, we crossed a lower mountain pass to reach a wide valley in which we passed several villages, the old ruins of Koshoy Korgon. As a backdrop, there was the inevitable Tien Shan range. I somehow expected the top of the range to be the border with China, but even this proved to be untrue.
After visiting the old caravanserai of Tash Rabat, we continued over a deteriorating road which the Chinese were improving; according to the driver, the Kashgar-Bishkek highway should be all ready within three years. From here, the landscape finally became wilder, there was no more traffic on the road, as we continued climbing. We arrived at the first Kyrgyz checkpoint, and had to wait behind a truck on which I could see all the components of a yurt. Nomads on their way to a place on the jailoo for summer. The checkpoint was easly passed, and what followed was another 70k drive over several mountain passes, each one just a little higher than the previous one. The Torugart itself would of course be the culmination of the ascent of the Tien Shan mountains. At last, after crossing the Tüz-Bel pass, the Chatyr-Köl lake became visible on our left. It remained at a distance for a long time, before we finally got closer. The snowcapped mountains in the background made for a great backdrop.
Quite soon, we reached the real immigration and customs control. A long line of trucks was parked at the roadside, my young driver had dealt with this before, and just passed all of them to drive straight into the building. With the engine still running, we went inside, and where I had expected a lengthy process, we were out in a matter of minutes. Not even a need to check the luggage - I got a stamp in my passport and we could continue the last seven kilometres to the actual border. When we arrived at the top of the Torugart pass at 3752 metres, we found the gate closed. Again, there was radio contact - presumably, with the Chinese border further down on the other side. You are only allowed to cross the border when there is a guarantee that someone is on his way to pick you up. Two trucks were allowed to pass, but we had to park next to a van. And then, the wait started. A guard on the other side of the gate was just sleeping with his head on a desk on the roadside, a soldier was marching aimlessly up and down the road. At first, I thought it would be as efficient as the trip had been so far, but the longer it took, the less likely that became. Meanwhile, I realized this was a real mountain pass, a watershed between the high mountains of Kyrgyzstan, and the lower lands below. From where I stood, I could look freely into the mountains of China. No more snowy peaks here, but land that looked different, less desolate, warmer even. At the beginning, I was scanning the road I saw below to see if there was a car approaching, but none. With the wind at this altitude, it was pretty cold, and I decided that it would be better to use the time here to relax. I took refuge behind the Chinese border marker where the wind could not reach me. Here, the sun could burn on me, this is what I had been longing for in the cold, high mountains in Taijkistan and Kyrgyzstan. Eventually, a van and a car showed up, and the passengers they were carrying, said goodbye to their driver and guide, and crossed the border. I got my baggage together, and prepared to cross myself. A funny moment occurred when the larger group turned out to exist of compatriots, and one of them told the others that he had seen me before, and that I was the driver. As I had noticed before, not shaving, and wearing my Turkmen hat, made me look like a local. It was then that I told them in our native language that actually, the other guy was the driver, and I was the passenger. Driving down, we first had to cross an initial checkpoint where an official demanded to see all the pictures on my iPhone, camera and laptop, but fortunately, he gave up after a while. Amazingly, he did not even notice the snapshots I had been taking illegally at the border. Then, what rested was a long drive down through valleys with adobe houses to the main Chinese immigration building, which appeared closed. We had to wait another 45 minutes for officials to come back from their break before I could get my stamp and continue. From here, it was all smooth driving all the way to Kashgar.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Torugart border crossing (). 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 Torugart border crossing.
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