For a country that makes it difficult to get in. with visa applications and so on, they make a really big issue of getting out……..
We arrived at the first border checkpoint at just before 10.00 having said our goodbyes to Jason, our Chinese guide, at the hotel and picked up our border ‘fixer’. There was a delay until the office decided to open. When it did it was all out of the truck with one bag (bedding bag left in the truck) plus day rucksacks. The bags were run through an x-Ray machine, which was not manned, forms were completed, we were lined up and there were two inspections of us and the passports and the second inspector gave us the exit stamp. You could be excused for thinking that might be it. You would be wrong. We were then allowed back on the truck. Some time later our passports were handed back (circa12.15). They were subsequently collected again as a problem had been found and they were carried off. Eventually they were returned and handed out individually by yet another military looking chap and we were allowed to leave. Time1.00 pm.
Following a 20 kilometre drive along the road (during which time we made ourselves a sandwich lunch) and at the end of a mountain skirted valley, we came to the next checkpoint. Here everyone was asked to get off the truck with their passport and we again individually handed over our documents, this time under cover of an armed guard. Eventually we were allowed back into the truck. Time 3.00.
At 3.30 we arrived at the next checkpoint. This was pretty derelict in parts, but the key issue was that it was closed for lunch. After half an hour, lunch finished, the passports were collected and individually handed back. This gentleman was particularly interesting as, although he peered at each passport hard before handing it over – he was in the truck for this process – I am convinced he could not read what he was looking at, but he was definitely not the sort of chap you would be inclined to have raised the issue with!
At about 4.15 we reached the final checkpoint at about 3,500 metres above sea level. All the way through the process there were guards and high fences and spike covered barriers to encourage us to keep moving and do what we were told. There were also signs of trucks and cars that had not made it for whatever reason. It was something like a truck graveyard and felt a bit sinister.
Anyway,we were out of China. As we as we got to the other side of the final barrier, there was Saeed our vey chirpy Kyrgy guide. He was very cheery and it seemed immediately the countryside around us changed. There were flowers and green covered hills and pastureland. Somehow everyone’s spirits lifted. After another few kilometres we were out of the truck, this time to enter Kyrgystan. It was rather a battered border post with electricity cables dangling, one once nicely wallpapered room and then a sealed up room with a duty free sign lying on its floor. There were no formalities here, no visa, no military uniforms. No guns. We drove on for another couple of hours – Kyrgystan time is 2 hours behind Beijing time – and we arrived at our Yurted campsite at about 6.00 pm local time. Had we still been on Beijing time, it would have been 8.00.
It was a lovely spot in the valley called Tash Rabat, just off the Silk Road. Steep hills soared either side of the yurt camp. Buzzards circled overhead in the pure blue sky. It was great to be in the peace and quiet of the countryside.
However, the day seemed never ending. Having identified our Yurt buddies – we have a double bed and Diane is in with us and there are another two beds spare, at 7.30 we were whisked off by truck to a Kyrgyk feast about 4 kilometres up the valley by a building called the Caravanserai (more of which later).
Rather bizarrely the car park was filled with German and Dutch motor caravans of all sorts of shapes and varieties! It really seemed a very odd place to find such a collection of vehicles. It would seem that the are all part of a club that wonders the world for six months of each year. And some think we are a bit off the wall!
Anyway, our feast awaited. What a feast it was! A long table literally groaned with every sweet concoction that you could imagine. Towering fruit bowls made the centre piece with wine goblets full of home made preserves of apricots, blackberry and black current. Then there were sweet biscuits and bon bons. While our eyes were taking in this display, salads, bread and then noodles arrived. Apparently the Kygys people do not eat food in any particular order, you eat what you want at whatever stage you want…..,
We did not get anywhere near eating everything on the table, but Seead told us that for the same number of Kyrgys people, three times the amount of food would have been required to satiate their appetites. Obviously good eaters!