So at 7am we said goodbye to Dominic at the Radisson Blu Kashgar and said hello to our nice driver and nice English-speaking guide from Old Town Tours, who would drive us the several hours through literal west-bumblefuck China from Kashgar to the Kyrgyz border. We prepared for the long day of car, police, thirst, and painful bladder as we ventured to cross the Torugart Pass, a mountain crossing from China's Xinjiang region into Kyrgyzstan. The Torugart Pass is a Class II border - meaning only citizens of the two bordered countries can use it. So how do we and other tourists (not a lot, but still others) cross it? You must, and I mean MUST, hire a Chinese guide and car to take you up the one side, and you MUST hire a Kyrgyz guide and car to pick you up on the other side. I mean it. Well, they mean it. They won't let you past even the first checkpoint (of many) on the Chinese side, I don't think, if your Kyrgyz car hasn't arrived at the border fence yet. The Chinese driver hands you off and you walk a few steps over the actual/final border into the waiting Kyrgyz car. There are a lot of times you'll think you went through immigration for the last time, but you'd be wrong. This pass is not exactly a tourist hotspot, as you are not allowed in or out without this setup, in either direction.
The drive to the first border checkpoint was mostly dirt and mountains, and it was quite pretty. Well, first, we had to stop at OTT offices to reprint our very crucial documents because they had made mistakes in our names. You can't see it, but I'm rolling my eyes so hard that it is probably dangerous. Every company we dealt with in China asked us repeatedly to make sure that we double and triple and 100-timesple checked our passport details because Chinese officials are very strict about everything being right, and of course despite sending copies of our passports multiple times, this company was the one to screw up and not us. ughhh. Anyway, we drove through Kashgar and I noticed a cab with its display reading '8/15/2008 18:58' and I was like 'sure that is close enough to the actual date, 8/28/2017 at 9am, this is probably a good sign.'
My first pee stop was behind an abandoned (so the driver said, but I don't know) stone facade in a desert-like expanse that was already starting to look like Mongolia. Remember back during that trip, how I reacted the first time someone suggested I simply find a place to hide in order to pee? My how I've changed - stopping by this facade was my idea.
Soon we entered a more mountainous region with little to speak of besides a few random shacks and small farms, a region the guide called No Man's Land. We stopped at a few passport control kiosks on the road where Chinese officials just looked at ours from the car. It was not exceedingly stressful.
Despite all the red tape, we were not the only tourists crossing the pass today - but we were at Chinese immigration with literally everyone else using it today! The timing of passing is very specific, so your driver will make sure to get you to the Chinese side by a certain time because outside of that window, you're screwed. Or at least they are supposed to make sure of it. So all the crossing tourists were there at the same time. At about noon (China time, so 10am Kyrgyz time), we were at one of the final Chinese immigration posts, the kind you have to actually go inside. Once inside, we met the others, our first tourists in a while - a Dutch couple and a huge bus filled with senior citizens from Australian and New Zealand. That's everyone who crossed the Torugart on this day. We had lots of time to chat with them because nothing was on when we arrived - like I said, this was it, no one had arrived before us or anything. So we had to wait while they found people to turn the machines on (turn the machines back on!!). Then the Chinese officials checked our passports - they did a check at a regular border-control-looking window as our bags were x-rayed (the extent of the baggage inspection, actually, for the entire day) but then after that, in the same place, our passports were collected and pored over by people in a secure room, for like 30 minutes or more, which was weird. This building had one squat toilet for each gender, and the stalls did not have doors.
While we all waited the long time for our passports, we also had to wait for our vehicles to make it through inspection. Apparently, we didn't get there at a time that suited the Chinese officials (even though we were all there the same time, so, it seemed right) so they made the cars wait extra long before okaying them. Boolsheet. So we got to know our fellow intrepid travelers. The Dutch couple had booked with Kubat as well, so we were with them that evening in the yurt camp and got to talk to them a lot. The elders from Australia and New Zealand - traveling on a giant bus so maybe 40 of them? - were doing a big tour of lesser-known Jewish stuff around Asia, like visiting small synagogues and meeting Jewish communities in random places all over tarnation. They were all Jewish themselves, mostly linked from their community back home, and I said "Oh I'm Jewish!" and they said "Yeah we thought so." Ummmm okay? Is it my frizzies around my hairline or my nose that gave it away? They told me about all the surprising Jewish communities from Beijing to Almaty and asked if we found any in China ourselves and I said "I found really good bagels in Kashgar! Did you try them?" I have a one-track mind. It was nice talking with other travelers though; I thought I hated other travelers but maybe I just hate yoots. One lady in the old Jews group was originally from the UK, so she knew our neighborhood in London and asked if we went up to Finchley or the surrounds at all - that's the Jewish area of London - and I said "Oh I go to Golder's Green a lot because that's where the Kosher Kingdom store is and that's the only place to buy good pretzels!" They smiled politely.
Finally we got the China exit stamp from this stop and drove an hour or two down to the next please-exit-China-here fence, but they were on their freaking lunch break. They said it could be a 90 minute wait. So this was our punishment from the last group of officials who held our cars too long; they knew we would then get to this stop on their lunch break. So frustrating. We took our lunch break (raisins and bagels that we luckily brought because OTT did not bring us food, or water) in the back of the van. There was an open toilet thank goodness; it was abysmal. Finally they finished lunch and opened the fence to let us out of China. GUYS NO MORE CHINA! 40 days and 40 nights is a lot! We out!
Finally we left and drove farther into Kyrgyzstan towards Tash Rabat, with just a few stay-in-the-car checkpoints en route. Tash Rabat is an ancient (15th century) caravanserai, kind of like a country inn for travelers to rest for a night during their travels but bare and made of stone and very Game of Thrones looking. It was pretty cool to see, and we were staying in a yurt camp within walking distance.