Crossing from Kyrgyzstan back to China was our most remote border crossing yet. We chose to cross the Torugart pass because the journey was considerably shorter than the busier southern route. Unfortunately it was also viciously expensive. We had to hire drivers on both size and pay for a bunch of paperwork. Total cost more than $400NZD. To be fair, that did include a whole bus to ourselves on the Chinese side. The bus had deposited an Italian tour group at the border, but had only us to carry back to Kashgar.
It was three hours drive from Naryn to the frontier, three hours of wait, and then four hours on to Kashgar. The landscape was the kind you’d want to live on if you were a nomadic horseman, all endless grasslands and hills with a gentle contour. But you might like to fly south for the winter. The border was at 3700m and it was pretty chilly.
Kyrgyz formalities were easy. Big snaps to them for being easily the easiest of the stans to get in and out of. Chinese formalities were no big deal either, except that there were four separate checks between the border and Kashgar and only in the last was our passport actually stamped. There’s a large military presence throughout Xinjiang, and the border is an obvious focus for the military. There was barbed wire and guard towers as far as we could see.
Most of the traffic over Torugart was trucks. Most were Kyrgyz flagged, but we understand they generally carry goods from China to Kyrgyzstan. There were also some German branded trailers being hauled to China. It’s a helluva long way to go from Western Europe, but via Kyrgyzstan is one of the most direct routes and there is serious talk for forging a railway through to connect China to Uzbekistan and beyond.
China’s influence in Central Asia doesn’t feel massive at the moment, in fact it was hard to believe how close it was to Naryn. We didn’t see so much as a Chinese restaurant, or a shop with imported plastic junk. The more noticeable ethnic minority is Russian. But there is a lot of chat about China seeking to increase its influence. The rail link through Kyrgyzstan is a good example, as is the pans for oil pipelines into Kazakhstan. I’d look out for MA-60s flying in Central Asia soon.