When traveling from China to Kyrgyzstan you basically have two options: you can shell out $100 for the overnight bus (boring, expensive) or you take the DIY route and figure it out as you go using some combination of shared vehicles, taxis and hitchhiking. Naturally we chose the latter.
How to get from Kashgar to Kyrgyzstan:
Go to the international bus station around 8 am. It’s extremely chaotic and you had best bring a Chinese speaker, lest risk bursting into tears and/or retreating back to the safety of your hostel. Walk straight back to where the busses are parked all the way to the unmarked taxis. $20.
For some unbeknownst reason, this taxi will not take you all the way to the first checkpoint, instead stopping 15 minutes before. Then again, taxi drivers are very territorial creatures. Hail another taxi for the short trip. $2.50.
The border between China and Kyrgyzstan is a long one, and you probably planned on hitchhiking this leg of the journey. Immigration will quickly put an end to those plans, informing you that it’s no longer allowed, and insisting that you arrange transportation before you’re able to pass. Shared taxi it is. Try not to think about all of the money you could have saved. Oh, and if the guards ask you to pose for a promotional tourism photo, do it! Like they said, you’ll be famous in Kashgar.
You might end up sharing your car with two Ughers, one being the driver. They probably won’t speak your language and you most likely won’t speak theirs. Don’t worry, it won’t stop you from becoming good friends. Or them asking for your phone number. Obviously. Also, whenthe immigration officer tells you that the 140 kilometer drive will take SEVEN hours, don’t dismiss him and think, “how could you possibly only go 12 miles per hour.’ You can. And will. Your drive is mostly off-road, and the car most definitely does not have four-wheel-drive. Prepare to drive in ways that you didn’t even think were physically possible. And if it rains, well don’t even get me started. But the scenery is stunning, and if you’re lucky you might even see wild camels. Have your camera ready.
Because it took you SEVEN hours to get to the Kyrgyz border, it’s closed when you arrive. However, the guards will take pity on you, waving you across. You’ll have to see the country doctor before getting the stamp of approval, and answer serious and pressing questions such as, “is everything ok at home?” do you have a temperature?” and Central Asia’s favorite, “are you married?”
As the border is closed, no more trucks are passing through and your hitchhiking plans will be foiled for the second time. As they often do, the taxi drivers know you’re out of options and demand an exorbitant amount of money — $20 per person — to go to the nearest town, Sary-Tash, which is just over an hour away. If you’re on a tight budget like we were, look for anyone who is moderately sober and see if they will take you for less (trust me, everyone is a taxi driver in Central Asia). We eventually found a ride for $12 per person.
After 11 hours of travel, you finally arrive in Sary-Tash, only to realize that there are no guesthouses. You briefly consider pulling out your sleeping back and calling it a night but you’re in the mountains. I mean, you can even see your breath. So that’s not going to cut it. Luckily your driver knows a family you can stay with. Of course he does.
There’s no running water and the outhouse is quite a trek from the actual house but just go with it, you’re in for a real Kyrgyz experience. Help milk the cows, let your hosts pour you glass after glass of chai, try the fermented mare’s milk, and try harder to not looked repulsed after you taste it. You’ll be surprised at how much non verbal communication it’s possible to have. Definitely bring cards. Oh, and if you walk in your room and there happens to be a goat head boiling on the burner don’t freak out. That’s your breakfast.
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