Dear readers, brace yourselves.
This is the story of how Crimson came back to China via the Tajik-Chinese border. It includes shocking details like a women’s hygiene product (unused), my mum’s worst nightmare (me in a truck with two male strangers) and my eating habits (maybe not that shocking after all).
After all, my big Central Asian Adventure was to come to an end, and it should do so with a big BOOM! Which involved crossing back into China from Tajikistan via the Kulma Pass on 4300m, open to foreigners just since the past year.
After what I heard about overland crossings into China from Kyrgyzstan (hourlong waiting for luggage investigations, personal interviews about one’s travel plans in China and being forced to take insanely expensive taxis from the border), I was not quite sure about what I was getting myself into.
Nevertheless, on the 20th of September 2019 at 7 in the morning I got on my way to the Truck terminal in Murghab, Tajikistan, to ask for trucks going to China, as I was advised in the Hotel.
People readily agreed to take me, and told me to have a tea and wait in the столовая (canteen) until the truck driver would come over. I went over to the little murky shack and watched the tajik truck drivers having breakfast:
men of all age, from young, slim guys in sweatpants smiling whimsically at me, to white-haired men with long beards and tired faces, all stuffing themselves with bread soaked in tea served with milk and two big spoons of butter in it.
Though I must have stuck out in this little canteen – even just by the fact I was the only female far and wide – they didn’t really care about me but just encouraged me to eat well and put some warmer clothes before I cross the border.
After two hours of waiting in the shack and answering the usual questions about my age and my (fictive) husband, someone gave me the GO Signal:
I climbed up into the truck and took a seat next to my two companions for the next few hours: one older, quiet guy driving, and a younger one with dirty laughter, wearing a jeans suit.
He immediately offered me apples, tea, fried bread and an energy drink in a bilious green can. So we took off: the paved road transformed very soon into pebbly sand, and we chugged along, dragging two huge trailers behind us.
Despite the amazing views of the Pamirs, my neighbour in the jeans suit worried I might feel bored and started showing me alternating videos of hip-shaking tajik dancers and short sketches of people getting hit in the face or between their legs.
A black Toyota flashed by and disappeared within seconds behind the next hill. Slightly yearning, I looked after the dust it dispersed, while my driver to the left changed into the next lower gear. Around us was nothing but naked hills and cragged mountains, occasionally snow-covered peaks in the distance and a few cows trying to find something edible in the dust.
Suddenly, a huge, white mountain range appeared behind the brown hills: we had arrived at the border post.
I got off the truck, said goodbye to my friend in the jeans suit and a Tajik in military clothes lead me into a room to unpack all of my luggage. I was prepared for this, and while I feared the irritated border official might flip through the photos on my camera or check all the data on my USB Drive, the most suspicious object to him was –
He took the tampon out of my bag, held it high up in the air and looked at me with a grim expression, indicating me to justify this unknown object to him.
After I laughed and told him I could not explain this in russian, he started pulling it apart, but dropped the matter soon and shooed me to the customs.
I got my tajik leaving stamp, compliments for my haircut, weird looks for the ring in my nose and a bottle of 农夫水 (chinese water brand) and then sat down in a minibus with some tajik guys waiting for someone to drive us to the chinese border post.
Behind me sat a very young chinese official with fair skin and a quiet voice. As I got into a conversation about him, he told me about how hard it was for him to work up here on 4300m, thousands of miles from his home in Northeast China. His girlfriend lived in Kashgar, about 6 hours by car from the border, and his brother studied in America. He himself was not allowed to leave China due to his work.
His colleagues on the front seats smoked and played cards, joking and laughing loudly.
Finally, me and four Tajik guys were taken to the Chinese side of the border. From there, everything was suprisingly easy – all they were asking me for was the phone number of the friend I was planning to visit in Shanghai, and to laugh a little more quiet.
Only my books – the Lonely Planet and another book about Central Asia, and a harmless lovestory by John Green – were examined closely, although i’m pretty sure they didn’t understand a word of English.
And there I was – back in China, on the side of a highway with four Tajiks who rather halfheartedly tried to wave down a car to take us to Kashgar.
One of them managed to convince a Chinese to take the four of them on the back seat and me on the front, and once again, we took off. The Tajik guys, haunched together on the back bench, were laughing and hooting like little kids. Pretty soon, our chinese driver seemed quite annoyed about their company and drowned them out with chinese Pop from a red-blue blinking music box.
I wound down the car window, fascinated by the snow-covered mountain range in the evening light. Two-humped Camels trudged along in the distance, and giant Yaks with thick black fur gazed at us from the side of the road.
We passed by lightblue Karakol Lake, and made a stop for dinner at a tiny eatery, well-heated by an oven with a pipe to the roof right in the middle of the small room. Men, covered in pullovers, military jackets, scarfs and caps slurped tea and enormous portions of Laghman (handmade noodles with beef and vegetables) served by a tall, skinny woman who scooped out tea from a big pot on the oven.
The Tajik guys were shocked about the fact that I had my tea without sugar, and my Laghman without meat, and vehemently tried to convince me that I could be such a beautiful girl, if I’d only take that ring out of my nose.
They fell asleep on the backbench as we drove through the darkness and passed by three passport checks, until we finally arrived in Kashgar. We went to the next best Hotel that would provide us with a room and breakfast in the morning, and I passed out the second I fell into my bed.
That`s the story of how I came back to China.
The next morning I woke up with pleasant anticipation in my chest, noticing the sunshine gleaming through the curtains, and realized I was back in the middle Kingdom.