I’ve not crossed at this border before. Irkeshtam – I’d had a quick google.. it looked like a couple of old abandoned vehicles and a shed but just like the Tourgart border I usually go through, the Chinese have moved all their muscle right up against the fence with Kyrgyzstan. Army checkpoints and a load of big sheds full of lorry xray machines and such like. This is the just the first layer of the Chinese security onion that runs all the way into Kashgar. I’m a bit concerned that my drone will soon be alone .. in a dusty pile of confiscated gizmology somewhere.. I’ve got to work out how to get through this but it looks tricky. A lot of people with absolutely nothing better to do than piss on your fireworks..
I’m not the leader of this group. We bummed a ride along with another group of 3 and 1 other. So I don’t really know the details of who/what/when. What I do know how to do though is .. wait. Don’t ask.. don’t push .. don’t .. just don’t. Just wait .. are you sitting comfortably .. then I’ll begin
A couple of Chinese guards come in for a ‘chat’ .. a chat at a Chinese border is never just a chat .. ‘where have you all come from’ .. ‘where are you going’ .. its at this point we’re all wondering if you should mention the T word or not. We shouldn’t be in this situation. The guide should be here. Tibetmoto .. no no . just don’t.. really.. DONT!! I’m not impressed already and it only gets worse. I would’t usually diss a company but they’re shit. If you’re doing something like this avoid the parasites like Tibetmoto and go straight to someone like Navo. This has been a public service anouncement …
The ‘chat’ is getting a little more intense, and we’re all skipping round the T word until we’re asked directly, whereupon our guide appears, just in the nick of time, and drowns the guards in a mountain of paperwork.
We’re lead round from desk to desk, from personal scanners to luggage scanners to truck xray machines .. I even have to put my knob in a scanner to have a wee.. The truck XRay machine is the tricky one… all luggage on .. park in the middle .. wait ..
And we’re through to the other side in a couple of hours. That’s not too bad .. except that the XRays have to be checked again centrally in another building in Kashgar.. and it’s lunchtime .. I flip ‘wait mode’ to on .. close my mind .. There is going to be whole lot of this ..
We decamp to a scrubby row of buildings .. follow the good smells rather than the bad.. and get something to eat. Even here, in the middle of nowhere, all the little 1 man hole in the wall shops have riot shields and various fuck off twatting equipment to subdue anyone unfortunate to end up there ..
3 hours later .. wait mode off.. and we’re moving again. Moving to the next layer of the onion .. the immigration and customs building a couple of hours away. At this point we’re still transients .. no passport stamps… no documents .. just vagrants. Get to customs and I’ve not been through this one before. Another small town of buildings with a few small people knocking about inside, all with the job title ‘Oxygen Thief’. The guide is running about handing out pieces of paper left right and centre and trying to get something… anything done before they shut down for the day. We get through immigration but the bikes have to stay the night. This bit has always been a major ball ache and I hope it’s better this time.
Get in a minibus to Kashgar.. here we go .. that wasn’t too bad .. ‘what? .. we just have to stop at the police station on the way out’ .. ohhhh k. This is already our 10th police check of the day.. You just cannot believe the way this area is locked down. It’s like trying to go for a piss at home.. and having a police check at the bottom of the stairs .. and the top of the stairs .. and the toilet door .. and before you lift the lid .. (I know Roger .. you never lift the lid .. but you get my drift) .. then having all the checks on the way back too .. it’s mad. So this police check is a little more serious. China uses facial recognition everywhere… EVERYWHERE .. and you have to be on the system before you get get through the following checks. Eventually we’re let loose and on the expressway towards Kashgar .. here we go .. down the on ramp .. accelerate .. brake … and go for the next check. YOU CAN SEE THE FUCKING CUSTOMS BUILDING FROM HERE … JEEEESUS…. The checkpoints have barriers inside .. just like Heathrow you put your passport on the panel then wait to be recognised .. or not .. back a bit .. left a bit .. right a bit .. closer .. closer still .. nope .. further away .. nope … smile .. scowl .. pull down your trousers and point your arse at the camera .. ping .. the gates open ..
Back on the bus.. accelerate .. 10 minutes later .. here we go again .. and again… and again… maybe 5 checkpoints before Kashgar.. same process.. same problems .. just identical layers of the onion ..
Kashgar itself .. Jesus .. it was bad last time I was here but now .. All the roads have cameras on all lanes at about 500m intervals.. and they take pictures of every vehicle that passes underneath. There are cameras on the streets at maybe 50m intervals.. you absolutely cannot get away from them. They are everywhere. Someone was telling us about someone they knew that crossed a road but didn’t use a crossing.. he got a fine by text within 20 seconds ..
Next morning … breakfast .. shall I eat todays bread .. or yesterdays .. difficult decision ..
Get on the minibus and embark on another 3 hour checkathon out to customs to collect the bikes. They’re all still there.. they’re as used to waiting as we are ..
“dum de dum de dum de dum” … repeat for 2 hours .. then ride back through all the checks .. again .. By the time we get to the last check just outside the city we’re all just about checked off.. my face aches with the effort of trying to get through a 1000 recognitions .. and my fuckedoffometer is in the red. Perhaps not the best time to encounter a c*nt in a cops uniform. We’ve been let loose by the guide to just ride back to the hotel. We’re racing through the traffic like 2 wheeled top guns.. swarming and letting off steam. We get to a big line of traffic about 1km from the hotel and I filter to the front.. where there is a little policeman Motorcycles are not allowed in the city.. I know that. He is telling me to turn around and go back out .. but my body currently has a little addrenaline filled demon at the controls and I’m just not in the mood .. the lights change .. and he jumps in front of me .. and for some reason the demon just decides to pull away anyway .. and give the policeman a glancing blow as I go .. that was right at the very bottom of my good ideas list .. and he’s on the radio immediately .. bollocks..
Get to the hotel.. and the other riders are .. quite rightly .. not happy with me.. even though they all followed me through past the police .. ummmmmmmmmm….. I’m really not sure that was my finest moment .. my mind has already been through a million combinations of expulsion to public flogging to having to eat 2 day old bread .. and 90% of what it is coming up with is bad news.. The only positive thread I can cling too is that the bikes aren’t yet registered and I had my helmet on ..
We all go for a walk round town for the afternoon. I vary my walk .. keep my head down .. wear glasses .. whatever .. I’m properly shitting myself ..
I go to the big supermarket and treat myself to a last supper of my fvourite meal .. milk.. and a nurse ..
Then take a wander to the night market. This place is crawling with police.. all carrying their own favourite forms of suppression. One has a riot shield with a half moon serrated cut out in the top for holding people down by the neck .. I look at each one .. who will it be that gets the call on the radio to grab me and smash in my back door and let a load of cockroaches loose up my chuff ..
Back to the hotel.. and a long night.. afraid to sleep .. waiting for the knock on the door .. but nothing happens .. maybe they’re waiting in reception .. maybe by the bike in the car park .. what a twat! But there is nobody there.. my blood pressure is going from min to max every 5 minutes ..
Today is vehicle inspection. Previously this has been in some semi derelict hovel stinking of piss and shit, with one woman and an ancient computer. Ive not been here for a couple of years though and this year it’s an all new facility right next to the vehicle and licencing office 35 miles outside town.
Here we go.. again .. wait for this .. wait for that.. read a few books .. have a sleep .. ok .. ready .. steady .. Captain clipboard comes over with a policeman and they start going through the bikes. They want a rubbing of the frame number to put on the paperwork for each bike. Now… I have brought a Ktm through here before.. and I know the Ktm has a sticker.. not an etched frame number. Last time the guide and the clipboard came to an arrangement because they cant get a rubbing .. but not this time. He tries to get a rubbing.. fails .. does all the other bikes. When I’m not looking the little fucker leans in and starts to trys and pull my frame number sticker off the frame ..
“HOOOOLD it right there mate .. what exactly the hell do you think you are doing?” TibetMoto .. No .. remember.. ‘Cannot do bikes then’ and just flounces off in a strop. OK, thanks for your help .. tosser…
So now I have a problem. The policeman won’t sign any of the forms as all bikes have to be done together. And they won’t do my bike without an etching .. of a sticker ..
Bugger this… I get a small screwdriver.. and right in front of the policeman I etch my frame number into the brand new aluminium panelling of his shiny new building .. take a rubbing .. give it to him..
Then he decides he wants to check the engine numbers.. time for my blood pressure to rise again.. I forgot to check if the alumininum panel was still stuck on .. but it is.. and mine is the easiest to check by far due to it being stuck in plain sight right on the side of the crankcase ..
Job done. That was easy …
The journey back to Kashgar is another fuckfest of checks and waiting in the burning sunshine. One of the riders gets a strop on about the way tourists are treated .. and gets short thrift from the guide.. which I agree with .. “you are in China, you abide by Chinese rules” .. except for running into policemen obviously. The rider says he is going to write to the Chinese embassy and complain .. yep .. good luck with that. I suspect that will be about as effective as pissing on a California wild fire ..
Back in Kashgar and my confidence is slowly growing.. I might have dodged this particular bullet .. maybe my luck is in … I begin to feel invincible .. so I go down the night market and get a kabab.. if I can survive that .. I have morphed into Captain Scarlet and I’m indestructable ..
Back at the hotel our Tibet guide has arrived and we all go down for a briefing. I’ve done this a few times now, I know the rules, I know how things work, and I definately know how things don’t work. One minute in and I can see we’ve got problems. Question? How do people who think they know everything ever bloody learn if they never listen? That has always bothered me. Some of this group have their ears on backwards and they’re just not listening. Asking questions that have already been asked.. repeating wrong answers .. talking over each other.. utter confusion .. and the guide isn’t helping either. He’s telling us to try and get petrol on our own.. try to get through the checks on our own .. the exact opposite of what I was expecting to hear, and unlikely to work given my experience in the past. TibetMoto .. no.. I can’t say it enough. So basically do what the fuck you want and I’ll see you somewhere later, that’ll work fine .. some of the group are really winding me up too .. paranoid about knowing our destinations to the nearest inch .. unwlling to take a shit without a GPS coordinate for a warm western toilet seat .. I have to spend some time alone .. I predict a fuckfest.. and I have to decide what to do ..Up up and away