Driving into China

The last stage of the Karakoram Highway will lead us to the last but biggest country of all, China!! We are looking forward to China but have to cross one major obstacle first. The obstacle is the highest part of the Karakoram Highway better known as the Khunjerab Pass. To get to China in time and cross the pass we leave early. We have a final look at the Pasu Glacier and drive on to Sost. Sost isn¡¯t very special and the streets are full of dodgy looking traders. We find our way to the customs office after asking around and park the car.

When we enter the customs office we immediately notice a calender with a picture proudly depicting the first test of a nuclear weapon by Pakistan. How odd! But they are a friendly lot and very helpful. One man even offers to stay at his house the next time we come to the Himalaya! When our passports are stamped a chinese truckdriver asks where we are going. We tell him we are on our way to Beijing. Then he looks at our car and starts laughing. An hour later while driving over the pass we notice the same man having problems with his truck. We don¡¯t dare to laugh ourselves as we hope that Hippie will take the height and the thin air. As the Khunjerab is nearly 5000 meter high, Pakistani customs is situated in Sost and the Chinese 150 kilometer further in Tashgarkent. In between lies the Khunjerab National park.

We enter the Khunjerab national park after paying 4 dollars each and even see some wildlife. The karakoram has definetely saved the best for last. The views are extremely gorgeous and when we arrive at the highest point without any car or engine trouble we feel the king and queen of the world. This part could have been a major obstacle due to snowfall and as we did not know how the engine would react to the thin air. So there we are standing on what they call the top of the world. It¡¯s feels better then perfect! We are so excited that we don¡¯t even notice the altitude. We take pictures at the Chinese/Pakistani marker, have a snowball fight, dance till we are dizzy of spining around and then head into China, the last country on our list. From here to Beijing is another 5000 kilometer or so. We hope we are going to make it!! We jump in the car and notice a sign that we have to drive on the right again. Very very weird after driving on the left side in India and Pakistan!

To drive yourself in China requires lots of paperwork and it is obligated to take a guide with you all the way. We are kinda nervous as we have no idea who he is and how he is. We have to spent 5 weeks with him after travelling alone for a long time. We are told his name is benny and that we meet him in Tashgarkent. The road is still fabulous although at some points bumpy. We take it easy to spare the suspension and shockies and enjoy the views. The people here are very colourful and are a mix of Han Chinese, Uygur and Tadzjik………… Then we notice camels… lots of camels. We had not expected camels at this altitude of 3000 meter!

In Tashgarkent we are ordered to head to the customs straight away. There we are handed health declaration forms and are tested on fever. We guess the country is still on alert after the whole SARS incident. The cars isn¡¯t checked properly but our bags are scanned completely. Then we meet our guide Benny. Well Benny appears to be ill and his place is taken by Jason. Don¡¯t get us wrong, he is Chinese. He has all paperwork with him and two cool looking chinese license plates for on our car. We hope we may keep them afterwards. While our guide is busy with the paper work our car is decontaminated with some sort of spray. Not a very rigorous job but it satisfies the customs officials.

Chinese communism is long gone but the orderly fashion and the paperwork remains. Our guide misses a copy of some paper which causes lots of stress. Not on our side we must say as we have the time. Then when all paperwork is done we go to a hotel arranged by Jason. Far too expensive if you tell us but for one night it¡¯s ok. That eve we exchange details on what to expect the next couple of weeks. Jason hasn¡¯t been in the region himself so its all new for him as well? We are happy to know this as this gives us some sort of freedom. At first its kinda strange having a third passenger in the car but after half an hour we make jokes and laugh. One problem remains and that is the fact that we need to change money. The hotel staff isn¡¯t very helpful. Extremely rude to say the least as the only word spoken is meiyou which means No. Customer is king is something they don¡¯t seem to know here let well customer satisfaction.

So we ask Jason to help us out for the night with some dinner which is no problem. We have Chinese noodles for dinner and search for an internet place afterwards. No luck… too bad.

We reckon we are going to have a great time in China. Let¡¯s hope Jason enjoys it as well all the way to Beijing!