Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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Irkeshtam is approached from Osh, the second city of Kyrgyzstan, in the south of the country. The road travels south along the valley of the Taldyk and Gulcho river gorges to the village of Sary Tash ("Yellow Stone" in Kyrgyz), which sits on a crossroads. To the west lies the road to Dushanbe in Tajikistan through the Kyzyl-Suu valley; to the South lies the road over the Kyzyl Art pass into the Gorno Badakshan region of Tajikistan and Murgab; to the east heading into the mountains lies the road to Irkeshtam and the Chinese border.

This stretch of road is infamous for road accidents. It is asphalt until you reach Sary Tash, and then becomes a stone road and although the scenery is spectacular - with snow capped peaks on one side and green mountain meadows on the other - traveling along the road is slow and can take a long time - especially if you encounter a broken down vehicle which blocks the road. On the Chinese side, the road down to Kashgar is better, but still difficult.

IrkeshtamAs the shortest route to China from the Ferghana valley in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan there has been a lot of interest in repairing the road - which would take about 6 years to complete - including a TACIS funded project.

In Soviet times, China was seen as a real threat and this was reflected on the border. Now the two countries are allies and relationships between the respective border troops are friendly.

The border post is named in honour of a frontier border guard, Andrei Bescennov, who was killed in a clash with the Basmachi rebels in 1931. Until the end of 1999 it was manned by Russian troops who apparently took all their equipment when they left.

In this mountainous region, as in Kyrgyzstan generally, horses play an important role in daily life. The lack of roads means that soldiers who patrol the border ride the local breed of Kyrgyz pony, which are renowned for being sturdy and well suited to this sort of terrain. The post also boasts a number of dogs, including German shepherds and a number of mongrels.

Chang Chien is sometimes credited as the first person to cross in 128 BC when he entered the Ferghana Valley on a diplomatic mission from the then emperor of China, in search of allies against their mutal enemies the Xiongnu. In 1893 the horse path between Osh and Irkeshtam was widened, fortified and developed. It was even named "a wheel road", though the goods used to be transported on pack animals: horses, donkeys and camels.

IrkeshtamFor a long time the Irkeshtam pass was open only for commercial goods traffic for a limited period each month, although for several years there were plans to open it for passenger traffic and these finally came to fruition in the summer of 2002. Technically, no permissions are needed to cross the border here but it is still a sensitive border zone. Also its remoteness means that transport probably has to be arranged on both sides of the border which means that, once again, it is not a cheap border crossing. There is a Chinese bus service.

At the post there are places to eat and a few other facilities. The Chinese immigration post is housed in a large, new, purpose built building, three kilometers from the border and it is another three kilometers to the Kyrgyz post. As with Torugart, you are not allowed to walk across this no-man's land. This can be a problem because Kyrgyz vehicles and staff are currently (August 2003) not allowed to cross either.

The hours of operation are restricted and there is a long lunchbreak (which can last three and a half hours).

Discovery Kyrgyzstan #5

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