The second city in Kyrgyzstan, in the South of the country, is Irkeshtam approached. The road leads to the village of Sary Tash (“Yellow Stone” in Kyrgyz) on a crossroads through the valley of the gorges of the Taldyk and of the river Gulcho.
West is Dushanbe in Tajikistan, through the Kyzyl-Suu valley; south is the road across the Kyzyl Art Pass to the Tajikistan and Murgab area of Gorno Badakshan; east to the mountains, the road towards Irkeshtam Pass and China’s Border.
It’s notorious for road accidents this stretch. It is asphalt before you come to Sary Tash, and then it becomes stone roads, and while the panorama is beautiful, on the one hand with snow-capped peaks, on the other hand with green mountain wetlands, the road is slow and time-consuming, especially if you find a vehicle that clocks up the road. The road down to Kashgar on the Chinese side is better, but still hard.
There’s a lot of interest in restoring the road – which takes approximately 6 years – including a financed initiative from TACIS – as the shortest path to China from the Ferghana valleys in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The work stopped when the area was attacked by armed separatists in 1999.
China was considered a real challenge in the Soviet era, and this was mirrored on the frontier. Both countries are now friends and their ties with each of the border soldiers are friendly.
In honor of the border guard Andri Bescennov who was murdered in 1931 during a confrontation with the Basmachi rebels, the border guard is named. It had been staffed by Russian forces until the end of 1999 – obviously when they left they had taken all their supplies. The post is now filled with Osh oblast border guards. It’s not a simple message. The guards are not well-fed, but none of them have been starved. They’re not. However, two years of military service elsewhere are considered equal to one year of service here.
Horses play an important role in everyday life in this mountainous region, as in Kyrgyzstan in general. Faced with the lack of roads, soldiers patroling the frontier ride the local Kyrgyz Pony breed, known for its robustness and its adaptation to this terrain. There are also a lot of dogs in the article, plus German herds and some birds.
The pass is 238 kilometers from Osh and 250 kilometers from Kashgar. Sometimes, Chang Chien was the first person to reach the Ferghana Valley in 128BC on a diplomatic mission to seek allies against its mutual foes, the Xiongnu, from then Emperor of China. In 1893 it was enlarged, strengthened and developded the horse path between Osh and Ishkertam. It was called “a wheel lane,” even though goods were carried on packing animals: goats, donkeys and camels.
The Irkeshtam pass was open for a long time, for a short amount of each month, to commercial freight traffic only, but it had been planned to open for several years in the summer of 2002 and this eventually happened. No permits are technically required here to cross the border, but it’s still a vulnerable border area. Its remoteness also means that travel would possibly be arranged on either side of the border – so it is not a cheap border crossing once more. A Chinese bus service is available.
Any other services can be eaten at the post. In a massive, modern building, threekm from the border and another threekm from the Kyrgyz post, the Chinese Immigration Base is housed. You can’t walk over this no-land man’s as with Torugart. This may be a challenge as kyrgyzes and their personnel are actually not permitted to cross either (August 2003). ( A visa regime was placed on the residents of each country to enter their own country in 2003 under an agreement between the Chinese and Kyrgyz governments. As a result, drivers and guides legally need a Chinese visa to enter immigration and customs.