The group calculation and then exciting recalculation of those thirty days the visa was given for led to an unconsoling result – the visa would expite not the next but that very day. We said goodbye to the Poles and joked sadly that they might look for us in one of Kashgar jails, and rushed to the central police station, where according to the Pole guidebook it was possible to extend visa for 160 yuans (by the way, this sum of money was absolutely unbearable for us at that moment). On our way to the police station Sanya’s brake block got broken, thus adding to the list of the ‘pleasant surprises’ of the day.
At the police station we calmed down: fortunately, the term of visa would be over in two days (they said that 30 days is a conventional term, but as a rule they use a ‘monthly’ term which begins the next day after you arrived). This nice news certainly let us economize a lot of money, but we still faced a vital problem to leave so extremely hospitable China.
The conversation with the policemen defined the most preferable variant of our further actions – to leave China as soon as possible via Chinese-Kyrgyz international admission point Irkeshtam, from which we could get to Osh. We just had to know how we could do that. We stayed short at a snack-bar in the Old City to have manty and informed our people in Karaganda that the way back would pass along an emergency scheme which was yet unknown to us. But what was extremely clear was that we would not be able to get in Kazakhstan as quickly as we planned to.
I want to note that by its speed and dynamics our way home even eclipsed somehow the impressions of the bike journey itself. Foreshadowing, I can say that everything ended well, though it cost us much money and time. But then we did not know our exact way and tried to get out of Kashgar as close to CIS borders as possible.
We spent some time near the bus station, trying to find transport. But the situation grew worse due to two things: first, we had few yuans; and second, not every driver had a right to enter the frontier zone which was the village of Irkeshtam. Then someone advised us to go to the market area, showing the direction by his hand (otherwise we would not have understood where it was, as Kashgar itself is a big bazaar, which was said before). Not far from this market we found an Uighur on a small truck who agreed to get us to the frontier for the money we had.
So, at about eight in the evening we were obstinately moving out of Kashgar after the sun setting. We were awaited (at least we wanted to believe in that) by the admission point Irkeshtam. On the way our driver decided to call on his home, thanks to which we got an opportunity to eat lagman, and watch the insight of a common Uighur dwelling, represented in hundreds there in the village. This dwelling looked outside like a real fortress with high loam walls, but was very cozy inside, though had few windows and was not well-lit.
Having spent the night in the truck rented for the last yuans, we met the early morning of the next day in front of the admission point. Despite the inscription telling it worked 24 hours a day it began functioning only at 10.00. At Irkeshtam we finally crossed the border with no problems (frontier guards even spoke English there) and bicycled via the frontier zone to Kyrgyz side where we felt a kind of relief. Firstly, we really got out of China and would not break the visa regime; secondly, we were able to speak Russian freely. You should have seen my face at the moment when I discerned from far away a Russian inscription telling the name of a frontier post called after an Andrei whose surname my memory did not retain.
For some reason the most beautiful places to take photos of seem to be situated where one cannot photograph. The frontier zone in the surroundings of Irkeshtam was not an exception to this. The picturesque valley with a large river surrounded by whimsical rocks surely required to be photographed, but we did not want to get problems we had even without that and therefore stifled this noble desire. It was all the same not a situation to make a sacrifice for the sake of the art.
In a few hours after our having passed the border we were sitting in the Kamaz crawling along the mountain road of awful quality towards the Fergana valley. The road connecting Irkeshtam and Osh goes first between the Alay and Trans-Alay ( Zaalay) mountain ranges, and then crosses the former range via several high passes, the most considerable among which is Taldyk (3615 meters). The surrounding grand mountain landscapes had been gradually hidden from us with the rain, and then snow.
There are three problems on Kyrgyz roads: donkeys, goats and fools. The former are quite peaceful but not sagacious animals roaming stubbornly along and across the road, even at night. As these animals do not possess any light-reflecting surface, they often become the reason of their own death, foolish and absurd, which is accompanied by considerable damage of cars acting like involuntary killers. The second are the animals in the figurative meaning of this word. Such creatures live on what they managed to take from drivers passing the road. A usual tariff for clear passage by the police inspector is 20 soms, a small sum of money if compared with the consequences of disobeying this almost traditional rule. The latter constitute the most dangerous and unpredictable category. Fools usually do not think, as they are supposed to. The most habitual way to get easy money on the Kyrgyzstani road is to block it, which has been practiced for many years. Moreover, this activity usually acquires really national scale, when several villages stirred up with the brought fire-water organize actions of civilian protest for a small (usually 300 soms per capita a day) consideration (very often the protesters even do not know what and who they are declaiming against). People just take bricks in their hands and sit across the road. And the roads in mountains are usually single, that is why such actions become considerably effective on whole country scale. Fortunately, we ran across less ideological fools who perfected in blocking technology and simply decided to gain money on it. Four teenagers armed with bricks suddenly appeared in the light of the headlights. Their threatening movements towards the frontal glass, as well as loud bawdy shouts obviously convinced Uncle Zhenya of the truth of the folk saying ' it’s quite reasonable to stay away from schmucks’. So he paid a small recompense taken, by the words of the drunken bastards for such a noble undertake as a wedding, and our Kamaz drove farther.
In connection with what was mentioned above I cannot help mentioning the lines written by Valikhanov almost 150 years ago: ‘There formed systematical rules among Kyrgyz clan-leaders, which had been sanctified by the time and according to which they rob caravans, but they rob legally in a way, grounding it on ancient traditions and rights… the caravan passing the uluses of Kyrgyz clan-leaders…must pay zyaket… must give a ransom for free passage’. Or these ones: ‘a few minutes would not pass as a crowd of drunken Kyrgyzes rushed out of an aul, darted into the quarry to our caravan and made us turn back to aul threatening and swearing’. Is not it surprising that over one and a half a century nothing has changed, including open robbery which has almost been officially raised to rank of ‘hospitality’?
I visited other cities in Kyrgyzstan and therefore can imagine the local population’s level of life. That is why the first thing that attracted my attention in Osh was abundance of expensive cars on the roads. Osh is the second in size city of the country, but due to welfare of its inhabitants it creates an impression of nearly the first one. Osh is not Kyrgyzstan proper, both geographically and ethnically. The Osh region is separated from the country by the mountains of the Fergana Range and is a state in the state. Besides, the Kyrgyzes do not form the main part of the local population. On the whole, these are the Uzbeks and Uighurs who live there.
The road between Osh and Bishkek lies in the most beautiful places: endless mountain serpentines, the full-flowing Naryn which followed us almost half of our way, and snow-covered tops of Tien Shan on the horizon. We spent another night in the car, with a few stops at roadside cafes, and the next morning we were already in Bishkek.
The further way did not represent any extreme for it followed the habitual route Bishkek-Almaty-Karaganda, and on September 22, 2006 the kiths and kins were meeting us at the railway station in Karaganda. The journey which lasted for over a month was over.