Roads to the End of the Earth
Distinction: Into the desert where no man returns, and the worlds final border struggle between two superpowersCross the Torugart Pass from the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan to China and pass under a huge four story stone arch that sits alone in the desert on a two track dirt path, and you find yourself on a road next to a dry riverbed. When we drove this section, chain gang workers were breaking rocks with pickaxes nearby. Chinese journalists told us that some of the workers were students who participated in the famed Tianamen Square revolt in 1989, and were sentenced to hard labor.Armed guards stand on both sides of the arch, so close to each other you figure theyre likely all buddiesthe crossing itself is so far from any civilization that theres nobody to talk to but your rivals. Historically the Soviets and rival Chinese had differing policies of immigration, travel, and sharing, and despite relaxed global policies from both sides, it was still that way when we crossed.Yet here is where blonde haired and blue eyed Chinese children underscore that China is a land of 55 indigenous languages and ethnic variations. Further, as the dirt road descends from the mountain range onto the desolate desert floor, youre reminded that the name of Chinas largest desert, Taklimakan, means, Once you enter, you will never leave.