Plantation style farmhouse and the mountains in the distance

Giant aluminum factory before the Uzbekistan border

With local women from the shared taxi to Regar

Tajik Border

Green hillsides in Uzbekistan

Sariasiya, Uzbekistan

Another Fun Border Crossing

May 31, 2012

We've all had our demons

From the garden of white lies

Dressed them amused them

Pullin' wool over our eyes

Go so far as to love them

To keep from letting them go

All the while they we're killin' us

But we couldn't let it show

- Stevie Ray Vaughan

Every day is an adventure when traveling here in Central Asia and that is especially true for the border crossing days. In this case the day started with a taxi at around 9am to a bazaar on the edge of Dushanbe. From there it was a minivan to Regar, a small town near the border with Uzbekistan. En route we passed the first working factory I have seen in Tajikistan, a massive aluminum factory befouling the otherwise clean air. In the minivan with me where eight women from Khojand dressed in patterned gowns going to some other small village nearby. I don’t think they see many foreigners so were thrilled to talk and take photos with me. At the Regar bazaar I took a shared taxi to the border where the real fun began.

I showed my passport to the soldier at the checkpoint who allowed me to continue to the Tajik customs post. Here they recorded my passport number and details in a log book and ran my backpack through an X-ray scanner even though no one was sitting at the computer to look at the images. Then I had to proceed to the Tajik immigration post. Here the immigration officers said I needed an entry and exit form which I never received when I arrived in the country. Luckily after 15 minutes and several phone calls everything was cleared up and they stamped my passport.

In the hot mid-day sun I walked alone through the 100 meters of no man’s land between the countries to an Uzbek soldier who checked my passport and let me proceed to Uzbek immigration. The officer on duty quickly entered my details and stamped my passport. Next I walked to the Uzbek customs post, a chaotic scene with a mob of women dressed in bright colors and children on one side and three other tourists on the other side, everyone waiting behind closed doors with tinted windows and not a single official to be seen. Eventually someone came out to distribute a customs form to be filled out with everything completely in Russian. Some of it was easy enough to figure out but other spaces were a mystery and I left blank since no one spoke any English to help and it took too much time to look up every other word in my Russian dictionary.

The doors on both sides rarely opened, but each time it did the local women pushed and shoved before a guard finally came out and threatened to send them back to Tajikistan if they didn’t move back and form an orderly line. I waited for about an hour before I could enter and the see the customs agent. After explaining in Russian that I didn’t speak much Russian and didn’t know how to fill out the form he helped a little, although he spoke almost no English, telling me that I had to declare my camera, computer, and “personal effects”. Then he asked me to open my bag.

At this point there were maybe 40 people waiting behind me but by his relaxed pace he seemed completely indifferent to this. I showed him the items I declared, including my camera and computer. He asked me to turn on the camera and show him any pictures of the United States. I showed him about 30 pictures of Chicago before he had enough. Then he asked if my laptop worked, what material I had on there, and if I had any pornography. I’m not sure if he wanted to see some or if it is actually illegal to import pornography into Uzbekistan. Regardless, he made me turn the computer on and I showed him photos of Tajikistan for about 5 minutes before he tired of that. Next he asked if I had any medication so I had to dig through my bag and pull out a pouch with some common travel medication and other items. He rummaged all through this and he asked me to explain what everything was, including such details as how many times you could shave with each razor blade cartridge; what contact lenses were, why I had four boxes of them, why I needed contact lens solution; and what the strips of duct tape were for. Seeing a flash drive he asked me what was on there and if I was a journalist before setting it aside for further scrutiny. Cursorily feeling around inside my bag he suddenly seemed satisfied then asked what I had in my pockets, I showed him some Uzbek money, my camera, and the pen that I used to fill out the customs form. He examined the pen in great detail, ultimately taking it apart to look inside the barrel before putting it back together. With that he said I could repack my bag and he passed the flash drive along with my passport and form to his colleague on the computer to verify. After all that and passing through one final passport check by an Uzbek soldier I was finally on my way into Uzbekistan.

On the Uzbek side of the border I found a shared taxi to Denau, the nearest major town. After a lengthy delay there enough people showed up for another shared taxi for the five hour plus ride to Samarkand. Without the great mountain scenery I had grown accustomed to this was a largely dull ride though there was one nice mountain pass and some pretty green hills and ridges along the way. The long day ended with me arriving in the dark around 10pm to Samarkand, unable to get even a glimpse of the great architectural monuments of the city until the next day.