6PM: I’m in Akqi, near the Kyrgyzstan border, and I couldn’t feel more welcome. I slipped in to this area, also part of the off-limits Kizilsu Kyrgyz Prefecture, by hiring a cab driver in Kashgar who was also up for an adventure, and just as keen to bypass all the police checkpoints we might encounter. We stopped in a couple little towns along the way, chatting with curious shop owners and picking up a couple nice-looking shyrdaks for taking back home. Then, when we arrived in Akqi, I took a walk and then made my way to the PSB, where I fully expected to be booked and shipped out on the next bus to Aksu. Instead I was greeted like a VIP, a status accorded to the first foreigner in anyone’s memory to come through these parts. Apparently the PSB here just never got the memo: foreigners don’t come here because they’re technically not allowed to come here, at least according to the PSB office in Kashgar. I spent a good hour in the PSB office, getting chatted up about what it’s like to be a foreigner, receiving recommendations for a good hike the next morning, and hearing about what development schemes the government has going or planned in these parts (answer: horse breeding, hydropower, and domestic tourism).
It just goes to show: when travelling in China, you never know what you’re in for.