After the gentle climb from Kashgar to the border post at the 3700m Torugart Pass, and the paper warfare of getting out of China, Kyrgyzstan opened up.
The two border officials walked up to our cars and SHOOK HANDS with us. They waved away our carefully completed visa applications, with photos attached, and stamped our passports. A couple of us walked through the Red - Something to Declare door, the Green - Nothing to Declare door was rusted shut, past the large Duty Free sign over the cobwebbed and empty "shop", and out the back door. After the usual photo-shoot of the cars, they waved us on. This meant driving to the boomgate, which was closed. We waited a minute or so before realising that this was a DIY border gate, so I got out, braving potential machine gun bursts, and lifted the chain on the gate, swung it open, and there we were, in Kyrgyzstan. We had been so conditioned to restrain our own photography with officials (and the recalcitrant Michael Noyce had gone home a few days before) that the only photo we have is one taken of us, BY the Kyrgyz officals.
The difference doesn't end there. To borrow a cliche, Kyrgyzstan is Big Sky country. The constant smog, and desert and cement dust of China disappears. The air is disturbingly clear, the mountains brilliantly coloured, only the roads disappoint.
Much more to come.