The most common method of smuggling is to hide the opium from Afghanistan in the smuggler’s luggage. The smugglers will also use other tricks to fool the inspectors.
At the Hongqilafu Border Inspection Station, one team of inspectors checks the luggage inside the station while another team inspects the empty bus.
China’s border guards even go under the tourist busses and check the bottom. Sniffer dogs were sent to the station but the dogs died due to the lack of oxygen.
The conditions at the border station have been improved over the years.
At one time, the guards lived in trailers. Now, they live in a new, updated border station in a permanent building.
One officer, who has been at the station for more than a decade, said, “In the past, when it was extremely cold in late winter, we couldn’t sleep at night. Sometimes the temperature fell so low that when I got up in the morning, I found that part of my cap had been frozen to the wall of the camper van.”
The border pass near the inspection station is open from May 1 to October 31. For the rest of the year when the area is covered in ice and snow, the pass is closed. Yet, the border guards must be stationed there in the six months of the off season. It’s a tough assignment even with improved living conditions.
As China has opened up more to the outside world, the Hongqilafu Border crossing is open to other nationalities than just Pakistanis. Each year, more tourists visit China along this route.
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