The expansion of poppy growing in recent years has created problems around the globe.
Even at one of the most remote border inspection stations in the world, the frontier guards must be vigilant against drug traffickers.
For instance, one border post in Xinjiang province along the border of China and Pakistan is at an altitude of 5,100 meters (almost 17,000 feet). The oxygen at this altitude is less than half of sea level. This is where China’s Hongqilafu border station stands.
In the last few years, more drugs have been smuggled across the Sino-Pakistani border because of the expansion of poppy growing in Afghanistan.
In fact, United Nations statistics show that 87% of all illegal heroin in the world comes from Afghanistan.
Li Shengyu, commander of the Hongqilafu Border Inspection Station says, “They need buyers for the huge amount of drugs. As far as we know, the drug dealers are targeting China as a new market and plan to make their way into China across the border at Hongqilafu.”
Between 2006 and 2008, huge amounts of drugs were intercepted at border stations. The Chinese border guards must be vigilant to discover hidden drugs among the tourists coming into China.
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 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.”
Khunjerab Pass (elevation 4,693 meters or 15,397 feet)
The Khunjerab Pass on the border between China and Pakistan 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 during the six months of the off season, and 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.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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