Many tourists to Tajikistan pass by this border crossing as they tour the Tajik side of the Wakhan Valley, not thinking twice about whether or not they want to cross. For many, the name "Afghanistan" is enough to make them stay far, far away. I, on the other hand, was not going to pass this border crossing.
After getting dropped off by the shared taxi from Khorog, I walked over to the two, armed Tajik guards at the barbed wire fence (though I read recently they are actually Russian army guards). They asked to see my passport, then radioed ahead to the customs/immigration building set up a few hundred yards away. After getting some sort of confirmation, they opened the gate, let me in, and walked me across the bridge spanning the Oxus River to the customs/immigration building.
The sight of a foreign tourist crossing into Afghanistan is not a common sight, but not rare, either. The Tajik guards know we probably have money and nice things in our backpacks. So, the first thing someone asked me was, "How much money do you have?" I gave them a rough estimate, which was probably stupid, but I figured they needed to know. They didn't...it was just because I was American and they wanted to know how rich I was. After that, in the hallway of this building, they asked me to empty my bag. So, I showed them everything I had. The Clif Bars I brought seemed to intrigue them. And, so they wouldn't take anything else, I gave them a Clif Bar and some cookies I had bought in Dushanbe.
After this was over, I was led down the hallway to another room. This is where I'd get the exit stamp before moving on to the Afghan side. But, a different guard came in and made me empty my bag again. Ugh! This time he wanted my gloves, headlamp, and knife. With a good smile and sense of humor, I was able to not give him anything. Word that an American was there brought other guards into the room. In broken English, they would say things like, "Pamela Anderson: Hot!", and then flex their muscles and say, "Arnold Swartzenegger!" Soon after that entertainment, my passport was stamped and I was off to face the Afghan border patrol. A guard had told me to hurry up as the Afghans were about to take their lunch break.
The first thing I noticed about the Afghan guards was that their uniforms looked identical to American desert uniforms. I have no doubt the American government helped pay for this. With their lunch break soon approaching, the guard gave me no trouble at all. He asked if I was Muslim (he said I looked like I was), and asked what nationality my name was. Soon enough, though, my passport was stamped and I was done.
After crossing the border, I was starting to wonder how I would get from the border to Ishkashim town. It is several miles away. I had hoped to borrow a phone from a guard and call the Wakhan Tourism Company. But, before I could even ask, I found my guide from the Wakhan Tourism Company, and a driver, waiting for me. Apparently they had waited since 9am that morning, and it was now 1pm.
Had I not had a ride waiting, it is possible to have the Wakhan Tourism Company transport you to town (with prior notice). The cost is $20, though. As an alternative, contact the Aria Guesthouse (there was a sign at the border with their phone number), and they will do it for less than half that cost.
Side note: Although the Afghan guards gave me no trouble coming into Afghanistan, I got a lot of trouble from them when exiting. They told me I could not take my knife with me out of the country, and wanted to keep all of my medicines. I ultimately did keep my knife, but gave up some Tylenol and Pepto Bismol. Also, don't fall for the trick to have a guard carry your bags from the order gate to the immigration building. They will make you pay $20 to do this, and it is only a few meters walking.