http://english.caing.com/2010-07-05/100158267.html Midday, partly cloudy skies at the Khunjerab Pass. An armed Pakistani guard stiffens, locks eyes with bus driver Ahmed and barks the official question he's probably asked every driver who's ever crossed this remote area on the China-Pakistan border. "Are you carrying any baijiu?" the guard demands, twitching his thick mustache with a leathery lip and glaring through the open bus door. Ahmed, resting comfortably on the steering wheel, gestures with a gentle turn of the wrist. He's been through this before. He knows what to say. "What would I do with baijiu?" he calmly replies. "It's illegal in Pakistan." The guard grins, the driver grins back. Then, together, they burst into laughter. "See you later, Ahmed!" the guard cries, waving us on. Ahmed shuts the door, and soon we're rolling down the single-lane Karakoram Highway through a dramatic mountain ravine, past the guard's lonely security station and a family of jagged peaks capped with snow. Few drivers dare cross here. Some are truckers hauling cement for mountain road walls. Some are soldiers. Others, like Ahmed, risk their lives to steer buses packed with Pakistani men trekking to China to sell precious stones, or Chinese men traveling to join construction crews in Pakistan. A Wikipedia entry for Khunjerab Pass calls it the highest paved border crossing in the world. It is not. Yes, the Chinese side is paved. But in Pakistan the road turns to gray dirt, loose stones and ruts so deep that bus passengers have to disembark at the top of the pass to lighten the load, while their driver gingerly navigates toward Chinese pavement. In this way, travelers bussing from Pakistan walk into China. China's side of the pass is heavily controlled; soldiers are assigned to ride in buses and baggage is thoroughly examined inside a checkpoint shed. The Pakistani stretch is monitored by armed soldiers as well. But the Pakistanis seem far more relaxed, perhaps because immense dangers on their road (monstrous boulders looming overhead, tires rolling centimeters from the edge of sheer cliffs) keep everyone moving. But not necessarily honest. Ahmed was indeed transporting a few plastic soda bottles of what appeared to be homemade baijiu, along with cabbages, cooking oil and Pepsi bought in China. The food was destined for village markets in Pakistan. The white liquor was stashed in compartments and would have been easily found â€“ if the border guard had bothered. Ahmed down-shifts and grips the wheel for a perilous, five-hour drive on a razor-blade trail. His target is Sost, a Pakistani village more than 100 kilometers away. He stares at the rutted road, ignoring the dramatic mountains. On the way, Ahmed stops occasionally to greet gritty road workers, mainly Chinese but also Pakistanis, who are busy breaking rocks to smooth the Karakoram Highway before the next winter's snow closes the pass. Each worker smiles and shares news with Ahmed. In exchange, each receives a plastic bottle of baijiu.