“We deal with the customs formalities on our own premises. That saves several hours at the border. But otherwise you never really know what’s to come,” says Ivan, who, like Nikolai, lives just over the border in Brest, Belarus. The journey goes via Minsk and Moscow towards the Volga. From Samara there is the choice of either the eastern route via Astana, the Kazakh capital, and Karaganda to Almaty – or, as on this journey, the southern route towards the Aral Sea and Tashkent, then along the edge of the mountain range to Almaty, and finally on to Khorgas, the gateway to China. The journey: at least 5,500 kilometres.