Friday, 23 March 2007

Lithuania and its borders with Latvia and Belarus

Stayed overnight in Riga but had a bad start by waking up late (messed up the alarm on my PDA) and so getting stuck in traffic leaving Riga. I also managed in all the rush to get out of the hotel to leave my glasses in my room. Fortunately I was back staying at the same hotel on the Saturday night and it was with great relief that I retrieved them when I arrived there. I was due to meet Jan Krogh (a Norwegian who lives in Vilnius and has the same weird interests as me when it comes to border hunting) in Visaginas near the Lithuania-Latvia-Belarus tripoint as he had kindly offered to guide me on the next two days of my expedition. Being from Canada I am not used to text messaging much so it was slightly challenging to keep in touch with him this way while driving (I kept having to spell out numbers as I didn't know how to enter them into a text message!) - but eventually I was 5 minutes from the border so was able to advise him where I was.

I crossed the border into Lithuania at Turmantas and continued driving slowly (I thought) through the town when I was pulled over by someone in military uniform as I was about to leave the town. "Uh oh" I thought - "I'm sure I wasn't speeding". My concern turned to pleasure when I discovered that it was Jan, wearing parts of his former Norwegian Military/United Nations uniform, who had pulled me over. So we were able to bypass Visaginas, although this did mean that we missed visiting the nuclear power plant near there that he had wanted to visit. It lies on the edge of a lake that straddles the border with Belarus - apparently there are Lithuanian controlled dams on the Belorussian side that are used to control to water level serving this plant. Jan had arranged from an officer from the Visaginas Cordon of the Lithuanian Border Guards to escort us to the tripoint. We travelled the last part of the route in the guard's 4x4 as it was a rather bumpy section of farm track leading up to the tripoint itself.


Before meeting him, however, we stopped at a quite interesting intersection:


The road sign is definitely unique.

We continued straight on until we came to the limits of where we were allowed to go unescorted.



We could just see the Belarus border down the bottom of this track.

We then proceeded to the tripoint and took lots of photos. It is interesting to compare these with the photos Jan took when he visited in August 2001:

A general view of the area on the Lithuanian side - the actual tripoint is in the background towards the left where a platform has been built to mark its location. In the foreground is an area where various traditional structures have been built for special celebrations to take place.


The open area in the background is in Belarus.


This is standing at the tripoint looking southwards along the Belarus (left) and Lithuanian (right) border - so here we are at the northern most point of this border - tomorrow we shall be at its southernmost point.

This is a view of the platform with the tripoint in the middle - Jan's excellent website shows the exact line of the borders.


And another - the only area where we felt comfortable stepping off the platform was on the Lithuanian side since we were in the company of the Lithuanian border guard.

All of this photo is in Belarus - taken from the tripoint itself. I really wanted to rush out and photograph the front of that sign but with the Lithuanian border guard there I did not dare.

The Latvian border marker - there is no Latvian infrastructure whatsoever leading up to the tripoint, unlike the Lithuanian and Belorussian sides.

Looking west from the tripoint along the ditch marking the Lithuania (left) Latvia (right) border


Looking east from the tripoint along the ditch marking the Latvia (left) Belarus (right) border.


A small monument has been placed in the Belarus section.

The guard and Jan at the tripoint. Unfortunately my camera misfired when Jan took photos of me at the tripoint so you will not see any of me there!


Lithuania in the background. I felt pretty certain that even on the platform, the Lithuanian border guard never stepped outside Lithuanian territory.


Looking from Lithuania down the Belorussian access road (although how many people are allowed to access this point and under what conditions, I wonder). Apparently the tripoint used to be about where the road curves to the left in this picture with the BYLT border running to the right through the woods into the lake that is behind those trees. It was moved to be to the west of the lake some time ago for easier maintenance.


The guard and Jan sitting at a picnic place near the tripoint discussing details of the arrangements with Belarus for controlling the lake level to manage the nuclear power plant. Apparently they have regular parties for the children of the Lithuanian border guards here. I hope there are no incidents where the kids rush off across the border - their parents would have some difficulty chasing after them!


Leaving the area we stopped to look at this bunker which formed part of the front lines between Germany and Russia in WW II. Nearby was a woman using an old fashioned well (bucket on a rope type) to fill plastic water jugs. With the curious clash of old and new (note the satellite TV dish) I almost expected to see her talking on her mobile phone while doing so.

Our next visit was to Adutiškis where the railway line runs (or at least ran) along the BYLT border. Again it is interesting to compare these photos with those taken by Jan in August 2001. Things have really changed since then.


There is now a fence on the Lithuanian side of the tracks - this prevents accidental border incursions at least.



Taken looking through the fence, into Belarus - there is actually a gate in the fence here - but it was padlocked :)

Along the fence to the east

Along the fence to the west - Jan in the foreground.

Photo taken over the fence - the binational track has now been removed. The small white marker is the actual border - so this is an unusual situation where the national markers are not equidistant from the border (because of the rail track that is still there on the Belorussian side).


A bit further to the west, towards where the station building pictured by Jan in 2001 used to be. That has now been removed as the line is no longer there nor active. Since this is the border of the European Union these situations where such "shared facilities" are accommodated are fast disappearing. Jan felt that this was causing gradual decline of the border towns which are becoming less viable due to such restrictions.

We had one more border stop to make before heading back to Vilnius - this was a farm that backs onto the border, a bit further west than Adutiškis. As we drove down the rough farm tracks to approach this area we encountered the border guards but Jan was able to explain our innocent enough intentions and having the business card of the guard who had accompanied us to the tripoint earlier in the day was certainly helpful. They still seemed a little nervous but were happy enough to accompany us to the farm and border area. The farmer was quite intrigued to meet a visitor from Canada - I imagine that there are not too many of those that make it to his farm. Jan explained that, in all probability, when he finally retires, the farm will be abandoned and there will no longer be a resident this close to the border here.



A view along the border line.

Jan checking the map with the farm in the background.

Now it was time to head back to Vilnius - we did stop to find a geocache on the way - my first in Lithuania - my 30th country for finding geocaches. By a strange coincidence this had been set by someone whom Jan had known well during the 1991 Lithuanian freedom struggle and who had also visited Jan's only cache exactly one year previously.

Tomorrow - off to Poland!!

3 comments:

gdagis said...

Hugh . . . .

Please help me if you can. I am traveling to Lithuania for the first time in a few months and wish to visit the Latvia - Lithuania - Belorussian Tri-border. I can get as close as the small village of Tilze on the map but then I lose the definition needed to find the roads leading to the border location. Would you be EVER so kind to give me directions from this place (or a BETTER place IF one exists) so that I can find this spot ? This is a "high point" on my trip for some strange reason; I guess I too am fascinated by borders for some reason ! LOL !

Thanks,
George

Hugh said...

I need a means of contacting you George. If you subscribe to the borderpoint yahoo group (send e-mail requesting subscription to borderpoint-subscribe@yahoogroups.com) I and others will be glad to advise.

gdagis said...

Have now done that. I will wait to get accepted by the group and then repost the question. Thank you. And thank you TOO for your wonderful blog; I've enjoyed it immensely !

Sincerely,
George