The Torugart Pass: A How to Guide
The Torugart Pass connecting Kyrgyzstan and China is billed as one of the most logistically difficult international borders to cross in the world. There is a ton of paperwork, permits, invitations and checkpoints all the way from Naryn in Kyrgyzstan to Kashgar in China. Without the right preparation, things can go terribly wrong – in 1999 a group of Dutch backpackers was stranded in the 70KM+ wide no man’s land for weeks after they exited Kyrgyzstan and were not allowed to enter China. But, with the right preparation and a little extra cash, crossing the pass can be a beautiful and convenient way to get from Kyrgyzstan into China. All-in we spent $350 for a no-hassle crossing and private cars on each side for more than 1,000km of driver-time. At $.35 per kilometer, this is the cheapest ride in Central Asia (and the drivers take care of all the border logistics, invitations, etc…). This price was for one car on each side, so the per person cost is much lower. I hope that readers looking to cross at Torugart can use the comment section below to organize themselves into larger groups to defray the cost. Note that the travel agencies or CBT will not make a big effort to find other people to ride with you, since it is a headache and less money for them.
Before attempting the Pass, the most important thing to understand is that the main reason that the Pass is difficult for tourists to cross is that it is not meant for tourists. The Chinese and Kyrgyz governments have decided to designate is as a commercial thoroughfare. Indeed, truckers prefer it to the Irkeshtam Pass in southern Kyrgyzstan where they reportedly pay higher fees/bribes and rougher roads. As a result, Chinese trucks carrying consumer goods to Kyrgyzstan’s markets wind for miles down each side of the Pass waiting for customs inspection. In short, as a tourist, you are not really welcome there. Showing up and hoping you can hitchhike and talk your way through three checkpoints on each side and many kilometers of no-man’s land is not a winning strategy. It could work, but success is unlikely and would be time consuming even with the best of luck. As the hapless Dutch backpackers learned, being stranded 300 kilometers from the nearest town at 4,000meters altitude is just not worth the possible savings vs. hiring someone to help you navigate the Pass.
We found the cheapest and completely hassle-free way of crossing the pass to be arranging forward travel through the CBT (Community Based Tourism, the agencies are all over Kyrgyzstan) in Naryn, Kyrgyzstan. They arranged the transport on both sides of the border and made sure the ample required paperwork was in order. The all-in cost was $140 for the 200km drive from Naryn to the Pass and $210 for the 300km from the Pass to Kashgar. These prices were to rent the whole car – which fit 6-8 people, so after dividing up the cost, it worked out to be cheaper than many Central Asian shared taxi rides. In addition to being reasonably priced transport, the drivers know the border guards personally, arrange for the “special invitations” on both the Kyrgyz and Chinese sides for you to cross through the Pass, speak English and are generally nice guys who have it together. We highly recommend Kubat at the Naryn CBT; his contact information is below:
Kubat Abdyldaev – CBT Naryn Coordinator
Office – 03522-50895
Mobile – 0772-689262
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
If you go with him, the hardest thing about crossing the Pass will be drumming up enough people who want to go in order to split the cost. Hopefully, the comment space below can be helpful to people looking to link up for the crossing.