When planning our trip down the KKH in Pakistan (more about that later on) we realized we wanted to make the trip a bit longer. The Torugart Pass seemed like a good enough challenge. Starting in Bishkek gave us a good starting point, before heading down south east to Naryn. In order to get thru the pass before the Chinese went on their three hour lunch break (11 am to 2 pm) we left Naryn early on September 2nd.
The website Dangerous roads claimed in an article that the Torugart pass is ”one of Asia´s most unpredictable border posts. 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.” Furthermore, “the special regulations and the remoteness of the border post can make this a daunting experience for the unwary independent traveler.”
After leaving Naryn, we soon got up on the plateau that slowly got us higher and higher up. The scenery was great all the way up to the first military checkpoint. The first of many that day, as it would turn out. For the last half hour leading up to the customs house where we actually left the country, the scenery got even better.
At 10.20 we stood at the actual Gate of the Torugart Pass, 3 752 metres above sea level. China was on the other side. We couldn’t cross because our guide on the Chinese side hadn’t shown up yet. Meanwhile, the Chinese border guards saw how quiet it was and therefore decided to lock the gate already at 10.40. All that was needed was a simple padlock and a chain, and the border was closed. We would now have to wait for three to four hours in the rain and snow until we would be able to pass. But, we got lucky. The gate re-opened for a group of seemingly important guests coming from the Chinese side, and that was also when our guide decided to show up. We walked into China and the gate closed behind us.
Even though we had crossed the border and were on Chinese territory, we passed two more checkpoints before getting to the one where they stamped our passports and (theoretically) checked your luggage. Even after having travelled 110 km on dirt roads from the Torugart pass gate and being less than an hour away Kashgar (with a good driver – our driver was not), the notion that we had entered China was just an illusion up to that last checkpoint.
For those of you who are heading the same way, this is how are day looked like:
- Departure Naryn at 06.30 am.
- Check Point 1 (Kyrgyz check point) at 9.30 am.
- Check Point 2 (Exit Point of Kyrgyzstan) at 1000 am.
- Check Point 3 (Torugart Pass). Arrived at 1020 am, left at 1120 am.
- Check Point 4 at 11.25 am, left at 11.40 am.
- Check Point 5 at 1.45 pm. Took a few minutes.
- Check Point 6 (Entry Point of China). Arrived at 2.15 pm, left at 3.15 pm.
- Arrived at the KKH Breeze Hostel at 5.15 pm.
For future travellers down this road we can warmly recommend Kubat tours in Naryn for this trip. The driver and guide on the Chinese side was not as good as on the Kyrgyz side, but we got what we paid for – getting from Naryn to Kashgar in one day and all the necessary help with the bundles of red tape that this trip includes. I quoted an article from Dangerous roads in the beginning. Caravanistan.com has also information on passing this border. (It was also thru them we found Kubat Tours.)
Note that opening hours are constantly shifting. The times I have written here are double and tripled checked on both sides of the border. But the times, the fee or what is considered “necessary documents” are likely to change again.
I have to say that it was all worth the trouble and even the money spent. We had a great day passing the border. All you really need is documents in order and a lot of patience and you´ll be fine.