Central Asia is famous for some difficult border crossings. Recently, the YPT team crossed one of such places between Kyrgyzstan and China. High mountain peaks, freeing temperatures and roadside cups of tea, this is Ben’s guide to crossing the Torugart Pass.
High mountain peaks, freezing temperatures, and roadside cups of tea.
Firstly, it must be mentioned that this crossing cannot simply be done by yourself. It takes planning on both the Kyrgyz and Chinese side. From the Kyrgyz side, you need to have your passport information sent to the border area prior to your arrival. And, you must organize your own transport as there is no public transport to the border.
Once you arrive at the Kyrgyz side of the border you will enter what is called the “buffer zone”. This area is about 50km to Kyrgyz immigration. This area is now a national park and very few people come here except truck drivers and the odd nomad. Passing through the buffer zone, you will bypass kilometer long convoys of trucks carrying goods into China. Once arriving at the top of the pass, you will then go through passport control at an elevation of 3740m above sea level. Even in summer it can be freezing cold up here so pack a jacket or gloves. The guards up here are extremely friendly and as you leave they will wish you a safe journey to see you once again come back to their beloved Kyrgyz Republic.
– Even in summer it can be freezing cold up here so pack a jacket or gloves –
Once passport control is done, you meet your vehicle just through the small shed next to an extremely average duty -free store. Yes, that’s right, even at high altitude, in the absolute middle-of-nowhere, they have a duty-free store. Out of passport control, you will find yourself in no man’s land. This 7km of empty space is the last section before you start to enter Chinese border procedures.
Once you arrive at the Chinese side, you must wait for your driver from the Chinese side to meet you in this area. Our group waited for about 45 minutes as the Chinese are (according to the local Kyrgyz guide) always late. This is a great time to pull out the portable stove and brew some tea while waiting in the cold. It’s not the worst place in the world to wait, as it has some amazing scenery of snow-capped mountains, deep valleys and of course if you’re there on one of our tours you’ll be with great company.
Now, the Chinese side is a little less fun.
Crossing into China they will have a checklist with your name from the driver that meets you there. Your driver will take you a few kilometers to the first Chinese checkpoint where they will scan your bags and scan you. Note that your passport won’t be stamped here. Continuing down into Xinjiang, you will drive for about two hours further into Chinese territory (still without your passport being stamped). At this point, you are in a very heavily controlled Chinese buffer zone which extends for about 150 km. You will go through several checkpoints, sometimes getting out – sometimes not (depending on how the guards and the checkpoints are feeling). Finally, you will arrive at Chinese immigration control, where your passport will be stamped and you will finally be in the People’s Republic.
This part of China works on two time zones; Local time GMT+6 and Beijing standard time GMT+8.
When we arrived at the border it was about 3pm and could not cross because the guards were at lunch (according to local time) so we had to wait for them to finish before continuing into China.
This whole process from start to finish takes roughly 5 hours and will also take patience and understanding, but it is an awesome experience and a great way to see a part of the world that very few people see.