The Qolma pass is the only border crossing between China and Tajikistan. It has been a standard international border crossing from 1st of June 2014, but until 2017, no one who did not speak fluent Chinese got through.
In June 2017, a Swiss citizen got through with relative ease from China to Tajikistan, followed by a Bulgarian in August and 2 cycling Slovaks in September. None of them spoke Chinese. This will hopefully pave the way for more successful foreigner crossings in the future.
Note that I have no clue of the correct spelling of this border crossing.
With the summer 2017 events in mind, the Kulma crossing seems no longer to be only for border geeks. Hopefully in the near future, Kulma will become a new route to cross from Tajikistan to Pakistan, combining the Pamir Highway with the Karakorum Highway.
In case of refusal, the Irkeshtam pass on the edge of Kyrgyzstan is the more reliable alternative into China.
Opening hours and location
China and Tajikistan agreed to open the Qolma pass continuously, instead of the previous 15 days a month. It is still closed on Sunday, and perhaps on Saturday too. Prepare adequately: it gets very cold there! Expect snowfall until May. The Chinese border opens weekdays at 11 or 12am. (GMT+8), soon afterwards to be closed at lunch time for at least 1 hour, and to be closed in the evening around 5pm depending on traffic. Closed on weekends.
Is it closed in winter? Some say yes, others say it is open year-round weather permitting. We don’t know for sure. In any case, travelers have passed in November and in May.
Customs and immigration on the Tajik side is right at the Kulma pass, which is at the top of a mountain, while Chinese customs and immigration procedures are conducted 14 km downhill from the pass at the Kalasu Port of Entry, which is right next to the Karakorum Highway.
There is no bus service across the Kulma, and even though the Kalasu Port of Entry is right on the Karakorum Highway, hitching is the only way to get from there to the nearest town, Tashkurgan. The nearest major city, Kashgar, is 220 km away in the opposite direction. You could be stuck on either side for a long time. There are several tiny ethnic Kyrgyz settlements nearby but there are no hotels or hostels and there is only one, usually full, bus passing by per day along the KKH in either direction.
From the Tajik side, you will need to hitch a ride with a trucker from Murghab, or get a local to drive you.
Border crossing reports
September 2017: 2 Slovak cyclists got through without problems. They were heavily checked on the Chinese side, though, and advised against taking petrol cans and knives, and deleting any books or pictures that may be interpreted the wrong way.
August 2017: A Bulgarian citizen without knowledge of Mandarin got through. He said it was ‘a piece of cake’.
June 2017: A Swiss citizen with no knowledge of Mandarin got through in one day and with little trouble, starting from Tashkurgan to Tajikistan.
November 2016: a Canadian citizen succeeded in crossing. Keep in mind that he lived in China for many years and has a Chinese work permit. Also speaks Chinese fluently (and has a Chinese wife and daughter, who was born in China). He believes all of these factors were vital to his success in crossing the Kulma, which wasn’t easy!
August 2016: A USA citizen crossed the Qolma border. The Tajik border guards told me it was impossible at each point, and I think genuinely thought so. When I confidently told them it was possible they asked me what kind of guanxi/munasowat (relationship) I had with the Chinese that I was so confident. The Chinese also were a bit confused what to do, but on the Chinese side the people who were in charge knew it was possible.
Though I got through it took all day and quite a lot of persistence. It may have also helped that I could speak both Kyrgyz and Chinese and so could communicate my ideas well. I also got scammed by the Tajik border guard who “fined” me for not registering in Tajikistan.
I think the border crossing would be easier to do from the Chinese side as the Chinese (at least the top officials) knew that it was possible for third country nationals whereas everybody on the Tajik side was quite certain that was not the case.
August 2015: One man managed to cross after 6 days of battling bureaucracy. See his report here. The links in the original post are no longer working, but we saved them. Chuck this in Google Translate to read the original agreement.
May 2015: When we visit Kashgar custom on monday, we were told it is open since May 2015. We headed immediatly to Kalasu port of entry. But unfortunately same story. Officers says still they did not receive the necessary documents to let the foreigners go from this border.
July 2014: ZendaCCC became the first foreigner (British passport but actually a Chinese guy born in Hong Kong) to cross the Qolma pass from China to Tajikistan by bicycle. He asserts the pass from China to Tajikistan is 100% accessible for foreigners; but the below report says otherwise.
July 2014: China -> Tajikistan. Today I was passing by Qolma and decided to give it a try as there were no reports from this direction. The officers looked concerned themselves and had to look for an answer for some time. Finally they told me that it was only bilateral. When I told them it was open for internationals now (refering to Chinese ministry of foreign affairs) they were even more confused but still did not change their mind.
For locals: the border opens at 12:00 Beijing time and there was a good amount of Tajik truckers willing to give me a lift (they also thought it is possible with all the paperwork in order). Oh yes, it is really cold up there!
June 2014: Italian guy tried, but no luck. “We don’t have the right papers.”
July 2013: I decided to give it a shot and try to cross through Kulma pass. I’ve passed all of the Tajik checkposts but the guys at the Chinese side weren’t even willing to listen. They said it is open only to Tajiks and Chinese.
Updates can be posted in this forum post.
From Murghab to the checkpoint – a rough ride
Past the Tajik checkpoint, the pavement is nice.
Tajik checkpoint before the climb up to the pass
10 km to go
The Tajik border post at 4365 m
Only trucks here. Note the bad weather.
Carrying Chinese goods to Tajik consumers
In the distance, Muztagh Ata towers. It is very high.
3.800m high on the Karakorum Highway
Kalasu Port of Entry” or just “Kalasu Port”, located right next to the Karakorum Highway, approximately 14 km from the Kulma Pass. It is the Kulma Pass that marks the actual Sino-Tajik border, not the Kalasu Port. Chinese customs and immigration procedures are conducted at the Kalasu Port for goods and people crossing the Kulma Pass, but it should not be mistaken for the border itself.
Kalasu, Port of Entry
The turn-off to Tajikistan on the Karakorum Highway
Thanks go to ZendaCCC and Colin Maclennan for the pictures.