Qolma/Kulma pass (China-Tajikistan) border crossing reports

Is the road, border or area open and accessible to foreigners? Is there danger?
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Re: Qolma / Kulma Pass border between Tajikistan and China

Postby steven » Mon Dec 01, 2014 9:24 am

In case you have not read our article yet: http://caravanistan.com/border-crossing ... olma-pass/

This summer it was 50/50 - have a good back-up plan!

Tajik side seems to be even more difficult - at least no positive reports yet. It's all in the article
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Re: Qolma / Kulma Pass border between Tajikistan and China

Postby jill » Sun Dec 07, 2014 8:02 pm

Hi there, received info from Navo Travel Company in China last week: border a no go at this stage for tourists. As always this may change. Many thanks!
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Re: Qolma / Kulma Pass border between Tajikistan and China

Postby steven » Mon Dec 08, 2014 9:15 am

Thanks, that is also my understanding at the moment.
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Re: Qolma pass (from China) - report

Postby pigafetta » Wed Jan 21, 2015 12:34 pm

I see this topic was recently reopened, and since the 'crossing season' will reopwn in few months, I decided to share my experience (late June 2014, Italian passport).
I tried to cross at Qolma on the 27th of June, from the Chinese side, and was sent back. Before going to Kalasu, the Chinese checkpoint, I checked both with the PSB in Kashgar (not far from the old quarter, on Youmulakexia Lu) and the China Custom in Tashkurgan (a few kilometres south of town, I think). They both said the border was now multilateral, and that as long as I had a Tajik visa there was no problem. At the checkpoint, I passed some preliminary controls, and nobody seemed to be bothered. But in the end the guy with the green suit came out and told me clearly that there was no way for me to go through. Another officer explained that they are aware that the border is now open to third-countries travellers, but 'have not received the papers yet'. I didn't take it seriously, but if the British guy made it some two weeks later, maybe it really was a matter of receiving papers, hahaha. As for logistics, if you don't have your own transport, a taxi from Tashkurgan's bus station is 100 CNY and less than one hour drive. If the crossing doesn't work out, it is fairly easy and cheap to hitch a ride from one of the trucks on the Karakorum back to Tashkurgan or north to Kashgar (about 8 hours, 50 CNY). Good luck to those who will try!
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Re: Qolma pass (from China) - report

Postby steven » Sat Aug 15, 2015 4:13 am

Someone made it through in August 2015. Here is his story in full.

The crossing itself took about 6 tons of determination, 6 bags of persistence, and 6 days. I will recount it in detail, because I believe the information is necessary for you when you will be deciding what to put on the website.

I started on Wednesday, July 29th. A minivan took me to the Karasu checkpoint – actually to the back, because it was full of Tajiks wanting to cross. A soldier in the back parking lot didn’t even look at my passport and ran towards me with a big gesture of no – it is not open for foreigners.
Well, I don’t take a “no” from a simple soldier and entered the shiny building from the front. What do you know – there’s a delegation of visiting bigwigs taking pictures gloating. First I went to an officer (in blue), who repeated the same mantra, so I implored with one of the bigwigs, who actually took me all the way to the green guy who stamps your passport. His adamancy more than matched my persistence as he simply repeated several times:
“This crossing is closed for third country nationals.”

Right. So I hitched to Tashkurgan, thinking I’m not gonna give up that easily.If it’s “officially, legally” possible, then it is enforceable – i.e., possible. In Tashkurgan, I tried to call the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) number, which they had posted on their English website. After I said:

“Do you speak English?” the guy hung up.

So I asked my Chinese Canadian friend to call them but he said it would make no sense and asked the hostel proprietress to find out some information on this crossing. She said she would call her “friend” in “the office”.

All right. In the meantime I googled (sorry, binged, we’re in China :-) the Chinese text of the relevant bilateral agreement between China and Tajikistan about opening the border for international goods and passenger traffic on the Chinese MFA website (I also noticed that the number to contact MFA on this Chinese mutation is exactly the same as on the English version :-). Spoiler: This proved to be the key point of my efforts.

The lady from the hostel returned with the answer that it’s closed for foreigners, but she said by the way of consolation that it will be opened next year. Yeah, sure, it’s always supposed to be “next year”. I showed her the agreement, she confirmed that it should be open and half-jokingly proposed that I show it to the border guards.

“Fat chance,” we agreed. A Chinese border guard that just yelled at me the day before is not going to even look at that and would say something in the way of “Oh yeah, that’s a nice website of yours…”

Still, I wanted to give it a try, however small the chance might be, so the next morning (Thursday) I queued for a bus ticket to Karasu. However, the guy told me they don’t sell the tickets there, so in the distress of a long queue behind me I settled for a ticket to Kashgar, figuring the chance was negligible anyway.

In Kashgar I contacted the border police the next day (Friday), based on one of the forum posts. The guy there, who spoke virtually flawless English, confirmed that the agreement says it’s open for everyone, explained to me that it’s not in their competence, sent me to the border military office, and wrote an accompanying half-page letter explaining my woes in case they don’t speak English.

The military border office is a bit out of town and they had some sort of holiday there but a few guys talked to me for an hour (via a Russian translator! You never know when your Russian comes in handy). In the end, they told me it’s not their competence and said that they had no idea whose competence it is. Back to the square one.

I went right back to the police, asking them to call the MFA in Beijing on my behalf to inquire about the status of the border. The guy refused to do it and advised me to call my Embassy, which I did. The staff there were exceedingly helpful. They called the MFA on my behalf – and the MFA didn’t know the status of the border crossing! They advised my Embassy to call the Foreign Affairs Office in Kashgar, where a lady said all four border crossings between China and Tajikistan are closed for foreigners. Yeah, right. Four crossings. Maybe for snow leopards. So I sent my Embassy the agreement and they promised to inquire at the MFA again on Monday.

On Monday, my Embassy (after contacting the MFA again) found out that yes, Karasu is open for everyone, and that I should not have any problems crossing it. Well… a bunch of other people got the same statement from Beijing MFA and it did not help them a single bit. So I asked my Embassy to ask the MFA to call the checkpoint in question (Karasu) with my data (name and passport no.), so that they know. I was also ready to call my Embassy, once I would get there, for Chinese-language assistance.

Come Tuesday, 17.00, I enter the Karasu checkpoint again and a soldier first says no. Then a guy in blue uniform comes to me and gestures there is no way for me to pass – it is closed for foreigners. I shove in his face the printed out text of the agreement (by now somewhat wrinkled) and more bigwigs come out. When they number about 15, luggage checks continue. Then my camera is inspected – but obviously the guy is dumb enough to press the forward button, so he sees my 1-month-old pics of Kyrgyzstan. Then identity checks – I am asked to write my name and sign. Then I am called into the main office where the highest ranking officer talks to me via a lovely Chinese translator. Her politeness almost matches that of Japanese. The big boss actually apologizes to me that the other border officer did not let me through the past Wednesday. I can’t believe my own ears! Then they tell me that I cannot proceed, because there is no transport towards the actual border. I say, “dump me on a truck”. They refuse, allegedly because of my own safety. Then they tell me that they want to help me and take me to the Tajik side. I am afraid that it’s a Chinese way too ask for a bribe but am adamant not to give any. Still, I ask – “How much does it cost?”. They immediately say there’s no cost involved, whereupon I proceed to final checks and the (unbelievable) Karasu exit stamp.

They still keep my passport and put me in a shiny new car, with a driver and a border officer with my passport. Whoever wrote about the weather at Kulma being notoriously bad was spot-on. Even though it was sunny at Karasu checkpoint, about 500m further into the valley road that leads to Kulma Pass it started to rain and heavy gray clouds were snaking over the hills.

After the short trip there was one last check (four soldiers at the fence). I am finally given my passport and cross over to Tajikistan. Couple eyebrows are raised on that side (and a non-standard check of my laptop – I guess the border officer was looking for some prohibited material like porn to extract some bribe), but otherwise everything proceeds in a very cordial manner (partly due to my Russian, I suppose).

That’s the story, now some technicalities:

Obviously, the Chinese, even if they are aware of it being open, don’t want to let foreigners through. I suppose it’s the same reason why you have to take a mandated taxi from Wuqia to Irkeshtam (400 yuan) and an arranged car from Kashgar to Torugart (~300 USD). They are simply afraid you would run away somewhere in the no-man’s-land between the checkpoint and the actual border, where there are no cameras. Since the traffic density is understandably low at Karasu, there is no business for taxis or buses, so they would have to ferry everyone to the border themselves – and they cannot ask for money for that (I guess it’s the Xi Jinping’s drive to eradicate corruption).

I am not sure whether they let me because I showed them the agreement or because the Chinese MFA really did call them. I am inclined to the latter, because they even apologized to me, so some kind of high-level telling-off might have been involved. It’s anyone’s guess, really, whether I would have succeeded already on Thursday with just the copy of the agreement in my hand.

I think the general problem here is that a Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs signs an agreement with the Tajik counterpart, but it’s so far from the actual situation on the ground, that the border guys either don’t know about it or simply refuse to implement it (even the MFA did not know the status until I dug up the document).

I leave it up to you how much of this you make public. But in general I wouldn't advertise it too much, because who knows, the border officials might get angry and close it again, who knows.

Still, it’s 100% possible but I obviously went way further than anyone else in trying to get through. To anyone who wants to cross I’d suggest to bring a copy of the agreement :

Here's the agreement:

http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_chn/ziliao_ ... 6634.shtml (2003)

http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_chn/ziliao_ ... 7972.shtml (2011)

Machine-translated by Google

https://translate.google.com/translate? ... edit-text=

The crucial sentence (Google translated):

"First, the two sides agreed to open up Karasu [...] border crossings to the international road passenger and freight transport. The port is open all year round port that allows the parties and third countries (regions) personnel, transport, goods and articles immigration."

If anyone's in China (no access to Google), Microsoft translator can be used with similar results:

http://www.bing.com/translator

Anyone wanting to cross can either print the agreement out or have it on a tablet and to make sure, one should contact the respective Embassy in China, send them the link with the agreement and ask them for a possible language interpretation service in case something goes wrong.

The fact that I crossed does not mean it is going to be easier for others, but it should definitely shorten the process as I ran up multiple dead-ends. In the end, it’s the Chinese MFA that appears to have competence over it.
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Re: Qolma pass (from China) - report

Postby bwv812 » Sat Aug 15, 2015 7:49 am

Fascinating report.

I want to know what the hell citizenship this guy has where the embassies are so good. My experience with Canadian embassies is that they know nothing and really don't want to help you, even over relatively serious stuff, so I wouldn't even think to bother calling my embassy over something like this.
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Re: Qolma pass (from China) - report

Postby steven » Sat Aug 15, 2015 8:08 am

He's a Slovak, just in case you're considering switching citizenship :-)
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Re: Qolma pass (from China) - report

Postby monkey_head » Tue Oct 27, 2015 2:27 pm

Hello Steven,

in 2016 i want to ride with my bike from the black sea to New Dehli. My favourite route goes over the Qolma pass from Tajikistan to China.

Th both links in the Long discription are net workling. Is it possible to update them?
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Re: Qolma pass (from China) - report

Postby steven » Mon Nov 02, 2015 11:44 am

Hi monkeyhead,

I would not know where to start really, I cannot speak Chinese. I just copy/pasted the report from the person who did it. If you want, you can get in touch with him. Send me a pm and I will send you his e-mail address.
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Re: Qolma pass (from China) - report

Postby Wildcamel » Wed Aug 10, 2016 2:30 pm

I am a USA citizen and crossed the Kumla/Karasu pass a few days ago. 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 even though I had been there longer then 72 hours. He was quite angry and kept on pointing at the exit slip where it says something of that sort. I hadn't read anything about such a thing on any travel website so was quite confused...but didn't know what to do. If you go make sure you stand your ground about that and other ways the Tajiks may want to scam you.

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.

The pass is not open on Sunday...and I think maybe not Saturday either.
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