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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steven
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Re: Qolma pass (from China) - report

Post by steven »

Crossing the Kulma: A Travel Report by Colin MacLennan

I didn’t think there was much of a chance that I’d be allowed through (or that the pass would even be open that time of year), but I decided to go for it anyway after reading a post on Caravanistan by a US citizen claiming to have crossed, with difficulty, in August, 2016. The Kulma Pass border crossing first opened in late 2004 but was officially restricted to Chinese and Tajik nationals until 2014, when reports began to appear online of “third country nationals” (ie non-Chinese or Tajik citizens) finally being allowed to cross as well. Of course, I read plenty of other reports online of failed attempts since 2014 but I figured if at least one “TCN” had been successful recently, there was at least a glimmer of hope for me too. I also figured I had a few advantages going for me over the average traveler, namely: being a resident of China with a work permit and being able to speak Chinese, both of which turned out to be vital to my success.

I ended up having to hire a 4x4 jeep to drive me from the depressingly dusty and desolate moonscape town of Murghab to the Kulma Pass because there were no transport trucks or shared vehicles heading that way on the morning I wanted to go. The ride cost me $55 USD for a 90 km journey, which was a bit pricey, but the driver (who was Kyrgyz, incidentally) said he wouldn’t be able to find any other passengers to go with me, nor be able to find any on the way back, so I was really paying for a round trip. Of course, the silver lining to this was that I would have been able to ride back with him if I was turned away by Tajik border guards, which was a definite possibility. The driver seemed a bit worried about this, as well. He told me he had been to the Kulma Pass many times but had never seen or heard of a TCN crossing it. When he asked if I had a Chinese visa, I said that I actually I lived in China and showed him my work permit, then he said “Oh, ok, no problem”!

The 90km drive from Murghab to the Kulma Pass took about 3 hours because most of the road was abominably bad – by far the worst road I’ve travelled on in Central Asia (not counting Afghanistan). The road was in a dire state of disrepair for the first 70km – unpaved, badly potholed and pock-marked - but the last 20km was paved and in decent condition. It was evident that large tractor-trailer transport trucks plying the cross border trade between Tajikistan and China over the Kulma Pass had basically thrashed the unpaved portion of the road to smithereens. About an hour into the journey we passed a convoy of two such trucks lumbering along uneasily at about 20km per hour. Despite the altitude (about 3700 metres, at that point) and season (mid-November), there was no snow, but the road was so decrepit that the trucks couldn’t manage to go any faster. Even at 20km per hour, I could see that their suspension systems were taking a beating, as was the road under the weight of their loads; I didn’t know whether or not to feel more pity for the trucks or the road.

I think we passed one or two tiny settlements along the way – not villages or even hamlets, but bleak little herding outposts in the middle of nowhere. Apart from the two transport trucks, the only other vehicle we saw was a camo-painted Humvee that drove by us shortly after we began driving on the newly paved section of the road. A short while later, we came to a military checkpoint manned by two Tajik soldiers. One of them stood in front of a fence that blocked the road and signaled for us to stop as we approached. We got out of the vehicle and he directed us into a hut at the side of the road where another soldier inside greeted us politely and asked to see our IDs. I nervously held my breath as he inspected my passport, fearing that he was about to turn us back, but relaxed once he began to write my information in a log book. Once we emerged from the hut, the soldier outside opened the gate for us and we continued on our way.

The topography quickly changed from lunar doom-scape to gently rolling hills and it soon became obvious that we were gaining elevation rapidly. About 10 minutes past the military checkpoint we saw a road sign indicating that the Kulma Pass was a mere 10 km away! As soon as I saw it, my pulse quickened, both out of nervousness and excitement. The surrounding hills began to close in as we approached the top of the pass, then all of a sudden, a massive, snow and ice-encrusted mountain came into view. I quickly realized this was Muztagh Ata, which means “Father of Ice” in Turkic because of the large number glaciers spilling out of it. One of the most famous mountains in Xinjiang, the Chinese province or “autonomous region” that borders Tajikistan, I’d seen it up close several times before while traveling in Xinjiang, so I knew what it looked like. On cresting a hill, I could finally see the Tajik border post about 5 km in front of us. Consisting of several sizeable, squat 2 and 3 story buildings, the border post was much larger than I expected for being in such a remote area.

The scenery at the top of the pass, with the enormous Muztagh Ata massif towering over the border post, was absolutely stunning. Despite being located about 30 kilometres from the border on the Chinese side, Muztagh Ata is so enormous in both height (7500 metres) and circumference that it looked as if the border post was located right at the base of it. At an elevation of 4365 metres above sea level, the Kulma Pass is the second highest international border crossing in the world after the 4693 metre high Khunjerab Pass, which lies on the fabled Karakorum Highway (referred to in China as the "Sino-Pakistan Friendship Highway") that runs from Kashgar, in Xinjiang, to Islamabad. The Kulma Pass is also the only official border crossing between Tajikistan and China, while the Khujerab Pass is likewise the only official border crossing between China and Pakistan (I’ve crossed this twice before). Both passes, which are only about 200 km apart by road (150 km as the crow flies), are located in remote, sparsely populated areas that offer superb high-altitude mountain scenery. It’s tough to decide which pass offers better scenery but if I had to choose, I’d say the Kulma wins out because of the presence of Muztagh Ata, which totally dominates its surroundings. Fortunately, the weather was also excellent that day - cold and windy, to be sure, but sunny and clear.

As we came within a few kilometers of the border crossing, I was relieved to see a long line of transport trucks parked on the Tajik side. There must have been at least 50 trucks waiting at the border, which was a good sign for two reasons: first, it indicated the likelihood that the border was indeed open, and secondly, it meant the possibility of hitching a ride from the top of the pass, where the official border crossing is, to the Karakorum Highway 14 km away at the bottom of the pass on the Chinese side. I was still pessimistic about my chances of even getting across, but at least it looked like I would have an opportunity to plead my case and, if successful, possibly even avoid having to walk 14 kilometres in cold weather . I read conflicting information online about when the pass was actually open to traffic; Wikipedia said it was open from the 16th to the 30th of the month from May to November (I was trying to cross on November 15th) but other sites like Caravanistan said it was open all month and “closed in winter until late April/early May”, but didn’t mention when it actually closed for the winter.

When we pulled up to the Tajik border post, there was an armed Tajik soldier standing in front of a gate blocking the road. We stopped just before the gate and my driver got out of the jeep to speak to him. After about a minute the soldier signaled to me to get out as well, so I grabbed my belongings and showed him my passport. He inspected it half-heartedly, then opened the gate and signaled to me without speaking to follow him. At that point, I looked back and saw my driver and his father (who had come along for the ride), standing beside their jeep. They looked a bit nervous, which made me even more nervous, but I was also relieved to see they hadn’t already driven away. I’m guessing they wanted to see if I was going to be allowed through.

I followed the soldier towards a building on the opposite side of the road but as we were crossing it, a Chinese SUV with Chinese military license plates pulled up right beside us and stopped. I could see several uniformed Chinese soldiers inside, as well as a Tajik man in civilian clothes sitting amongst them. It was obvious right away that the Tajik man, much more so that the Chinese soldiers, was surprised by my presence. He immediately demanded in excellent English to see my passport. After quickly inspected it, he started questioning me in a polite but moderately stern and suspicious tone. He asked how I had arrived at the Kulma Pass and where I was going. I told him I had hired a private jeep in Murghab to drive me to the border and that I wanted to enter China via the Kulma Pass, but he seemed unsatisfied with my answers and continued with more questions, namely when and how I had entered Tajikistan. I told him I had crossed from Kyrgyzstan into Tajikistan over the Kyzl Art Pass by shared jeep the day before, then spent the night in Murghab before hiring a jeep in the morning. He inspected my passport again to see if my story checked out before dropping the bomb that I had feared all along: the Kulma Pass was not open to non-Chinese foreigners. My heart sank on hearing these dreaded words, but I quickly replied that I lived in China with my Chinese wife and daughter and had a work permit, which I took out to show him as well. To my surprise, as soon as I mentioned this, he switched to Chinese, which he spoke fluently. I immediately replied in kind, which seemed to impress both him and the Chinese soldiers in the jeep. As soon as we switched to Chinese, the whole tone of the conversation changed from that of an interrogation to friendly chitchat. My Tajik interrogator even joked with me about how lucky I was to have a Chinese wife, while the Chinese soldiers began to ask me the standard, boring questions that Chinese people always ask me about my life in China: how long I’ve lived there, what do I do, am I used to Chinese food, etc. After a few minutes of this, the Tajik man got on his radio and began speaking in Tajik. After about a minute on the radio, he suddenly asked me for my “immigration card”. I told him I didn’t have one and didn’t even know what it was. He was obviously a bit annoyed by my answer and asked if the border guard who had stamped my passport the day before had not given me one. I told him that I hadn’t received one when I entered Tajikistan, which was the truth, but he said I should have. A moment of tense silence passed, in which he appeared to be thinking about what to do about the absent “immigration card”, then he suddenly addressed the Tajik soldier who was with me and started speaking to him in Tajik. The solider listened intently and nodded eagerly the way soldiers do when receiving orders from a superior. When he finished speaking to the solider, he handed back my passport and work permit and told me that the soldier would escort me to the customs and immigration building. A dizzying feeling of euphoric relief washed over me at that moment! I smiled widely and immediately reached into the car with my hand outstretched to shake his, which he accepted, then thanked him several times in Chinese, English, Tajik and Russian as we shook hands.

After saying goodbye to everyone in the jeep, I turned around to see if my driver was still waiting. He was, so I smiled and waved to him as a gesture of thanks before pointing towards China to indicate that I was heading in that direction. He smiled and waved back, then I turned around and walked towards the customs and immigration building with my military escort. Once inside, he pointed me to a window with another soldier behind it who beckoned me to hand over my passport, while also asking in Russian if I spoke Russian, to which I replied “nyet”. I was the only traveler in the room. As the soldier behind the window inspected my passport, the soldier who escorted me to the building used pantomime to tell me to take off my backpack and remove its contents. He made a cursory, half-hearted inspection of the contents as I removed them piece by piece but before I was half finished, he signaled me to pack my bag. Afterwards, we stood in awkward silence for a few more minutes until the solider behind the window handed back my passport. I immediately flipped through the pages to look for the Tajik exit stamp; sure enough, it was there! I smiled and thanked him in Russian and Tajik, then the soldier who escorted me to the building walked me outside and pointed towards the Chinese border post about 300 metres away. I thanked him in Tajik and Russian as well, then turned around and began walking along the road towards Chinese territory.

I was slightly surprised that the soldier just let me walk away unescorted in a restricted border zone but maybe he wasn’t allowed to go any closer to Chinese territory or figured I couldn’t get into much trouble on my own. Fortunately, this freedom offered the perfect opportunity to quickly snap a few photos and even record a bit of video in an area where such things are usually forbidden. After walking about 30 metres, I turned around to see if the soldier was still there and when I saw he wasn’t, I immediately reached into my pocket and pulled out my gopro to begin discreetly filming my surroundings. At first there wasn’t much to see apart from trucks, a few buildings, and a border fence covered in razor wire with a Chinese guard tower just behind it, but after walking a bit further I noticed a stone boundary marker about 50 metres in front of the border fence. I walked up to it and discovered that it was a Chinese boundary marker engraved with the national emblem of the People’s Republic of China at the top, along with the Chinese characters for China directly below, followed by the number “83” and “2006” below that, which I assumed indicated that the boundary marker was erected in that year. As a major “border junky”, perhaps even “border nerd”, with a particular fetish for Chinese border crossings, this was a real treat!

During my brief stroll towards Chinese territory I walked past about a dozen container transport trucks that were parked in a line leading right up to the border fence. Several Chinese and Tajik truck drivers were milling about next to their vehicles, so I walked up to one of the Chinese drivers and asked if he knew where I was supposed to go once I was on Chinese territory. He pointed to a building with a sign in Chinese that said “Border Defense” about a hundred metres away. A gate attached to the border fence was open, so I simply walked into Chinese territory and headed straight for the border defense building. About 50 metres in front of it, an unarmed Chinese border guard suddenly approached me and asked where I was going, so I handed him my passport and told him that I wanted to enter China. He quickly glanced at my passport and said that I couldn’t enter the building yet because it was lunch time. I asked how long before it would reopen and he replied, “a little while”. Then he pointed towards Tajik territory and told me to walk back to the line of trucks and wait there until he signaled for me to re-enter Chinese territory.

When I approached the first truck in line, I noticed a Tajik boundary marker directly across the road from the Chinese boundary marker (I hadn’t noticed it previously because it had been obscured by the line of trucks). It was painted in the colours of the Tajik national flag (red, white and green) but lacked inscriptions. I quickly snapped a few photos and walked back to the trucks to shelter myself from the piercing wind. I stood around in the freezing cold with half a dozen Tajik and Chinese drivers for about 20 minutes before the Chinese border guard gave the signal to cross into Chinese territory. The drivers all immediately jumped into their trucks, while I walked back across the border onto Chinese territory. About 20 metres onto Chinese soil, three or four armed Chinese soldiers approached me cautiously, looking both curious and confused. Hoping to dispel any notion that I was a potential threat, I greeted them cheerily in Chinese and handed one of them my passport. They immediately huddled to gawk at it, while the soldier holding it curiously flipped through the pages. Evidently unable to read English, he handed it back after about a minute and asked where I was from. I explained that I was Canadian but lived and worked in China and had a Chinese wife and daughter. Both he and his colleagues appeared obviously surprised to hear this, but smiled with approval, and even chuckled a bit, before beginning to ask questions about my life in China. While we were chatting, an armored personnel carrier drove up and stopped right in front of us. One of the soldiers next to me immediately announced to the soldiers inside the APC that I was Canadian but lived and worked in China and had a Chinese wife and daughter! The soldiers inside the APC seemed equally surprised to hear this too but were also quite friendly. I handed one of them my passport, then chatted with them for a few minutes until a soldier inside the APC told one of the soldiers standing with me to escort me to a large warehouse-shaped building about 100 metres away.

Once inside the building, we walked into an office where several other soldiers were sitting and drinking tea. The soldier who brought me there briefly explained to them what I was, then handed one of them my passport. After inspecting it for a few minutes, the soldier holding my passport started asking me a long list of questions about my travels. He was polite, even friendly, but wanted to know all the details of my trip: when I had last left China and from where; how I had arrived at the Kulma Pass; why I had been in Tajikistan and where I had travelled in the country. He specifically asked if I had been to any areas of Tajikistan that border Afghanistan or if I had actually been to Afghanistan. I told him I hadn’t, which was partially untrue: I hadn’t been to, or near, Afghanistan during this particular trip, but I had visited Tajikistan a few years prior and, indeed, even travelled to Afghanistan during that trip. Fortunately, that trip was made on an earlier passport, so he had no way of knowing. After the questioning, he asked to see my camera and started looking through all my photos. I literally had a few thousand photos on my memory card and didn’t want him to go through all of them, but I knew there was no way to stop him.

He looked through my camera for a moment, then suddenly stopped and told me to pick up my bag and follow another soldier into an adjoining room, where I was asked to empty the entire contents of my bag onto a stainless steel table. I was also asked to empty all the pockets of my pants and jacket. This soldier was also friendly but very thorough. He took his time closely inspecting every single item I put on the table and asked what several items were, including my compass, handheld gps unit, powerbank, gopro, Sony handycam, and battery chargers for several devices. He also asked if I had any drugs or weapons. When I said no, he looked me straight in the eye, smiled and replied with a phrase that I hadn’t heard before in Chinese (or English for that matter), which translates roughly as, “Drugs are the enemy of mankind”. It was obviously just a bit of propaganda he learned by rote in school or the military, but there was something about the way he said it that really hit me; a certain conviction in his voice that made the phrase seem quite profound at the time.

After inspecting all my possessions, the soldier asked me to turn around and put my hands against the wall before frisking me from head to toe by hand and running one of those wands used for detecting drugs and explosives up and down my body, for good measure. He also ran the wand over all my possessions. When he was finished, I asked him what the wand was for, but he just grinned without speaking and placed a small piece of paper that was on the tip of it, into a machine that is supposed to detect residue from drugs or explosives. Fortunately, the results were negative (as I was expecting them to be, of course). Once all that was over, he told me to pack up and escorted me back to the other room.

The soldier who had interrogated me there and asked to see my camera was still looking at my photos when I reappeared, which was rather surprising since I had been gone nearly an hour. After a moment, he looked up at me, smiled and said he liked my photos! This would have felt more like a compliment if I hadn’t minded so much that he was snooping through the entire contents of my SD card! Oblivious to how I felt, he kindly told me to sit on a bench on the other side of the room and continued to look through my camera. I sat there in silence and stared at him while he continued to look through my photos, which was quite irritating, not least because I had to hold my tongue. About 30 minutes later, a man in civilian clothes walked into the room and was greeted by the soldier holding my camera. The soldier then explained to him that I needed a drive to the customs and immigration building and told me to get up and follow him out of the room. I thanked the soldier but when I got up to leave, I actually had to ask him to return my camera!

The man in civilian clothes drove me from the Chinese side of the Kulma Pass down a winding road to the customs and immigration building about 14 km away. This building is called the “Karasu Port of Entry” and is located right next to the Karakorum Highway. When we pulled up to the building I immediately noticed a customs officer standing outside, staring at me intently. It was clear he was awaiting my arrival. I got out of the car, thanked the driver and greeted the customs officer. After asking for my passport, he told me to please follow him inside. The main hall of the building, where travelers are usually processed, was dark and completely empty. We walked across the hall and he brought me into a side room where two customs officers were sitting. They greeted me politely, asked me to sit down and offered me a cup of boiling water, while the first customs officer handed one of them my passport. After inspecting it for a few minutes, they launched into the same line of questioning as the border defense soldiers back at the Kulma Pass. However, the two customs officers were far more thorough in their line of questioning than any of the border defense soldiers. Ironically, despite being armed and dressed in fatigues, the soldiers were far less intimidating than the unarmed customs officers. To be sure, the former asked plenty of questions, but were warm and friendly; they seemed more curious about me than anything else, whereas the customs agents seemed stern and suspicious.

They wanted to know when and how I had left China, everywhere I had been during my trip, who I had been with, and exactly how I travelled from place to place. They even asked for the name of the border crossing where I had entered into Tajikistan from Kyrgyzstan the previous day. When I told them the name, Kyzl Art, they looked confused and asked for the Chinese name, which I thought was an odd question since it wasn’t even a Chinese border crossing. When I told them I didn’t know the Chinese name they immediately looked concerned, even a bit annoyed, so I tried to satisfy them by offering to show them where it was on a map. I actually had several English and Chinese language maps of Central Asia with me, so was able to show them the location of the border crossing in question. Unfortunately, not even the Chinese maps had a Chinese name for it, despite it being located only about 20 km from the Sino-Tajik border.

They also asked detailed questions about my personal life: how long I’d lived in China, how I met my wife, what work she did, where we lived, how old my daughter was, where she was born, etc; they even asked why they weren’t with me! They also inspected my work permit and asked a lot of questions about my job, including my salary, which I was loathe to discuss, so I just made up a number. The impression I got from them was that they suspected I wasn’t who I said I was, which was understandable considering they probably hadn’t encountered many Canadians, or any other third country nationals, trying to enter China through the Kulma Pass; who knows, maybe they even thought I might be a Central Asian terrorist using a fake Canadian passport to sneak into China and carry out an attack…

After a solid hour of questioning, one of the customs officers put my passport into a scanner and began scanning it page by page. I was quite surprised by this since I had never seen this done before in all my numerous experiences crossing many of China’s land borders (not to mention the countless times I’d entered China by air). In all my previous experiences, Chinese customs officers usually only cared if I had a valid visa to enter the country, not about the other countries I’d traveled to. In fact, Chinese customs officers are usually quite easygoing, sometimes to the point of nonchalance; I’ve had many occasions where they quickly inspect my passport, glance up at me to make sure I look like my passport photo, then stamp me into the country, without uttering a single word. On one occasion, while crossing from Kyrgyzstan into China by land, I was detained and interrogated for several hours by Chinese customs agents who suspected that my passport was fake because of water damage, but even then, they only wanted me to provide supporting proof of my identity; they didn’t ask anything about the numerous visas and stamps in my passport from other countries, which actually included Afghanistan (I was using an older passport at that time), let alone scan every single page of my passport! On another occasion, when I entered China by land from Pakistan over the Khunjerab Pass, customs officers had me strip to my underwear and stand in a tiny, upright rectangular box (literally the size of a coffin), to scan my body for drugs, but, again, they didn’t ask me anything about the many stamps and visas from various countries in my passport. In this case, not only did the customs officer scan each page of my passport, she asked for the Chinese names of the countries of every visa, as well as every single entry and exit stamp.

Once she finished painstakingly inspecting every visa and stamp in my passport, a young male customs officer walked into the room and escorted me out to a waiting area in the main hall, where he asked me politely to sit on a bench and wait while he stood guard over me. Several minutes later an older male customs officer walked up to us and asked me in a serious tone if I had any cameras. When I told him I had three, he asked me to remove the memory cards from each and hand them to him, which I did with a labored smile deliberately designed to mask my impatience. I waited on the bench for 2 hours, during which time I had to endure painfully boring conversation with the young customs officer standing guard over me, before the older customs officer returned with my memory cards. Since he had been gone so long, I naturally assumed that he had looked through all or most of the photos and video, and likely even copied them to a hard drive. The thought of him and his colleagues suspiciously inspecting my photos for something incriminating made me feel a bit violated, but my biggest concern was that he might have intentionally deleted some content, particularly my photos and video from the Kulma Pass (fortunately, I later discovered that this wasn’t the case). I was also expecting him to start questioning me about the photos and videos as well, but, fortunately, this didn’t happen either.

More than 3 hours after entering the customs and immigration building, I was finally allowed to walk up to the counter where travelers submit their passports for inspection. In the time that I had been waiting, I saw only one group of about half a dozen Tajik truck drivers enter the building and go through customs inspection, which happened very quickly. When I walked up to the counter I was the only traveler in the building. Fortunately, the customs officer behind the counter was the lady who had scanned every page of my passport, so she processed me quickly as well. While she was processing my entry, I asked her if she knew how many third country nationals had ever entered China through the Kulma Pass and she said less than 10! I asked her when the last one had entered and she said August 2016, which corroborates the claim by the American who posted on Carivanistan that he had crossed at that time.

Once my passport was stamped and handed back to me, I walked out of the building and onto the Karakorum Highway. Despite such a lengthy and tedious ordeal, or perhaps because of it, I was ecstatic. As a self-professed “border junkie”, I had dreamed of crossing the Kulma Pass for years due to its altitude and remoteness (and the bragging rights that come with crossing a border that has been rarely crossed by TCNs). I had actually thought about trying to cross it when I was in Murghab in April 2014 but everyone I spoke to there at the time said it was closed to TCNs. Everything I read online about the Kulma Pass confirmed this as well, so I decided not to bother trying. By November 2016, it still seemed like a long shot but several reports online suggested that the ban on TCNs crossing the Kulma had at least, officially, been lifted. I have no doubt that my ability to speak Chinese was crucial to my success; having a Chinese work permit, and a Chinese wife and child didn’t hurt either! Considering the amount of scrutiny I was subjected to and the length of time it took me to be vetted on the Chinese side, I doubt anyone unable to speak Chinese will be able to make it through anytime soon. It’s still obviously a highly sensitive border crossing and the soldiers and customs officers on both sides, Tajik and Chinese, aren’t used to TCNs showing up unannounced.

Another issue is transportation. There is no bus service across the Kulma, and even though the Karasu Port of Entry is right on the Karakorum Highway, hitching is the only way to get from there to the nearest town, Tashkurgan, which is 70 km away in the direction of the Khunjerab Pass and Pakistan, while the nearest major city, Kashgar, is 220 km away in the opposite direction. I managed to hitch a ride after thumbing for only about 30 minutes but it was certainly possible that I could have been stuck there indefinitely. 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.

Thanks for reading. I welcome your comments!
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remixdskeud
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Kulma pass between China and Tadjikistan

Post by remixdskeud »

Hello everybody, just a question, I don't know where to ask.
I have read the article about Qolma Pass, between China and Tadjikistan. Seems quiet complicated to succeed. Do you have any new information about the possibility for tourists to take this path ? Thanks a lot !
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galax
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Re: Qolma pass (from China) - report

Post by galax »

I just crossed Qulma Pass from Tajik to China 3hrs ago, now on the road to Kashgar

I have Hong Kong passport, Chinese national, fluent Mandarin, so it is not complicated for me once in China side

I confirmed with 1 Chinese immigration officer that, according to him, this border is open to foreigners as long as you have valid Chinese visa, and exiting is definitely no problem. However I didn't have a chance to confirm with Tajik side due to language

For independent traveller, one can hitchike from Murghab, there are 2 trucks terminals 2.5km away from main town, from my observation and limited conversation with the drivers, the upper one seems to go Khorog, lower one about 500m down goes China. They left before 5am, road to Qulma Pass pretty bad. I arrived lower terminal 530am and missed the trucks, luckily tag along a jeep to border, Land Cruiser 90km took 2hours

Tajik side usual Central Asia border, checked all bags, some told me Tajik officers usually asked for exit money but I didn't

I was worried about the 14km no man land between 2 immigrations. Found out after exit Tajik, walk through the border gate about 500m its the Chinese customs, thorough check but easy, then customs officer will ask (order) one of the trucks to take you down 14km road to immigration building

After normal immigration progress (where I was told this border is open to foreigners), once exit the building one can easily find pass by vehcile to Kashgar to Tashkurgan (100 to 120 yuan to Kashgar and 20 to 30 yuan to Tashkurgan), and it is Karakorum Highway already

Border closed on weekends. Tajik side opens at 8am Dushanbe time, Chinese side lunch closure between 2 to 4pm and closed at 7pm China time (3hr faster than Dushanbe time)
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olmo
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Re: Qolma pass (from China) - report

Post by olmo »

Just a heads up, we met a Kiwi cycling couple who crossed here from China to Murghab some two weeks ago. They spoke of friendly officers, no problems and though they had to hitch a truck with their bikes for the 30 odd km to the border, the Chinese helped them find one. They promised to post an update here when back home, just thought we'd post the good news for anyone going now :) L
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galax
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Re: Qolma pass (from China) - report

Post by galax »

Yes, the Chinese immigration and customs officers are extremely friendly and helpful, customs check was thorough, heavily armed, modern customs equipment, but they were polite and smiled to me all the time.

I asked the Tajik truck drivers to give me a lift but they asked for money, however the Chinese officers just ordered one to take me.

Questions welcomed.
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lissie45
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Re: Qolma pass (from China) - report

Post by lissie45 »

Oh this is interesting ... That opens up quite a lot of possibiliies - how high is the border?
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Re: Qolma pass (from China) - report

Post by lissie45 »

So just to clarify - once you clear Chinese immigration - you are near the Karakoram or on it? I'm trying to work out the logistics of doing the reverse - Tashtorgan to Mugarb. We were going to do a travel agency tour from Kashgar to Tashtorgan anyways- so it sounds like they could drop us at immigration - and then it would be a matter of hitching between borders. Whats on the Tajik side - would it be easy enough to get a truck/ taxi to Mugarb - is that where all the traffic is going?

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Re: Qolma pass (from China) - report

Post by olmo »

We cycled past the Chinese customs place. It's right on the highway, lots of big fancy buildings in the middle of nowhere, and it all looked pretty abandoned. Certainly built with high expectations for the future ... We did meet a few Chinese trucks (with Chinese plates) every day on the Pamir Hwy, and more Tajik-Chinese ones, so there must be some traffic there :)
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Re: Qolma pass (from China) - report

Post by steven »

Successful crossing by someone who does not speak Chinese, from China to Tajikistan. Got this by e-mail:

I crossed the Qolma Pass in early June 2017 from China to Tajikistan. I'm a Swiss citizen that doesn't speak any Mandarin or Russian. I was on foot with no pre arranged transportation. It took me a day from Tashkurgan to Murghab. It was much more straightforward than I'd have expected from the reports I could read on internet.

Here are more details if needed.

First of all, literally everybody I told my plans to in Kashgar or Tashkurgan, be it fellow travelers or people dealing with tourism (hostel employees,...), said that the border was closed to foreigners and that I had no chance to get through.

I hitchhiked from Tashkurgan to the Chinese customs on the Karakorum Highway. That's around 1h drive. I could have taken a taxi there as well from Tashkurgan but the price they asked was quite high for local standards. Another option would have been to take a shared taxi to Kashgar and ask them to drop me at the customs. Anyway, there are plenty of options for that bit. I guess it's not possible to cross the border starting in Kashgar, that wouldn't leave enough time.

The Chinese customs on the Karakorum Highway is a massive complex, although only a tiny part is in use. I was queuing in the hall with half a dozen Tajik merchants that were going back home after a few days in China. It was straight forward for them. The Chinese officers were visibly very confused when they saw my Swiss passport. I had to wait in the hall for a few minutes and was then asked to enter a separate room, where I was questioned for about 1h by the 4 officers. They were very friendly but their attitude made it clear that it was serious business. They were especially wondering how I could travel in China not speaking Mandarin, where I had been, what I was doing for living and then went on to have a look at my pictures. The fact that my passport is rather new but already had immigration stamps from Japan and Taiwan didn't help I guess. But I had all the Tajik paperwork needed (Visa and GBAO Permit). They spoke no English so the whole questioning was done using translation apps. They ended up giving me my passport with the exit stamp.

Done! Not quite yet...

There's about 12km from that complex to the actual border. You're not allowed to walk it. You have to be in a vehicle with the obligation to stay in it until the border. Everybody on foot (the Tajik merchants and I) were put in a small room where we were called out one by one to board trucks which had an empty seat. It was about an hour wait for me to finally board a truck.

The 12km ride above 4000m on a filled truck took about another hour. At the pass there was a long line of trucks waiting to be inspected. I thought I could jump the line as I was on foot, but the driver made it very clear that I had to stay with him. When it was finally our turn I was told to get off, my passport was passed from hands to hands and more questions were asked. But I was finally let through.

All in all, the whole immigration process on the Chinese side took about 4-5h. The Chinese officers were all very friendly (helping me with my bag, etc.) but in the mean time they make it very clear that it's serious business. Note that some Chinese officers speak some Russian, that's the language they use to communicate with the Tajik merchants.

It's a short walk from the Chinese border post to the Tajik border post. I was expecting the worst on the Tajik side from all the scam reports I had read on other border crossings. I was welcomed by the Tajik officers in such a friendly manner that it looked too good to be true. But it was true! The whole process was super straightforward, and within minutes I had my entry stamp and many smiling faces as memories. Some Tajik officers spoke some English, which helped understanding each other.

There's no organized transport once you are on the Tajik side to drive to any settlement and especially to Murghab. The only option is to hitchhike. The road to Murghab is not good, so the 100km take about 3h on a truck or 2h on a car, but the scenery is absolutely stunning. The Tajik merchants were taking rides as passengers on trucks that had empty seats. I took a ride in a car that was waiting to drive some officers back home for the weekend (it was Friday, and the border was closed on the weekend). The Tajik border was closing at 5pm on that day.

So all in all a long day from Tashkurgan to Murghab, but lifelong memories :)

As a backup plan if anything would have turned difficult, I had an email from the Tajik Embassy in my country that stated that the Pass was open for foreigners. But I never had to show it.

I just would like to add that the amount of lifts from the Tajik border to Murghab is limited, and that on the day I was there already many Tajik merchants were hitchhiking that bit. There isn't any settlement in walking distance from the border. So if in the future there are many more tourists going that way, there could be a problem there. And camping at 4300m could be tricky.

I hope these few lines help.
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moffy
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Boarder crossings from Tajikistan to China

Post by moffy »

Sup people? Has anyone recently crossed through the check point east of Murghab to Kalasu Port in China?
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