Arts & Crafts
Visas | Transportation
| Hotels | Ticketing | Map
| Info & FAQ |
TORUGART - FAQS
As you probably know already there are many problems connected
with the Torugart Pass. Here are some of the answers to
the questions we are most frequently asked. Most of what
is written here is based on crossing from Kyrgyzstan to
China. The order is not necessarily logical, but we hope
you will find the answers to your questions here. If you
have a question which isn't answered in the following
then please feel free to ask. We'll do our best to answer.
1. Why do foreigners have so much trouble trying to
cross the Torugart Pass?
Technically the crossing is closed to all except citizens
of Kyrgyzstan or The People's Republic of China, but:
Also, the crossing is classed
as a second grade crossing. So it does not
have full facilities and is governed by special regulations,
e.g. : The border is closed on weekends and any Public
Holiday, on either side of the border!
- Foreigners can get
permission to cross from the Department of Foriegn
Affairs in Urumqi, but
- they have to be met
at the border by a representative of a recognised
travel company, and
- Foreigners are NOT
allowed to take their own vehicles into China (without
special advance permission which is expensive and
takes at least 2 months to get) so the Chinese agency
which arranges the permission usually arranges transport
to Kashgar as well.
Although no permissions are needed from the
Kyrgyz authorities to cross Torugart, it is still necessary,
technically, for tourists to be taken through the border
zone, for group lists to be prepared and the drivers/guides
have to have special stamps in their passports to enable
them to travel here.
2. Why is the border closed to foreigners?
For some time there tension between the Soviet Union and
China including border disputes in this region. It was
thought in the Soviet Union that China might send an army
across the border and approach Kazakhstan either side
of the Ala-Too mountains (just North of Issyk Kul) and
parts of Kyrgyzstan were also militarily sensitive. Kyrgyzstan
itself was a restricted area for foreigners and travel
in the border zones were strictly controlled in both countries
- even locals needed to have special stamps in their passports
to allow travel in the region. Since the break up of the
USSR, tensions have eased and the border dispute between
Kyrgyzstan and China resolved, but some restrictions and
regulations still remain. Until 1999, nearly a decade
after independence, the border guards were all Russian
frontier troops, but they are now being replaced with
3. When is it possible to cross - when is the border
In theory the pass is open all year round except:
4. What alternatives are
- At weekends - every
Saturday and Sunday
- On public holidays :
Jan 1, 7; Mar 8, 21;
- May 1, 4, 5, 9 (it is
best to avoid the first 10 days of May altogether)
- Aug 1, 31, Oct 1, 2
(but is usually closes for the first 10 days of October);
- the following moveable
feasts - Chinese New Year; Kurman Ait, Ramazan
- For bad weather -
- it can snow in any month
of the year - in July 1999 and August 2000 the border
closed for three days because a meter of snow fell
and blocked the road
- often in October and
in twice in 2001 heavy rains washed away parts of
the road on the Chinese side of the border.
- You should be aware
that, sometimes the border can close at very short
notice for all sorts of reasons
- In October 2001 - the
border was closed to foreigners for un unspecified
period due to the situation in Afghanistan.
Not many !!!
The other, Southern pass (Irkeshtam) is still closed to
all passenger traffic, not just foreigners, and it is
NOT possible at this time to get permission to cross there
(nevertheless, rumour has it that some trips have got
through using charm or perhaps another more mercenary
form of persuasion - just don't rely on it!)
There are flights from Bishkek to Urumqi - currently on
Tuesdays and Fridays - Cost USD190 (plus airport tax).
From Urumqi there are flights, a train and buses to Kashgar.
It is possible to travel via Almaty to Urumqi by train
or by bus - but this requires a Kazakh transit visa.
5. What documents do I need to have?
(Please note; the following is mainly for independent
travellers: with our help it will be easier in practice
for tour groups where the company deals with all of this).
Going from Kyrgyzstan to China:
the Kyrgyz officials will look for
They will ask you to fill
in a customs form (maybe two) - The forms they have available
will almost certainly be in Russian only.
- your Kyrgyz visa
- your OVIR registration.
If you are in transit from Almaty, or Tashkent and
can show that you have been in the country for less
than 3 days, there should be no problem.
If you can't prove it there may well be a call for
a suitable (financial) acknowledgment of their generosity
in believing you anyway. OVIR registration is not
difficult or expensive to get in Bishkek or Naryn
or some other towns.
- your Chinese permission
to cross Torugart (the Kyrgyz may let you leave -
but not always - but the Chinese may not let you go
past their guard post a couple of km down the road
and you may get sent back).
- your Chinese Visa
Be prepared for problems if you are missing one of these.
Without the permission/visa, they won't let you pass because
you will be turned back. Without the OVIR registration
they will probably try to extract a fine (schtraff).
The Chinese will require a visa and the permission to
cross Torugart. Later you will have to fill in Customs,
Immigration and Health Inspection forms. The forms are
written in both Chinese and English but the compulsory
Chinese guide will help you.
Going from China to Kyrgyzstan :
There is some debate about what the Chinese will require
whereas many travelers have managed to cross without
special permits, our partners (and every Chinese authority
we have consulted) assure us that permission is required
and you need to be escorted. You might say Well,
they would say that, wouldn't they? but the translation
of the permit that we have clearly refers to both Entry
and Exit. It may be that they are not as fussy
about checking documents for those leaving China as those
The Kyrgyz authorities will look for your Kyrgyz Visa
it is now possible to arrange to receive a visa
on arrival (see the visas page), and you will be asked
to complete a customs form. They also expect you to be
met and conveyed through the border zone by a recognized
tour company. We know of two cases (one where some students
were trying to use the regular Kashgar-Bishkek bus service
- see below) where the border authorities arrested
the travelers for not having such an arrangement.
6. Why is it important when exactly I get to the border??
It is better to get to the border posts in the morning.
If you arrive after lunch you are likely to have to overnight
at the border post.
The Border Posts have definite opening hours. There is
a 2 hour lunch break.
Going into China - you have to get to the Chinese Customs
and Passport Control before it closes at 5:00pm Beijing
time - that is, by 3:00pm local time in Kyrgyzstan/Xinjiang.
There is a 100 km journey between the border and the Chinese
Customs and Passport Control which is at the end of the
river valley, and on the way you will also be stopped
at the army post a few kilometres over the border where
they will check your passports and ask to see your luggage.
This is NOT Customs and Passport Control (though it used
to be, before the new one was established). We understand
that, strictly speaking, they have no right to search
your luggage - but they will ask, and can make it difficult
for you to proceed if you argue. It has been known for
people arriving at the Kyrgyz Border Post after lunch
to be refused permission to cross by the Kyrgyz Border
Officials because they did not believe that the traveller
could get to the Chinese post in time. (We, without passengers,
once did it in just over 2 hours but we had to use excessive
7. Some guide books refer to a Foreign Ministry
Permit, what is this?
Kyrgyz citizens need a special stamp in their passport
to enter the border zone and travel through no-man's
land upto the border itself.
8. Why is it necessary to hitch a lift
across mo man's land?
Strictly speaking no-one is allowed to cross the No-man's
land between the border post and the border itself
on foot or by bicycle - although some people are reputed
to have succeeded in doing so.
9. Is it possible to arrange a return trip to see the
Sunday Market in Kashgar?.
Yes, it is certainly possible (and we arrange a quite-popular
tour). But the are a few issues that need to be considered:
A return trip almost certainly involves travelling the
same route for at least part if not most of the journey
- though it does look different on the way back.
You would need a Double entry or a Multiple
Entry visa for Kyrgyzstan. This may require special
permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bishkek.
A standard tourist visa is only valid for one entry and
for one month.
10. What information do I need to provide to arrange
permission - and how long does it take?
You need to give us full passport details, Number; Full
Name; Nationality; Gender; Date and place of Birth; Date
and place of issue of passport and date it expires and
the issuing agency as well as details of your visa.
You also need to tell us what date you want to cross Torugart.
This is important because
It will appear on the permission. You are NOT allowed
to bring this forward a day, although you can delay it
if necessary (but please remember that the Chinese will
need to know this!!!).
You will be met by the Chinese company at the border.
They have to know when you are arriving. If they are not
at the border to meet you, then you will be turned back!
It is true that some people are reputed to have crossed
early, or to have proceeded without being met - but it
is much more frequent for people to have been turned back!
It is possible to arrange permission at a few days notice
even sometimes at one day's notice
more notice we have the better.
11. How long does it take to travel to Torugart from
It is 540 km. Some people do it in one day. The bus takes
two (travelling usually overnight through the most interesting
bits, but not stopping at places like Tash Rabat), and
we recommend two. We stop overnight in Naryn, where we
have our own guest house (you don't have to stay there).
12. Can we be sure that the Chinese will be there to
be meet us?
There are stories in various books etc. of Chinese companies
failing to turn up. Our partners have NEVER let us down!
If you go in our vehicle, our drivers will not leave you
at the border until you have transferred to the Chinese
vehicle which is meeting you.
(Unfortunately, there are also plenty of stories of tourists
failing to turn up, and Chinese guides and drivers having
a wasted journey and not getting paid.)
13. Can I get a Chinese visa in Bishkek?
You will need an invitation, (you can often get a visa
in Europe etc. without one) - we need to know your full
passport details; your occupation; planned itinerary and
dates when you want to visit China.
It usually takes a week, although if you/they have all
the correct paperwork, for an extra fee it is possible
to receive express service and get one the
The consular department of the embassy is currently only
open 9:15-12:00 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday (assuming
they are not holidays and the consular officials are there).
There is usually quite a long queue, so you need to arrive
early (take a book?) and it pays to make sure you reserve
your place in the queue
make sure you know who
is in front of you and who arrives after you
talk to the policeman on duty. They normally issue documents
before accepting applications - so you will have to wait
- and that can confuse the question of your place in the
Another little problem is that the Consul expects to receive
a fax from the inviting company
and sometimes claims
it hasn't arrived
entailing a delay while asking
and waiting for the fax to be resent from China.
14. If I am not travelling from Bishkek, is it possible
to arrange transport from somewhere else (for example:
Yes, this is possible, but not necessarily any cheaper
since the car has to travel the same distance there and
back, although there are drivers in Naryn with the necessary
15 . What does it cost?
It is difficult to say because this depends on things
It won't be cheap - One tourist
got a shock - who was trying to go from London to Beijing
on USD1000 and (knowing that Torugart was likely
to be expensive) had budgeted USD200 for the crossing
- was horrified to learn that the Chinese would want USD255
just for their services
because he was traveling
and that he still had to get from Bishkek
- Itinerary -
- Bishkek-Son Kul-Tash
Rabat-Torugart-Kashgar (3 days);
- Bishkek-Issyk Kul-Naryn-Torugart-Kashgar
- Exactly what services
you want (transport only, overnight accommodation,
a visit to Tash Rabat
- How many people are
16. Why is it so expensive to cross at Torugart?
Torugart is quite remote (540 km from Bishkek and 180
km from Kashgar). Also, because of some of the regulations
it can involve Agencies/Tour firms which arrange permission
and transfer from the border to/from the border in extra
work. They have to cover their costs. For example, even
if they do not cross to China, they have to pay for
Transport costs (in both directions);
the wages of both driver/guide for the;
the cost of faxes from this part of the world - e.g. faxing
the permission to the client - is quite expensive - it
costs us over $3 a page to fax our Chinese partners);
taxes (no small sum!) and official fees, and (of course)
make a profit.
17. Is it possible to do it yourselves. more cheaply?
This is Central Asia and almost anything is possible
however, you are likely still to need to arrange services
with a Chinese company as a bare minimum and make your
way to/from Torugart in Kyrgyzstan.
There is a bus service between Bishkek and Kashgar - but
it is technically not available to foreigners
it may carry you part of the way. If you are traveling
to China and have been able to buy a ticket (me mean feat
in itself) you are likely to get as far as the border
post - and will have to hitch a lift the last few kilometers
to the Arch on the border itself. If you are traveling
from China - you may get all the way to Bishkek, but the
Kyrgyz authorities have been known to detain foreigners
who were not being met.
Even cyclists who make their own way up to the border
zone may have trouble - especially with the last few kilometers.
The cheapest way of doing it is to get as large a group
as possible together and share the transport costs. Several
tour companies keep lists of prospective clients
or you could use the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree, e-groups
like Oxiana or Oriental, to contact other people interested.
Some last words of advice, especially for the independent
Don't try to photograph anything that might be considered
militarily sensitive. That includes the border post and
any soldier in uniform!
Don't believe that you have made it until you are the
other side of Customs and Passport Control on the Chinese
side, on your way to Kashgar. You can be turned back at
almost any point. Even the American Ambassador once got
turned back. It may be possible to beat the system but
it rarely happens.
This Information has been generously provided by the
Mountains Tour Company of Bishkek.