Day 105 (1): Across the Torugart Pass

Torugart Travel Blog

 › entry 144 of 260 › view all entries
Enjoying the last stretch of smooth road towards the border

It was difficult for me to get going again. I had really enjoyed doing nothing for a few days in Kashhgar. The Eden hotel had been really comfortable and it had been very nice catching up on blogs and e-mails again and to be able to call the home front using Skype, without having the usual noises and distractions of an Internet café.
One of my mates was in the USA at the same time and the time difference meant that every time when I was ready to go to bed, he came online as he had just woken up, and vice versa. So for four days in a row our conversations had been little more than “good morning - good night!”

My departure from Kashgar also meant a departure from the Marco Polo route. My trip east loosely followed the different routes of the ancient Silk Road and for the past two months I had regularly followed the path of the world's most famous traveller.

Some local transport on the road to the pass
However, Polo had travelled eastwards across the Taklamakan desert, whereas I will now be travelling to the northern branch of the Silk Road which passes through Kazakhstan. If all goes well I should be rejoining Marco Polo's route in about two months of so.

I had been lucky. Unexpectedly two Kyrgyz ladies who had been on vacation in China had showed up at the travel agency looking for transport across the Torugart pass. Rather than simply selling them another tour, the travel agent had been kind enough to add them to my vehicle, making the border crossing a lot cheaper for me. I was pleasantly surprised by this. I mean, they could easily have sold them a separate tour and earned more money.

The Torugart pass is what the Chinese call a 'second-rate' border crossing, which in plain English means that it is a way to extort money from tourists.
The views from the Torugart pass, Chinese side
As a non-Chinese you can only cross this border with a guided tour and you need a special 'permit' to do so.
When we arrived at the first border post (70 kilometres from the actual border) it was closed. There was one more vehicle waiting, a small van full of German tourists. Chinese trucks use a different post half a kilometre down the road, and the huge building in front of which we were waiting is solely used for tourists. Tourists, which, as I mentioned earlier, aren't officially supposed to use this border crossing anyway. It is all a farce, really.

I chatted with the tour guide of the German group for a while and he explained to me that the closed border was a typical Chinese political thing, showing off their power. There was absolutely no point in them keeping the border closed and letting us wait for an hour.
The Kyrgyz side of the Torugart pass
They just do it because they can. Showing off their power.

After getting through customs it was another 70 km on a gruesome road to the actual border, which lies at the top of the 3752m Torugart Pass.
The border is little more than a chain hanging over the road with guards on either side. No cars are allowed to cross this point, so there were Chinese vehicles standing on one side, and Kyrgyz vehicles on the other. Tourists coming from Kyrgyzstan had been waiting for us as they would take our car to Kashgar and we would take their onwards to Naryn. It felt like a prisoner exchange. Only when we had arrived were the people waiting on the other side allowed to leave their vehicle and walk across the border, while we did the same.
Definitely the weirdest border crossing I have ever experienced.
The Kyrgyz side of the Torugart pass


But to say that it had been worth it... well, not quite. The Torugart border is quite hyped in guidebooks and on Internet forums, but in all honesty, it was far less impressive than the Irkeshtam crossing had been. It might be higher than the Irkeshtam, it certainly isn't more scenic. So the Irkeshtam crossing is cheaper, more scenic and if you're hitch-hiking it's a much bigger adventure too. So anyone thinking of doing a trip across the Torugart, let this be a top tip for you.

Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Enjoying the last stretch of smoot…
Enjoying the last stretch of smoo…
Some local transport on the road t…
Some local transport on the road …
The views from the Torugart pass, …
The views from the Torugart pass,…
The Kyrgyz side of the Torugart pa…
The Kyrgyz side of the Torugart p…
The Kyrgyz side of the Torugart pa…
The Kyrgyz side of the Torugart p…
The Chinese side of the Torugart p…
The Chinese side of the Torugart …
The Chinese side of the Torugart p…
The Chinese side of the Torugart …
Having a flat tire
Having a flat tire
Our driver trying to change a tire…
Our driver trying to change a tir…
The Kyrgyz side of the Torugart pa…
The Kyrgyz side of the Torugart p…
The Kyrgyz side of the Torugart pa…
The Kyrgyz side of the Torugart p…
Torugart
photo by: Biedjee