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Crossing The Qolma Pass Between Tajikistan & China
Updated April 2020, Crossing Qolma Pass Between Tajikistan & China was originally written in July 2018
Qolma Pass, the sole border crossing connecting Tajikistan and China. Starting in late 2016 tourists have begun to cross between Tajikistan and China at Qolma Pass. Crossing Qolma Pass is one of the more adventurous border crossings in the world because it involves you hitching a ride over the 14km long no-man’s-land between the two countries, and at 4,363 meters (14,315 ft) is one of the highest border crossings in the world.
Why Cross The Qolma Pass?
- In our case, which was leading a tour from Tajikistan into Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan Province crossing the Qolma made the most sense. For those looking to connect the Pamir Highway with an adventure down the Karakoram Highway, this is the way to do it. Of course, this involves crossing a small bit of Xinjiang (China) that separates the two countries.
- Crossing between Tajikistan and Xinjiang without needing to travel into Kyrgyzstan.
- Stamp collectors. Yes, there are people that are taking collecting to a whole different level. Some people country-count, others are out to collect the most obscure passport stamps. And trust me, this is a really obscure one, after returning to China after having crossed both the Qolma/Kalasu as well as the Khunjerab Pass between China and Pakistan any time we showed our passports it caused quite a flurry of interest for police and military officers.
- This is one of the prettiest border crossings in the world, especially for those traveling from Tajikistan to China with the views of Muztagh Ata, Kokosel, and Karakunlun towering over the Kalasu Port.
- The thrill of hitchhiking with truckers across one the world’s least visited and one of the highest border crossings.
Important Things To Know Before Crossing The Qolma
- As far as I am aware, you must hitch a ride with trucks headed over the pass, usually en route between Urumqi or Kashgar and Dushanbe. The officers working the border on both sides are aware of this, so they will try to coordinate getting you on a truck over the pass after you “exit” either country. On the way from China into Tajikistan we ended up having groups of two hitch rides over in Kamaz trucks, and the final group of two ended up hitching a ride in the Chinese military van that was taking officers to the Chinese customs building at the Tajik port to change out shifts.
- Cyclists will need to put their bicycles on a truck and hitch across the border as well.
- Migration cards have been a thing of the past in Tajikistan, however, we were given migration cards upon arrival into the Qolma Pass immigration office (June 2018). We were asked to hand them over when exiting Tajikistan at Qolma Pass as well. There are reports of other travelers being given a little hassle who did not have migration cards, that have exited at Qolma but entered Tajikistan at a different border post. Expect a little arguing to ensue over this. 2019 Update: I believe migration cards are once again required as I was given one on arrival at Dushanbe Airport this year, though a friend that met me there lost his and had no issues leaving the country without it.
- The Qolma Pass border is located between the cities of Murghab, Tajikistan, and Tashkurgan, China. Note that the border is at 4,363 meters (14,315 ft) in altitude.
- There are no currency exchangers at the border on either side. In China, money exchange and ATMs are available in Kashgar. Finding a working ATM or an exchange office in Tashkurgan can be a challenge, so if you will be arriving from Tajikistan it is wise to exchange for some RMB in Murghab. In Tajikistan, you can exchange money in Murghab, but if needing to withdraw the money you’ll need to go to Khorog for that. You can pay in US dollars in Tajikistan much of the time, but expect change to be given in Somoni.
- Qolma (Tajik) and Kalasu (China) ports are located 14 kilometers apart.
- Dress warm, Qolma Pass is cold and usually windy even in summer.
- You will see the border referred to as Qolma, Kulma, Kalasu, and Karasu.
- For further planning in Tajikistan, I recommend getting your hands on a copy of Bradt’s Tajikistan.
Days & Hours Of Operation
The Qolma Pass border crossing is open Monday through Friday only. The Chinese and Tajik sides have different opening hours.
Kalasu Port is open Monday through Friday from 11 am to 5 pm Beijing time*, and closed for lunch from 2 pm and 3 pm. We arrived at Kalasu just in time for the border opening and no one was there. No one actually showed up until about 11:45 am, so you don’t necessarily have to stress about getting there early.
*Beijing time is the official time zone for all of China, however Xinjiang does operate unofficially 2 hours behind. Note that most government services and transportation operates on Beijing time, but always ask to verify.
The Tajik side of Qolma Pass is open Monday through Friday from 10 am to 4 pm Dushanbe time* and closed for lunch from 1 pm to 2 pm, however, these hours can vary a bit from day to day (welcome to Tajikistan).
*And to continue with the timezone weirdness- Tajikistan officially has one timezone, however Murghab and the far east of Tajikistan operates unofficially on Kyrgyz time. Generally most government services will operate on Dushanbe time but always ask to verify which time.
The border closes for many Tajik and Chinese holidays. Check ahead of time for upcoming holidays for either country.
Getting There & Transportation
Note that there is no public transport across the Qolma Pass. The easiest way to get to the border is to hire a taxi from Kashgar or Tashkurgan to Kalasu for those bound for Tajikistan. For those traveling from Tajikistan to China, it is easiest to hire a car from Murghab Bazaar or through a tourist agency in Tajikistan to bring you to the border. Getting across the 14 kilometer pass between the two countries involves hitchhiking with truckers. More on crossing the border below.
China To Tajikistan
It’s easiest to hire a taxi to take you from Tashkurgan or Kashgar to drop you off at the Kalasu Port which is located right on the Karakoram Highway. A taxi from Kashgar will cost about 500 RMB ($74 USD), and a taxi from Tashkurgan will cost around 350 RMB ($52 USD). Kalasu Port is about a 5 hour drive south from Kashgar and roughly 1.5 hours north from Tashkurgan. Reportedly for 30 RMB, you can take the Tashkurgan to Kashgar bus that departs daily at 10 am Beijing time to be dropped off at Kalasu Port. Otherwise, you can try your thumb at hitchhiking to the port.
Once to Kalasu Port you’ll first need to show your passport and go through a security checkpoint before continuing on to the actual port building. Once inside the building, you will yet again go through a security checkpoint. After security, you will officially exit China and will be asked to see your Tajik visa. After exiting China you’ll wait until border officers find a truck ready for you to hitch on.
At the top of the pass is the Tajik border. The truck will stop, you’ll get out at a Chinese military checkpoint where bags will be checked, then you will continue onto the Tajik immigration building. Tajik immigration is pretty straightforward. You’ll be fingerprinted, visas will be checked and you will be given a migration card. After entering Tajikistan you will go through a quick customs check and then on your way.
Plan your time in Murghab: The Murghab Travel Guide
Heading to Pakistan? Check out the Khunjerab Pass Border Crossing Report
For arriving to Tajikistan it is best to have a ride arranged in advance by setting up a private car hire through an agency. Don’t expect taxis to be waiting here.
Tajikistan To China
You will need to either arrange transport beforehand to get to Qolma Pass by either private car hire or hitching with a truck bound for China. Private car hire to Qolma Pass from Murghab will cost about 470 TJS ($50 USD). To arrange a car to the pass you can head to the Murghab Bazaar and find a driver, or you can contact any tour company in the area. For those wanting to hitch you can usually find China bound trucks departing Murghab in the early morning toward the border, most drivers will expect a small payment.
Once to the border, enter the immigration building, hand over your passport and migration card (if you’ve come through Qolma previously and even have one). You’ll be fingerprinted and your Chinese visa will be checked. Once through immigration head to customs for a baggage check. You’ll then walk your bags to the Chinese military checkpoint. At the Chinese military checkpoint, you will be x-rayed, your bags searched, computers and phones will be scanned, and photos will be reviewed. After the military check, border officers will find trucks bound for China for you to hitch a ride on.
After rolling 14 kilometers downhill you’ll arrive at Kalasu Port. Once to the port, you’ll go to immigration to get your entrance stamp to China and be fingerprinted. After clearing immigration you’ll go through a bag search and then you’re officially in China.
Arriving to China it’s best to have a taxi arranged to pick you up in advance. This is not a common border crossing so there will not be taxis waiting outside. If you do turn up without a ride, ask one of the border officers to call you a taxi from Tashkurgan.
Where To Stay
Khunjerab Inn (185 RMB per night)
Crown Inn Tashkurgan (520 RMB per night)
Tulfabek Guesthouse (45 TJS per night, call +992 935389159 to book)
Erali Guesthouse (95 TJS per night, call +92 919260943 to book)
China: Most nationalities need a visa to visit China. Visas cannot be obtained on arrival, so you will need to get a visa in advance. For US citizens, read this post on how to get a tourist visa to China. Visa costs vary depending on nationality, so check with your embassy for prices. Check the map below to find out the visa policy for your nationality.
Tajikistan: Most nationalities need a visa or e-visa to enter Tajikistan. E-visas can be easily arranged online and are typically approved within about 2 days. You also need a GBAO permit to enter Tajikistan at the Qolma Pass and travel within the GBAO region. Apply for your GBAO permit when applying for your visa or e-visa. E-visas are $50 and GBAO permits are $20. Traditional tourist visa and GBAO permit prices can vary by nationality, so check with your embassy or consulate for prices. The map below shows the visa policy for Tajikistan.
Explore the moon-like Murghab Plateau with the Eastern Pamir Travel Guide
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