Torugart Pass, Kyrgyzstan
Bishkek to Torugart
The Torugart Pass is a remote mountain border crossing between Kyrgyzstan and China. Until 2002 when the Irkeshtam pass was opened for passenger traffic between the two countries it was the ONLY border crossing between China and the Kyrgyz Republic which could be used by tourists – for example, those traveling the Silk Road .
In 1905 the British Consul in Kashgar, (George Macartney) discovered that the Russians had built a 27 foot wide road from At Bashi in Kyrgyzstan to Torugart and for about half a mile into China itself. A major player in “The Great Game” between the British and Russian Empires both of which were seeking influence in Central Asia, he reported to his superiors that the road could easily be “made good” and should Russia choose to annex all or part of Xinjiang province, then this was the route along which their troops would come.
In 1906, the Chinese government gave in to Russian pressure and agreed to complete the road using a loan from a Russian bank - recouping the money by levying tolls - and Russian merchants were given a monopoly of trade along the route. The Chinese, however, were not happy at this arrangement and set the tolls so high that the road soon fell into disuse and disrepair.
Paul Nazaroff in his book “Hunted through Central Asia – On the turn from Lenin's secret police” tells of how he experienced difficult conditions and bureaucracy. Even being turned back – just like many unwitting and unprepared modern traveler.
Now you can travel the modern road, though truth to tell, it is not yet very modern (although many sections are not tarmac some of it is - indeed, part of it near At Bashi once served as an emergency airstrip in case of Chinese invasion).
Most foreign tourists cross Torugart pass as part of a Silk-Road Tour. Many people, however, prefer to travel independently rather than take an organized tour. For them Torugart presents many problems. Technically, it is closed to all but citizens of Kyrgyzstan and The People's Republic of China - but it is possible to obtain special permission to cross the border here from the Regional authorities in Urumqui.
The special regulations and the remoteness of the border post can make this one a daunting experience for the unwary independent traveler. Travelers have often been turned back for not having the right documents.
On the contrary, some travelers with no documents seem to have breezed through, breaking all the supposedly inflexible regulations on the way. It is highly unpredictable but we do not suggest that you take any risks. It can all be done in a reliable fashion!