How to Cross the Khunjerab Pass between China and Pakistan
The Khunjerab Pass (also called the Khunjarab or Kunjerap, or, in Chinese, the Hongqilapu Pass 红其拉甫) is a key overland route for tourists, business people, and goods between China and Pakistan. It forms the only open border between the two countries and is the highest paved border crossing in the world. At 5,000 metres in altitude, it will literally take your breath away.
Here's everything you need to know about how to cross this border.
OPENING DAYS AND TIMES
The border is open from Monday to Friday only.
The Chinese side of the border is open from 11am to 8pm Beijing time (9am to 6pm unofficial Xinjiang time). The Pakistani side is open from 9am to 5pm Islamabad time (3 hours behind Beijing time). All exit procedures on both sides are conducted in the mornings and entry procedures in the afternoons.
Both sides of the border close during Chinese and Pakistani holidays (including Islamic holidays). It's a good idea to check in advance to make sure you are not travelling on a holiday.
VISAS AND PERMITS
China: Chinese visas must be obtained before arriving at the border. This area of the country is part of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, a highly sensitive and well-policed region known for it's occasional riots and ethnic tension. While no permits are specifically required to travel between the Khunjerab Pass, Tashkurgan, and Kashgar, there are many police checkpoints along the way and most of the smaller towns in Xinjiang are currently off-limits to foreigners. Carry your passport with you while travelling between towns in Xinjiang in order to register with the police.
Pakistan: Pakistani visas are now available on arrival in Sust under very limited circumstances for certain nationalities who meet specific travel conditions on pre-booked tours through one of a number of companies registered in Islamabad. It's a pain for the time being. It is best to obtain your Pakistani visa before arrival to avoid any issues on both sides of the border. A Khunjerab National Park entrance ticket must be purchased upon your arrival at the base of the pass. The ticket costs 800 Pakistani Rupees for all foreigners (or 50 Chinese Yuan or $8 USD) and you must register your passport to obtain the ticket at the sales office on the main road.
BUSES AND TICKETS
Currently, NATCO (Northern Areas Transport Co) and Hunza-Xinjiang Transport Co run shuttle buses between Tashkurgan (China) and Sust (Pakistan) in about 5-6 hrs one-way. Buses are no longer running directly to Kashgar or Gilgit.
Tickets costs 225 RMB ($35 USD) when purchased from China, and 3,300 Rupees ($28 USD) when purchased from Pakistan. You may only purchase tickets in their respective local currencies. You may reserve tickets in advance if travelling from Pakistan to China; however, if travelling from China to Pakistan, you may only purchase tickets the day of travel from the bus station.
TRAVELLING FROM CHINA TO PAKISTAN
Tickets may only be purchased on the day of travel from the Tashkurgan bus station (塔什库尔干汽车客运站). There is only one bus station in Tashkurgan, so it's not difficult to find, it's in the middle of the town. Tickets go on sale after 9:30am Beijing time, and they will sell tickets as long as seats remain available.
However, the bus does not depart from Tashkurgan Bus Station. While you purchase your tickets from the bus station (225 Chinese RMB per person, only purchasable in RMB), the bus leaves from the Khunjerab Customs Post on the south side of town (塔县红其拉甫口岸), as you must proceed through Chinese immigration and customs procedures there. From Tashkurgan Bus Station you can take a quick 5 RMB taxi ride to the customs office, or walk it in about 15 minutes. The customs office does not open until 11am Beijing time, so if you go early, you'll just be waiting outside the gates.
Chinese customs and immigration procedures can last for a while and you will not be allowed on your bus until everyone is through. Typically, the buses do not end up leaving until 1:00pm or so Beijing time. It's best to arrive at the customs office between 11am and 12pm Beijing time to be safe.
Once on the bus, you drive straight to the Khunjerab Pass, about 3 hours away (given the 60kmp speed limit). There is a final couple of Chinese military check posts along the way where they will inspect your passport and Chinese exit stamp.
After you cross into Pakistan, the buses continue directly down to the bottom of the pass (2-3 hrs), where you will have to make two stops before arriving at the Sust Customs and Immigration office. The first is the Khunjerab National Park office where you must purchase a ticket (800 Rs, or 50 RMB, or $8 in cash). The ticket is required and goes to support the protection of wildlife in the national park. The second is the Khunjerab Police Station, where all foreigners must register their passports, get their photo taken, and obtain their stamped police registration card.
Finally, you will arrive at Sust Customs and Immigration Post, where you will stamp into Pakistan and go through a brief luggage search. Procedures are straightforward and officers are friendly. You can also exchange some currency into Pakistani Rupees here (albeit for a lower rate than you would find in Gilgit). Connections to Hunza, Gulgit and beyond may be arranged from here. Vans wait just outside the customs office to pick exiting passengers up.
TRAVELLING FROM PAKISTAN TO CHINA
Travelling from Pakistan to China via the Khunjerab is quite straightforward. Tickets are available in Sust from Hunza-Xinjiang Transport Co (recommended) and NATCO, as both run vans to Tashkurgan. Tickets cost between 3,300 and 3,500 Rs and may be reserved in advance in person or by phone. You need your passport to book a ticket. To get a ticket day of travel, you should buy your seat around 8:00-8:30am directly from the transportation company office in Sust (across the street from the immigration and customs office).
The buses depart from Sust Immigration and Customs Post once everyone has cleared formalities. The post opens at 9:15am and the whole thing takes about 30-45 minutes to complete. Buses are scheduled to leave at 10am from there.
Note that Pakistan immigration will request and collect your police registration card upon your departure from Pakistan. Sniffer dogs are used at customs, as narcotics are known to transit these regions from Afghanistan.
The bus makes one stop en route to the top of the pass, at the Khunjerab National Park ticket office, where all passengers must purchase entrance tickets to the park (800 Rs, or 50 RMB, or $8 USD per person for foreigners). After that, it's a steady climb to 5,000 metres where the border line is.
Once you cross the pass, you will have to exit a few hundred meters down the road at the Chinese military check point, where soldiers will make a thorough check of all your bags and belongings. Expect your bags to be x-rayed and opened for inspection, along with your phones, computers and cameras to be checked. Additionally, all passengers must go through a full body scan.
Once through, the buses continue straight to the Khunjerab Port office in Tashkurgan (nearly 3 hrs from the pass), where you go through standard Chinese immigration and customs procedures. Changing currencies or finding a functional ATM in Tashkurgan is not easy, so it's a good idea to have a few hundred Chinese RMB on you before crossing into China. You can exchange Rupees for Chinese RMB in Sust before departing.
PRIVATE TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS
As it is not possible to hitch hike nor hire a Chinese taxi for this route, the Hunza-Xinjiang Transport Co in Sust offers private transportation across the border should you want it. Private rides must be reserved and paid for in advance. Approximate costs are as follows:
Private car booking: 25,000 Rs. per car (up to 4 passengers) (approximately $225 USD)
Private land cruiser booking: 35,000 Rs. per car (up to 4 passengers) (approximately $315 USD)
From Tashkurgan: buses, vans and cars all travel to Kashgar, leaving between 9am and 12pm Beijing time. A seat on the bus costs 80 RMB, and the ride takes over 8 hours, as the speed limit for large vehicles on the highways is only 40kph. A seat in a van costs 120 RMB and the trip takes around 6 hours. A seat in a private vehicle costs around 150 RMB and the trip takes about 4 hours, but many drivers will be hesitant to take foreigners these days. To hire a private taxi, you can expect to pay about 500 RMB for the car.
From Sust: vans continue down the KKH (Karakoram Highway) to Gilgit, making stops in Gojal, Hunza, and Nagar on the way. Getting a seat is easy, as the vans wait for people just outside of the customs office. Gilgit is the major transportation hub in the region, with buses connections to many major cities around GB and the rest of Pakistan. Note, the trip down the KKH to Islamabad still takes around 14-18 hours from Gilgit.