How to Cross the Kulma Pass between China and Tajikistan
There are a lot of rhumours surrounding the Kulma Pass between China and Tajikistan (also spelled Qolma, Kolma, Karasu and Kalasu), so we've written this article to explain exactly how to cross the Pass and how much it may cost you.
OPENING DAYS AND TIMES
The border is open from Monday to Friday only.
The Chinese side of the border is open from 12pm to 7pm Beijing time (10am to 5pm unofficial Xinjiang time). The Tajik side is open from 9am to 5pm Dushambe time (3 hours behind Beijing time, 1 hour behind Kyrgyz time which is what is normally used in the Eastern Pamir region of Tajikistan).
Both sides of the border close during Chinese and Tajik 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 ethnic tension. While no permits are specifically required to travel between the Kulma Pass, Tashkurgan, and Kashgar, there are many police checkpoints along the way. Carry your passport with you while travelling between towns in Xinjiang in order to register with the police.
Tajikistan: In an effort to promote more tourism, the Tajik government started issuing eVisas in 2016. To apply, just fill out the form here and you'll receive your visa within two working days by email. You will need to know your entry date, as the visa starts on a specific date (of your choosing) and lasts for 45 days from then. You can enter the country after the entry date on your visa, but not before.
You do not need an invitation letter, but you do need to provide an address and contact in Tajikistan. Additionally, you will need to upload a scan of your passport information page (less than 1mb). The fee costs $50 for the visa, and $20 for the GBAO permit. Note, multiple entry visas are not available as eVisas; for those you either need to apply for separate eVisas or apply for a normal visa at a Tajik embassy overseas.
BUSES AND TICKETS
Currently, there are no public buses crossing the Kulma Pass, although there are rumours of a Tashkurgan to Murhab bus in the future. In order to cross, you must take private transportation to either side of the border and hitch to the other on the Tajik transport trucks. More on that below.
TRAVELLING FROM CHINA TO TAJIKISTAN
To cross from China to Tajikistan, you must first make your way to the Kalasu Customs Port (卡拉苏口岸 about 1.5 hrs north of Tashkurgan, or 4.5 hrs south of Kashgar, just beside the main road). A taxi from Kashgar will cost about 500 RMB; from Tashkurgan about 300-400 RMB.
The Kalasu Port is open Monday to Friday starting at 12pm Beijing time. There's no point arriving any earlier than that, as you'll be stuck waiting outside the security gate on the side of the highway.
In order to exit China, you will need to fill out a simple departure card and show a copy of your Tajik eVisa (or visa). The process of clearing Chinese customs and immigration at Kalasu is quite straightforward. Once you're through, the Chinese border police will help you hitch a ride on the Tajik trucks headed up to the top of the Pass, about 10kms away. You are not allowed to walk or cycle this route, you must be in a vehicle.
The Chinese post closes for lunch between 2pm-3pm Beijing time, so it's entirely possible that you may have to wait until 3pm to be put on a truck to the Pass, depending on how quickly the Chinese customs authorities are letting the Tajik trucks through.
At the top of the Pass you still have to clear a quick Chinese military check before you're allowed to walk over to the Tajik customs and immigration office just at the top of the Pass.
Tajik entry procedures are very straightforward. You are finger printed, your visa is checked, and your passport is stamped at a small office just over the border. Make sure your passport and visa are both stamped on arrival and the date is accurate. Then you proceed into the customs building where a minimal search may be conducted of your luggage before you're allowed to exit the customs area.
Taxis may or may not be waiting on the Tajik side of the Pass. A trip to Murghab costs about $50 USD for a car if one happens to be waiting at the Pass, and takes around 3 hours. It's a better idea to arrange your transportation in Tajikistan before you arrive at the pass to be safe, as this is a very remote area. It's possible to hitch down to the city on a Kamaz truck, but expect driving times to take around 5 hours or more, as road conditions deteriorate quickly. There is one police checkpoint at the bottom of the Pass where all foreigners must register their passport and visa.
TRAVELLING FROM TAJIKISTAN TO CHINA
Travelling from Tajikistan to China via the Kulma Pass is straightforward and relatively simple, but certainly time consuming.
The Tajik cuscoms post is open from 9am (theoretically), and closes for lunch for an hour from 1pm to 2pm Dushambe time. To exit Tajikistan, you first head into the customs office, go through a basic luggage check (by hand) and then walk to the immigration house on the border line, where you will have your passport and visa registered and stamped, as well as your fingerprints checked again.
After immigration, you will have to walk about a hundred meters to the Chinese military checkpoint, where soldiers will make a thorough check of all your 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 and pat down.
Once through, Chinese border police will help put you on a truck down to the Kalasu Customs Port, about 20 minutes away, where you go through standard Chinese immigration and customs procedures. Kalasu is a remote area and it is unlikely that taxis or onward transportation to Kashgar or Tashkurgan will be waiting. It's recommended to book your transportation from Kalasu before arriving. If need be, you can ask one of the Chinese customs officers to help call a taxi (around 300-400 RMB), as they all live in Tashkurgan and should know some numbers to call.
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 also exchange Somoni for Chinese RMB in Murghab before departing.