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Over the Torugart Pass

Central Asia was our initial inspiration for travel, it seemed like a place that no one really knew about, or travelled through. It took us almost nine months of travel before we arrived in in Kashgar and started making arrangements for the trip across the border to Kyrgyzstan. We had two options, one by public bus, across the Irkeshtam and the other by private vehicle across the Torugart Pass. Neither option was particularly appealing to us, the first pass would bring us to Southern Kyrgyzstan, not where we wanted to be, and the second option was too expensive. It's only expensive because the Chinese keep it that way, by classifying the border as 'Class 2' which means only locals can cross it. For foreigners to be allowed to cross they must first get a permit and have transportation arranged on both the Chinese and Kyrgyz side. Our guidebook had quoted the trip as costing 100-200 USD per person, which was way way too much for us. There is only one travel agency that organizes transportation and we managed to get a taxi all the way across the pass for 75 USD per person (provided we could find two others with whom to share the taxi). After hanging around Kashgar for about a week, we paired up again with Margo (who we travelled with in Pakistan), and an Australian guy named Dave and made arrangements to cross the pass.

Yann had predicted that our vehicle would be the smallest possible that could fit the four of us (plus guide and driver), when we arrived at the parking lot for pick up we were greeted by an actual bus, and two older Austrian travellers. They had paid premium price for a tour bus, and we were added in (much to our satisfaction). So our transportation on the Chinese side was alot better than Yann had guessed, 6 people in a bus that fit 18. Part of what is attractive about the Torugart Pass is its isolation, the bureaucracy involved in its crossing and the fact that not many people make the trip. For us, it was all just a little bit too easy, we expected our ride on the Kyrgyz side not to show up, or to attempt to charge us more than we had agreed to, or the Chinese border guards to deny us permission to cross. The only thing that made the trip difficult was the fact that our Kyrgyz driver had removed all the handles from his car doors, so that no one could roll down the windows (he didn't want the dust coming in), so we sat smooshed together, sweating and breathing in the exhaust fumes that I suspect were leaking into the car from somewhere. Our driver seemed to be 'in' with the border guards and we whizzed through the eerily deserted checkpoints, our bags never even leaving the trunk of the car. Other than the drive through vast seemingly uninhabited territory, our first taste of Kyrgyzstan was the town of Naryn. It's hard to describe how different Naryn felt from any of the other towns we had visited in the past months. We hadn't really prepared ourselves for the Russian influence in Central Asia, or maybe we weren't really aware of its extent. Our hotel was a decrepid Soviet dinosaur with our room door not locking (but cheap, 1.50$ per bed). For lunch we found a cafe and ate borscht while drinking beer on tap. The streets were lined with mature trees and old Russian cars ran slowly back and forth down Lenina street. Most store shelves were stocked with dozens of different kinds of vodka, all sadly selling for not too much more than bottled water. Men exited cafes mid-afternoon carrying the smell of alcohol along with them. While women and young red-cheeked children sat at street stalls selling produce or homemade bread out of baby carriages. The coordinator of the local tourist office proudly exclaimed that Naryn was 99% Kyrgyz, although to us, it didn't seem like the local customs were 99% Kyrgyz.

4 comments:

Jean said...

Em and Yann I don't get the comment about the town being 99% kyrgz but you say the customs are 99% kyrgz? Elaborate please.

Papa

Jean said...

Wait I get it you were saying the customs were NOT 99% kyrgyz. Sorry.

Papa

Anonymous said...

Wow!
I found your blog by googling "Torugart", where my friend and I are headed this coming summer.
We'd also like to cross from Kashgar.
Could you give me the name/coordinates of the agency you eventually got the car (bus) from?
Did it take any additional permits, besides the Chinese and Kyrghyz visas?

Eli

Y&E said...

Hi Eli,
We crossed the border from China into Kyrgyzstan.
The contact in China is John's Cafe (based at the Seman Hotel in Kashgar). Here is his website:
http://johncafe.net/
It took us only a few days for him to organize the permits. You do need additional permits other than the Chinese and Kyrgyz visas which he organizes. It cost us 300$ for a jeep from Kashgar to Torugart and a pick up from Torugart to Naryn.
The jeep fits 4 people, so if you can meet up with two other people, it only costs 75$ each.
The guy who picked us up at the border and drove us to Naryn is actually the coordinator of the CBT (community based tourism) office in Naryn.
http://www.cbtkyrgyzstan.kg

John's cafe handled all the arrangements with the CBT in Naryn, so we didn't have to organize anything on the Kyrgyz side ourselves.

As I mentioned earlier, it didn't take too long for John to organize everything for us. All he needed was a deposit and photocopies of our visas.

happy travels,
Em and Yann