The highlight of my time in Xinjiang was arguably the trip my friends and I took to Tashkurgan, the Khunjerab Pass (China and Pakistan’s border crossing), and Karakul Lake. All these sights lie along the Karakoram Highway, which is doable by public transport–a handful of buses run between Kashgar and Tashkurgan every morning–but believe me, for this place, you want your own transport. Mostly so you can stop whenever and ogle at the scenery for as long as you’d like.
My friends and I booked our trip through Uighur Tour. Our driver, Abdul, came highly recommended to us by my friend’s friend. He pretty much is the best driver ever, good-naturedly appeasing our camera-crazy beings and going out of his way to introduce us to some fantastic experiences. Doing this trip-within-a-trip was not cheap, and the price does not include food or accommodation, but it was only until afterwards, with a bad experience with a mediocre driver/guide in Turpan, that I realized how important it is to have a good driver, one who truly enjoys his job and wants you to have the best time possible.
The first stop on the Karakoram Highway on the way to Tashkurgan was Upal, a small village by the side of the road. We were lucky to pass by during their booming Monday market, which turned out to be a real treat. Watermelons! Tractors! Livestock! Attractive young Uighur men! (Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have said the last one aloud…)
Here’s photographic proof for why you should get your own transport for the Karakoram Highway:
*looks at pictures I just posted* *gets jealous of past self* WAHHH TAKE ME BACK. ABDULLLLL.
We overnighted in Tashkurgan, a comfortingly amenable town that’s practically not in China anymore. I want to mention K2 Youth Hostel right now because they haven’t appeared in any guidebooks yet on account of being quite new, but it is a great place to stay in Tashkurgan. There are Western toilets in every room. If you’ve ever traveled in western China, you’d know how big a deal this is.
Day Two dawned bright and perfect, and we were off to the Khunjerab Pass, two hours away.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t get to the actual border due to political reasons, so everyone who did not know someone in the Chinese government or army had to stop 3km away and strain their eyes to see the tiny white guardhouse in the distance. The pass was at a dizzying 5000-something meters above sea level, and I definitely felt the altitude: vision spinning, stomach queasy, inability to stay awake. I slept the whole way back to Tashkurgan, missing photo opportunities with friendly local Tajiks living along the road that allowed my friends to take their pictures.
Back in Tashkurgan, we visited the ruins of the ancient Stone City (which was used for the filming of some scenes in the Kite Runner movie. Has anyone seen the movie that can confirm this?) and the relaxing grasslands just down the road. Here was where Abdul went out of his way to be amazing: he befriended a group of young local guys, who then gave us a concert of local songs on a traditional Uighur instrument. I have no words.
That second night, we stayed in a yurt along the lakes of the Karakul Lake, surrounded by mountains of sand and snow.
Since everything in Xinjiang runs two hours behind China (Beijing) time, it was pretty easy for me to catch the sunrise. All I had to do was wake up at 8am. 🙂
Then the sun fully rose so I could see this:
And I will leave you with a picture of a camel: