Fodor's Expert Review Karakorum Highway

Kashgar Scenic Drive Fodor's Choice

The Karakorum Highway (KKH), a spectacular road winding across some of the most dramatic and inhospitable terrain on Earth, traces one of the major ancient silk routes, from Kashgar south for 2,100 km (1,300 miles) through three great mountain ranges over the Khunjerab Pass (the highest border crossing in the world) into Pakistan. The journey can be hair-raising in part because of rock- and mudslides and in part because of daredevil driving. Modern highways have taken away most of the risk - and some of the fun - of taking this incredible journey.

At an altitude of 3,600 meters (11,800 feet), Karakul Lake is surrounded by mountains covered in beautiful glaciers and dominated by the 7,800-meter (25,600-foot) peak of Muztagata, the "Father of the Ice Mountains." Tourism has ebbed and flowed around the lake but restrictions over the past couple years on overnight visitors has taken its toll on the local tourism economy. It's possible and recommended to eat a meal in... READ MORE

The Karakorum Highway (KKH), a spectacular road winding across some of the most dramatic and inhospitable terrain on Earth, traces one of the major ancient silk routes, from Kashgar south for 2,100 km (1,300 miles) through three great mountain ranges over the Khunjerab Pass (the highest border crossing in the world) into Pakistan. The journey can be hair-raising in part because of rock- and mudslides and in part because of daredevil driving. Modern highways have taken away most of the risk - and some of the fun - of taking this incredible journey.

At an altitude of 3,600 meters (11,800 feet), Karakul Lake is surrounded by mountains covered in beautiful glaciers and dominated by the 7,800-meter (25,600-foot) peak of Muztagata, the "Father of the Ice Mountains." Tourism has ebbed and flowed around the lake but restrictions over the past couple years on overnight visitors has taken its toll on the local tourism economy. It's possible and recommended to eat a meal in one of the lakeside yurts but without an expensive permit from officials in Kashgar, you'll need to continue on to Tashkorgan or return to Kashgar. Toilet facilities in this area are some of the worst in China, but the area's beauty makes it worthwhile. Tour the lake via camel, horse, or motorbike, or just walk around, which will take about three hours. Bring warm clothing even in the summer, as it can be downright chilly: during our visit in July, we were applying sunscreen in the morning and battling sleet in the afternoon.

Any travel agent can arrange tours to Karakul Lake, but most people make the breathtaking journey by public bus on their way to Tashkorgan. Along the way you'll be stopped by at least four different police checkpoints, so have your passport handy. Buses headed for Tashkurgan, two hours south of the lake, leave Kashgar's International Bus Station every morning at 9:30 Beijing Time (the bus station operates on Xinjiang time, off by two hours). You'll have to pay the full price of Y51 for your ticket even though you're not traveling the full distance. Buses reach the lake in about four hours. To catch the bus back, wait by the side of the highway and flag it down—the bus returning to Kashgar from Tashkurgan passes the lake between 11 am and 1 pm. A seat should only cost Y40, but enterprising drivers may demand Y50. Either way, the bus is much cheaper than private tours, which will set you back about Y600 per day.

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Kashgar, Xinjiang Uygur Zizhiqu  China

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