Stone City of Kite Runner Movie Fame

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
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Trip End Feb 28, 2013


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Where I stayed
Ben leixin Hotel
What I did
Stone City of Kite Runner Movie

Flag of China  , Xinjiang Uygur Zizhiqu,
Monday, October 31, 2011

KASHGAR TO TASHKURGAN TO KASHGAR VIA THE KARAKORAM HIGHWAY

293 km, 6 hours 30 minutes each way

Two Israeli women staying at the hostel also wanted to make the drive to Tashkurgan near the Pakistan border. We all were waiting for a good weather forecast. Unfortunately, each day brought a different forecast and those were mostly mostly cloudy......... We gave up waiting for good weather and decided to pull a group together and travel on Tuesday.

Silvia had checked out the car rental... She was the main organizer and had found another 'Chinese man' who wanted to go only one way and one other American... We decided on the car that holds 6 people and Dave went to find the ‘Chinese’ man to let him know the trip was on. He found a Chinese guy in the lobby and asked if he was the guy who wanted to go with us. He said ‘yes’ and now he had a friend. And now he wanted to go all the way to the border further than our destination of Tashkurgan. He was willing to pay the 200RMB extra to go all the way. Now we had seven to split the cost of the trip. And when Silvia got back from dinner, we discovered the Chinese guy who wanted to go to the border was not the same man she had arraigned to go just one way. We decided to tell the one-way guy we were full with seven!  We did not track him down until the morning and when he found out we didn't have room for him, he was upset. Not only was he upset, but he is Japanese and not Chinese. Dave was looking for a Chinese guy and it would have gone a long way to minimize the confusion if Silvia had said' find the Japanese man' instead of 'find the Chinese guy'. Plus he was traveling with a Chinese woman. Nine was definitely too many for the car that was arranged. Not to worry, the owner of the hostel quickly arranged for a larger van that would accommodate all of us. So at 10:10, the van driver arrived and picked up copies of our passports to take them to the border permit office.Our group...

2 Israelis
3 Americans
1 Japanese
3 Chinese

The van was a plush Toyota HiLux that had room for even more people. So we had plenty of room to stretch out. With the big windows, everyone had good views of the scenery outside. Under dreary gray skies, we were off at 10:45 and for the first hour, we drove along the flat plain through agricultural settlements. We could see corn, cotton and alfalfa growing as well as many fruit and nut orchards. We pulled into the town of Upal and the driver got out and ordered noodles at a roadside diner. We followed suit and were taken aback when they charged us double what we had expected.

After the brief stop, we were back on the highway and in an hour, reached red sandstone walled canyon through which the Ghez river flowed.  We arrived at the Ghez and stopped short of the checkpoint. A rifle toting guard stood on the roof keeping an eye on everything. We walked over to the window to have our passports checked. The driver went first, presumably he showed our permits. He went back to the van and pulled it ahead to the other side of the checkpoint. The checkpoint guard asked me the license number of my vehicle. I looked around, spotted our van, and read the license number. He waved me through with a thin smile.


Soon we arrived at Karakul Lake (3600m) surrounded by snow-covered peaks (Muztagh Ata-7,546 m, Kongur Tagh-7,649 m and Kongur Tiube-7,530 m).  Karakul is known for its beautiful scenery and the clarity of its reflection in the water.  Because of the rotten weather, all we saw was gray. We could barely see the foot of the snowy mountains. One of the guys wanted to get out and take pictures of the marshlands and yak grazing near the lake. As we lingered, the sun burned through. Dave got a few nice photos of the Uyghur graveyard with blue sky above. The sandstones beehive shaped tombs are all over Xinjiang province.


We stopped again a few km further at what they called the ‘base camp’. Climbers do climb the massive peaks. Our friend Bertrand emailed us and told us to stop here. Bertrand had climbed Muztagh peak with his daughter and skied down! Incredible! The camp with a dozen or more stone yurt hotels was disserted.


We passed through some wonderful settlements with grazing yaks and camels. We stopped again at a particularly scenic spot. The mud colored homes had flat roofs and were enclosed behind mud walls. I saw a women at the homestead embroidering. I waved and was encouraged by another woman to go over. They showed me some embroidery they were working on. They are from a different ethnic group (perhaps Kyrgyz) that wears round pill-box shaped headdresses often draped with scarves.


Last major town on route to Pakistan is Tashkurgan. We got to the outskirts and the driver pulled over to a new park with massive network of plank boardwalks. It doesn’t seem to have a particular reason for being there but when we turned around, we saw the ruins of the Stone City rising above. Stone City is believed to be a 1400 year old fort built by a Tajik king.  Scenes from the Kite Runner movie were filmed there. The two Chinese guys who wanted to make the 126km drive to the border at Khunjerab pass and look over needed to get a permit. They left with the driver while we walked around the Stone City. As we were exploring, we could see a guy approaching from the distance. He motioned that we shouldn’t come in that way. And we needed to go around the front and buy a ticket. We walked back as the guy kept close watch to make sure we were leaving. We thought we would go in the proper way in the morning. But from what we could tell, we had already seen what there is to see from the outside. From up on the hill Dave could see inside the outer wall and all he could see was rock rubble. There is no reason to go inside.


The guys returned quickly with the driver. They had their permits. We drove through town and directly to a nice hotel. Janie and some other travelers had told us the hotel near the bus station was a bit of a dive but nice and warm. We were shown to a nice looking place with a lot of construction work going out front. The whole town seemed to be in the process of construction. The Ben leixin Hotel is not a dive. It has heat, hot water, good rooms, and wifi. Overall, the hotel is a solid choice for the offseason rate of 140RMB ($22) per room.

The Chinese in our party wanted Chinese food and not Uyghur. So we all went together in to a small place and were led into the back dining room. The Chinese guys took charge of ordering and picked some nice dishes. One tofu dish was really nice and the guys assured me that it is common all over China. I took a picture of it so next time I am in a Chinese restaurant, I can ask for it.


We turned in early and planned to be on our own until about noon when the two Chinese guys would be back from looking over the border, they figured they needed about an hour and a half each way. The guy from Japan and his Chinese companion left before we got up. They were the one-way team who were going on to Pakistan. They went to the International bus station in Tashkurgan for the onward bus to Pakistan.


Clouds again greeted us in the morning. But at about 11AM, the clouds began to lift and the sun came out. It was perfect timing for our departure at 12:30. The weather was very good as we retraced our way back to Kashgar past the same sights, the mountains, the lake etc. But as we got to the checkpoint, we were under gray clouds again as we drove though the colorful red, green and yellow rock gorge. We saw a saw-tooth ridge off in the distance above Kashgar. Others tried to take photos of the interesting ridge but we knew our little compact camera was not up to the task.
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Comments

jason on

i remember reading about the karakoram highway when i was thinking about cycling to china, supposedly one of the nicest, and also hardest roads in the world..you guys are geting around abit...you not gonna pop over to pakistan, i heard really good things about iran

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