If you like cycling and are ready for a new adventure, then a 9-day trip on the Karakoram Highway (“KKH” for short) is for you! The KKH is considered the highest paved international road in the world, linking China and Pakistan via the Khunjerab Pass (15,397 ft). Come cycle on the Chinese side of the KKH and take in spectacular scenes of high mountain peaks (some reaching 25,000 ft), lush highland pastures, and pristine glacial lakes mixed with the colorful cultures of the Tajik, Kyrgyz, Uyghur, and Han.
This tour starts and ends at the oasis of Kashgar, an ancient silk road trading hub where goods have been bought and sold for 2000 years, and home to the Grand Bazaar (largest open air market in Central Asia) and the historic Id-Kah Mosque (largest in China).
Trip at a Glance:
Day 1: Assemble in Kashgar
Day 2: Van-ride to Tashkurgan
Day 3: Cycle around Tagharma Wetland
Day 4: Cycle around Tashkurgan Grassland
Day 5: Cycle to Subash Pass (13,000 ft)
Day 6: Muztaghata Base Camp Trek
Day 7: Rest Day at Lake Karukul
Day 8: Cycle to Oytagh
Day 9: Cycle to Kashgar
Day 1: Assemble in Kashgar We will begin our adventure in the ancient Silk Road town of Kashgar, where you will be picked up at the airport and transported to our hotel in the center of the city. There will be time for last minute shopping and after making sure our bikes are ready to go, we will eat dinner at a local Uyghur restaurant and casually tour nearby sites.
As one of the better-known stops along the ancient Silk Road, Kashgar offers an interesting mix of culture and history to explore. We will have an opportunity to meander through the maze of roads that makes up Kashgar’s Old City and make a stop at the yellow brick façade of the iconic Id Kah Mosque.
Day 2: Travel to Tashkurgan. At 9:00 am Beijing time we will board our tour bus and drive south out of Kashgar through the mountains into the small town of Tashkurgan, the administrative seat of the Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County. Along this 300 km route, we will witness an astounding variety of geographical features. The drive to Tashkurgan should only take 5-6 hours but due to unpredictable weather, landslides, washouts and resulting road construction to repair damage, the trip could be an all-day affair! A new highway, elevated in strategic sections, is currently under construction and scheduled to be completed in early Fall 2016. Travelers on this new road should find their trip smoother and shorter, but still fascinating for both geology buffs and non-geologists alike!
Once we arrive in Tashkurgan we will check into our hotel and have a relatively relaxing afternoon/evening to allow our bodies to acclimatize to Tashkurgan’s 10,500 foot elevation. Optional activities include visiting the picturesque highland pasture, sauntering through the quaint downtown streets or stopping by the famed Stone City or Tajik Museum (open Mon-Fri until 7 pm Beijing Time). Plan to take plenty of pictures of sites with a backdrop of snow-capped peaks. We will dine together at one of the local restaurants in town.
Day 3: Cycle around Tagharma Wetland. After an early and quick breakfast at our hotel, we begin our first day of cycling with a 70 km (44 mi.) round-trip outing around the Tagharma highland wetland just north of Tashkurgan. Cycling difficulty is low and non-technical as the terrain is mostly flat and on paved roads. The biggest challenges are a few small stream crossings through water that may be around 30 cm (1 ft) deep, and the continual adjustment to the thin air.
The wetland is the largest in Tashkurgan County with criss-crossing streams, rich grass, flowers, birds and stunning views of Mt. Muztaghata (7,509 m, 24,636 ft) in the background. We will stop and enjoy a packed-lunch along our route. After lunch we will continue to cycle back to Tashkurgan, arriving sometime mid-afternoon. During the remainder of the day there will be time to further explore Tashkurgan and we will again enjoy dinner at a local restaurant in town.
Day 4: Cycle around Tashkurgan Grassland. After breakfast we will enjoy a 50 km half-day cycle trip around the gooz, the picturesque grassland adjacent to the town of Tashkurgan. Cycling difficulty on this leg of the journey is low but will not always be on paved roads. Since we will be detouring off the main highway, we can expect to be sharing the road with villagers on motorcycles, stray sheep or even a pack of camels!
After completing the cycle trip for the day, we will walk down to the gooz where we will relax in one of the many nomadic dwellings known as a “yurt” that are scattered across the wetland. It is here that we will be hosted by a local Tajik family and served a traditional Tajik meal.
The afternoon and evening will be free times but, if possible, we will have the opportunity to experience one of the many beautiful facets of Tajik culture including a Tajik wedding celebration or even a traditional game of Buzkashi, an ancient Central Asian sport where players on horseback or yak-back attempt to throw a headless goat carcass into a hole. Dinner this evening will be in town.
Day 5: Cycle to Subash. We leave Tashkurgan early and begin our journey north back to Kashgar, cycling 85 km (52 mi) to Subash Village. This will be our most strenuous day of cycling, as the 35 km (22 mi) before we reach the peak of Subash Pass are all uphill. We will ascend 1000m in this 35 km stretch, reaching an altitude of 4000 m (13,000 ft).
Thankfully, though, the hard work of cycling uphill will be rewarded with one of the most visually spectacular stretches of highway and a rapid descent of switchbacks at high speeds. These stretches offer the best photo ops of Mt. Muztaghata and potential sightings of free-ranging yaks and camels. We will eat a packed-lunch en-route, and by late afternoon we should arrive at our destination—a small, Kyrgyz village (elevation 3700m) at the base of Muztaghata—for dinner and our first night sleeping in yurts.
Day 6: Muztaghata Base Camp Trek. We will put aside our cycling shoes, strap on our hiking boots, and start out on the 23 km (14 mi) round-trip trek to Mt. Muztaghata’s Base Camp (elevation 4500m, 14,600 ft). For much of this journey we will have an up-close view of one of Muztaghata’s many glaciers and may possibly catch glimpses of some wildlife.
Once we reach Base Camp, a hearty lunch will be provided by the resident cook. On the trek back we will take time to visit the head of the glacier, enjoying its beautiful ice formations and the coursing streams of water that wind through the glacier. We will eat dinner and rest back at the Kyrgyz village, having earned a good night’s sleep after a full-day’s hike at elevation.
Day 7: Rest Day at Lake Karukul. After breakfast, we get back on the bikes for a short cycle (15 km, 9 mi) to Lake Karukul. This scenic glacial lake, covering a little less than 5 square km (2 square miles) at an elevation of 3600 m, is nestled between Mt. Muztaghata and Mt. Kongur (7649 m, 25,095 ft).
Choose to explore the lake (11 km circumference) on foot or on the back of a horse or camel; or rest and take lots of pictures of idyllic Lake Karukul with its peaceful, turquoise waters reflecting the stunning alpine landscape. Bargain with locals for souvenirs of Kyrgyz handicrafts or jewelry. Lunch and dinner will be provided, and we will sleep in tents close to the water, in full view of both mountains. Plan to spend time stargazing as the night sky in this locale is phenomenal.
Day 8: Descent to Oytagh. Continue cycling towards Kashgar during this 100km (62 mi), mostly downhill stretch. We will be partially wrapping around the base of Mt. Kongur; and after cycling about 30 km (18 mi) on fairly flat terrain we will be passing by White Sands Lake, another beautiful highland lake known for its distinctive white sand that covers the hills on the far side.
Once we pass the lake we will enter the Ghez River Canyon marked by its red colorful walls, especially prominent in the later stages of our ride. This descent is a lot of fun on bikes as we can maintain a fairly fast speed without too much effort, winding our way through the canyon with the Ghez River roaring just a few meters beside us. We will eat a packed lunch along the way.
Once we pass the Ghez Checkpoint we will cycle another 30 km or so until we reach Oytagh, our final destination for the day. Here we will pitch our tents on a grassy spot just off the highway, and eat a hot meal cooked at our campsite. Enjoy campsite conversations as the sunset brings the colorful canyon walls to life and the starry sky emerges.
Day 9: Cycle to Kashgar. Early in the morning, we eat breakfast and break camp. Then we cycle the last 15 km (9 mi) out of the Ghez canyon and into the wide-open Tarim Basim dotted with Uyghur farms and small villages that will characterize our trip the rest of the way to Kashgar. At the 40 km mark we will stop at the oasis village of Upal and have lunch at a popular Uyghur restaurant in town. Lamb kabobs, laghman (noodles with meat and colorful vegetables), or polo (the traditional Uyghur staple of rice with carrots and lamb) – take your pick!
After lunch, we cycle the remaining 50 km (31 mi) on flat, paved road to Kashgar where we end our trip with a victory photo shoot at the historic Id-Kah Mosque. Dinner will be at a restaurant in town.
Enjoy a relaxing, well-deserved swim at our hotel or choose to further explore the sights and sounds of Kashgar. At this point our trip has officially ended. Feel free to extend your stay in Kashgar, travel to other Silk Road sites nearby, or return home.
|August 10-19 (full)||2017||$1,997|
Prices are based on a minimum group size of 6. Discount is available for groups larger than 8, so please contact us for specific pricing and details.
These are our public tour dates. Altus Expedition runs a number of private tours throughout the year and if you’d like to inquire about scheduling and pricing for your group, please contact us directly.
Xinjiang Altus International
Zhong Qiao San Xiang #136 Door A, Office 1006