Kashgar and Lake Karakul, Xinjiang

Explore Kashgar city; hike around Lake Karakul and in the foothills of Mt. Muztagh-Ata.

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Snow covered mountains reflected in Lake Karakul, Xinjiang Province
Snow covered mountains reflected in Lake Karakul, 3,648m above sea level.

Trip overview

Day One Fly to Kashgar via Urumqi; visit night market in Kashgar.
Day Two Visit the Tomb of the Imperial Concubine; visit Kashgar’s Old City; free time for visits to Grand Bazaar and Id Kah mosque.
Day Three Drive to Lake Karakul; overnight in tents at 204.

Day Four Hiking in foothills of Mt Muztagh-Ata; overnight in tents at nomad settlement.
Day Five Hike back to 204; drive back to Kashgar.
Day Six Visit Livestock Market; lunch at local family's house; fly back to Beijing via Urumqi.

Highlights

Minarets top an ornate building in Kashgar’s Old City

Minarets top an ornate building in Kashgar’s Old City. View a larger photo.

Kashgar

Kashgar is an ancient city in the far west of China, with many historically interesting sites and a strong Muslim influence from the large Uyghur community.

The earliest recorded mention of Kashgar can be found in Han Dynasty records that date back to 125 BC. At that point it was already one of the many stops on the Northern Silk Road, and, despite wars and battles, has been populated ever since.

In Kashgar, we will visit many of the most interesting sights.

Kashgar Old City

Known as an excellent example of a traditional Islamic city, Kashgar’s Old City has undergone significant changes in recent times—some parts have been knocked down due to new regulations about building to meet earthquake and fire codes, and some sections are undergoing reconstruction.

While the Old City might not be totally as aesthetically pleasing as it used to be, it’s still very much worth a visit just to get a look at the daily life of the local residents, and to sample a little bit of the naan bread sold at streetside stalls.

The Id Kah Mosque, Kashgar

The Id Kah Mosque, Kashgar.

Id Kah Mosque

With a history that stretches back until at least the 14th century, the Id Kah Mosque is an active mosque and perhaps the largest in China. While we can’t enter during the times of prayer, we plan to time it so we can get a look inside.

Grand Bazaar

Kashgar’s Grand Bazaar covers a huge area and sells a little of everything—carpets and silk, spices, dried fruit, animal skins and fur, hats, clothing, trumpets, drums, and other musical instruments, and much more!

The Tomb of the Fragrant Concubine, Kashgar

The Tomb of the Fragrant Concubine.

Tomb of the Fragrant Concubine

Commonly known as the Tomb of the Fragrant Concubine, it is more accurately described as the tomb of Afaq Khoja, a religious and political leader said to be a relative of Muhammad, and is one of the key Muslim sites in Xinjiang.

The mausoleum was built around 1640 for Muhammed Yusuf, the father of Afaq Khoja, and is a domed structure with four corner minarets and a beautiful cladding of glazed tiles.

The key points of the story of the Fragrant Concubine differ greatly, depending on which side is telling it. One side has it that her captivating scent caused her presentation as a gift to the Emperor, who she grew to love until her death. The other side has it that she was kidnapped, held against her will in the Forbidden City, where she plotted to kill him until she was murdered by the Empress Dowager.

Livestock Market

The livestock market is where local shepherds and farmers meet up to sell and trade livestock. We’ll visit for a look at this very interesting slice of local culture on the last day of the trip, and see if we can spot anyone using the secretive method of agreeing on a price.

Trekking in the Karakul and Muztagh-Ata area

The tall and snowcapped mountains in this remote and relatively unpopulated area form a superb backdrop for our high-altitude hike between small settlements and seasonal nomad camps.

Lake Karakul

The long road from Kashgar up and over the Karakorams and on to Pakistan passes by Lake Karakul, a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. On a clear day, it’s possible to see the 7,500m-plus peaks of Kongur-Tagh, Kongur-Tiube, and Muztagh-Ata pointing up from the line of mountains in the distance. We’ll stop at Karakul to take a walk by the lakeside before heading on to our first campsite

Mt. Muztagh-Ata

At 7,546m, Muztagh-Ata is the second-highest mountain in the area, and will form an impressive backdrop for much of our trek. Our hike will be along trails in the foothills of the mountain, following part of the path climbers take up on the way up to the basecamp.

On the second night of the trek, we’ll camp at a nomad settlement near the stream that runs down through the basecamp from the mountain’s glacier. The large boulders strewn over the foothills of Muztagh-Ata give an indication of the previous size of the glaciers in the area – very large!

While trekking, we’ll have camels with us to carry all our equipment—you’ll just need a day pack to carry your snacks and water. If there’s a spare camel, we can all have a go at travel-by-camel.

More photos

Health warning – high altitude

During the trekking part of this trip we will be at high altitude, and will arrive without much chance for acclimatization.

We take the issue of altitude sickness seriously. If anyone has serious problems with the altitude, one of the BJH guides will take them back to Kashgar straight away. If anyone has problems after that, they’ll be transferred back and met by the guide. Any extra costs incurred for transport/medical assistance are to be paid by participants. We will purchase insurance on your behalf, but you must be prepared to cover any up-front costs.

At high altitude, the weather may change suddenly for the worse. We reserve the right to alter the itinerary to ensure the safety of all participants.

Altitudes

Kashgar city: 1,286m above sea level
Karakul area: 3,648m
Nomad settlement 2: approx. 4,000m above sea level.

Weather

Nights in the mountains: around 0°C or lower.
Mornings in the mountains: 3–5°C
Kashgar: average high 32.1°C, average low 18.6°C.

Accommodation

In Kashgar, we will be staying in a 4-star hotel near the town square – quite a hot spot!
While trekking, we’ll be sleeping in tents.

You’ll be sharing a room at the hotel with another hiker. If you'd like a hotel room to yourself, it can be arranged at an extra cost of 450 RMB for the trip, if a room is available—usually not a problem!

Further details about room shares and single supplement can be found in the documents we send you as part of the registration.

Flights and transport

We’ll be flying to Kashgar via Urumqi, and back the same way. Transit in and around Kashgar will be in a comfortable private vehicle.

Frequent flyers: Please let us know if you would like to use your frequent flyer miles or if you are a frequent flyer member. If you would like to organise your own flights, we can provide further details.

The night market at Kashgar

The night market at Kashgar. View another photo.

More photos from the Kashgar night market

  1. Kebab and naan bread – classic Kashgar cuisine

Food

In Kashgar, we’ll be eating in Chinese restaurants – sometimes at the hotel, sometimes in town. During the trekking part, we’ll be accompanied by a chef who will cook simple Chinese vegetable and meats dishes, and we’ll bring along naan bread and instant noodles to make sure we can fill up. Please let us know if you have any special dietary requirements or food allergies.

Things to bring

We recommend that you travel light and pack only the essentials: plenty of warm clothing including gloves, thermal trousers and jackets, and a hat; waterproof jacket and trousers; a sleeping bag that is rated for 20°C below zero; a good pillow; hiking boots; and some lighter clothes to wear around Kashgar. Because the population of Kashgar is mainly Muslim, we advise that you dress conservatively – the main thing to be aware of is that women are expected to dress modestly and should not show too much bare skin.

For the trekking and camping, assume the temperature could go well below zero.

Bring:

  • Waterproof jacket and trousers
  • Warm thermal/fleece jacket and thermal/fleece trousers
  • Warm hat
  • Heavy gloves
  • Heavy socks
  • Hiking boots
  • Hiking pack that can hold everything you need
  • Duffle bag for things you’d like the camels to carry

For Kashgar, assume it could get quite hot!

Bring:

  • Sneakers or hiking boots
  • Trousers, shorts
  • Day pack

Other things to bring

Suncream, hiking stick, camera, personal medicine, high-altitude medicine, first aid kit.

Full itinerary

There’s a chance that the flight times will change. We’re aiming to fly at the stated times, and will provide updates of any changes.

  1. Day 1
    07:30 — Meet up at the airport, check in (exact time to be confirmed)
    09:05 — Fly to Urumqi
    13:15 — Arrive in Urumqi, change plane
    14:30 — Fly to Kashgar
    16:05 — Arrive in Kashgar
    16:30 — Check in at the hotel
    17:00 — Visit Kashgar Night Market, dinner at the Night Market

  2. Day 2
    08:00 — Breakfast at hotel
    09:30 — Visit the Tomb of Xiangfei, the Imperial Concubine
    11:30 — Visit Kashgar Old City
    12:30 — Lunch at restaurant
    13:30 — Free time to visit the Grand Bazaar and Id Kah mosque
    19:00 — Dinner at restaurant, back to hotel

  3. Day 3
    08:00 — Depart for Lake Karakul (Kashgar altitude: 1,288m; Karakul altitude: 3,648m)
    13:00 — Arrive at Lake Karakul, walking and photography
    14:30 — Drive to 204
    15:30 — Hike from 204 to Subashi (altitude 3,648m to approx. 3,600m)
    16:00 — Set up camp, free time
    19:00 — Dinner at nomad settlement

  4. Day 4
    08:00 — Breakfast
    09:00 — Hike to nomad settlement, first half of loop hike
    12:30 — Lunch at nomad settlement (altitude approx. 4,000m)
    13:30 — Set up camp, opportunity for further hiking, free time
    19:00 — Dinner

  5. Day 5
    08:00 — Breakfast
    09:00 — Option to hike up to the Muztahg-Ata base camp
    10:30 — Hike back to 204 (altitude approx. 4,000m to 3,648m)
    13:30 — Lunch at 204
    14:30 — Drive back to Kashgar
    18:30 — Check in to hotel to shower and rest
    20:00 — Dinner at the hotel restaurant

  6. Day 6
    08:30 — Breakfast at hotel
    09:30 — Check out of hotel
    10:00 — Visit local livestock market
    11:30 — Visit local family's house, lunch
    13:00 — Head to the airport
    14:35 — Fly to Urumqi
    16:20 — Arrive at Urumqi, transfer flights
    18:25 — Fly to Beijing
    22:05 — Arrive in Beijing
    All times are approximate, and depend on our speed of movement

Deadline: August 1—For this trip we need a special permit which takes at least several weeks to process. If you're thinking about joining this trip, sign up now – if you miss that deadline, you won't be able to come along!

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Photos and trip reports: Kashgar and Lake Karakul, Xinjiang

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