Getting there & away
It’s imperative when you buy tickets in Kashgar to verify what ‘time’ the person who’s selling the tickets has set their watch to. Officially it’s Běijīng time, but unsurprisingly, this isn’t always the case.
There are two passes into Kyrgyzstan: the Torugart, which leads to Bishkek, and the Irkeshtam, which goes to Osh. Getting to Osh (US$50, two days) is straightforward, with a bus leaving the international bus station (guójì qìchēzhàn; Jiefang Beilu) on Monday (and perhaps Thursday if demand warrants it) at 10am. Another option is to hire a taxi up to the border, which should work out to be a similar price. Crossing the Torugart Pass, however, is a different matter. For the record, a Chinese bus runs twice weekly from the international bus station to Naryn (US$25) and Bishkek (US$50).
Buses to/from Sost (Y270 plus Y2 per bag, two days) in Pakistan leave the international bus station daily at 10am. The 500km trip stops overnight at Tashkurgan. Bring water, snacks and warm clothes as nights can be cold all year. Sit on the left for the best views.
Customs procedures are conducted at Tashkurgan.
If buses have stopped for the season but you’re desperate to cross the border, Pakistani traders may have space in a truck or chartered bus. You can also hire a taxi or a 4WD from one of the tour outfits.
Some buses use the long-distance bus station (kāshí zhàn; Tian Nanlu). There have been instances of theft at the bus station, especially in the early morning crush.
Making the 1480km trip to Ürümqi are nonstop coaches, soft-seat or sleeper (Y192 to Y212), that take about 24 hours. They leave frequently between 7.30am and 7.30pm.
Local buses to Tashkurgan leave daily at 10.30am (Y44, six hours) and charge the full fare to drop you off in Karakul.
There are seven buses for Hotan (Y65 to Y85, seven to 10 hours) between 9am and 9pm, but it is more enjoyable to stop off in Yengisar (Y7, 1½ hours), Yarkand (Y22, three hours) or Karghilik (Y29, four hours). Buses to these last three towns run hourly.
You can hire 4WDs (four to six passengers) and minibuses (eight to 12 passengers) from the Caravan Café, John’s Cafe, or CITS. At the time of research, rates for a 4WD to meet/drop you off at Torugart averaged around Y1000, plus Y200 per person to arrange the requisite permits (minimum two-day wait though three is more likely). Food and lodging are extra, and the driver pays for his own.
Daily trains to Ürümqi depart at 9.30am and 2.50pm and take 30 and 23 hours, respectively. Middle-berth sleeper tickets on the faster train are Y360.
You might be able to hitch a lift to Tashkurgan, but from there to Pakistan you’ll probably have to wait for an empty seat on the bus. There are plenty of trucks crossing the Torugart Pass to Kyrgyzstan but you’ll likely have problems getting past the customs post.
There are three daily flights to Ürümqi (Y1230), which are sometimes cancelled due to poor turnout or sandstorms. It’s possible to fly to Islamabad (Pakistan); another route to Lahore (Pakistan) hasn’t yet started (and possibly never will). The Civil Aviation Administration of China office (CAAC; Zhōngguó Mínháng; 282 2113; 95 Jiefang Nanlu; 10am-1pm & 4.30-8pm) will have more information.