In the Uyghur language, tash kurgan means ‘stone fortress’. The ruins of a huge mud-brick fort still stand on the edge of town, and although estimated to be about 600 years old, local lore says Tashkurgan has been a citadel for over 2300 years. The Greek philosopher-scientist Ptolemy (AD 90–168) mentioned Tashkurgan in his Guide to Geography as a stop on the road to China. The Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuan Zang wrote about the fortress in the 7th century, when it was the furthest frontier outpost of the Tang dynasty.
Tashkurgan has little else to offer, although if you’re coming from Pakistan you’ll delight in (a) public conversations with women, and (b) beer (which may knock you back considerably at this elevation). Tashkurgan is a frontier town through and through. Government expansion has brought wide avenues, Han businesses and traffic lights but Tajiks still gather to play pool on outside tables and engage in earnest street-corner discussion in the afternoon before the ubiquitous kebab stands start to smoulder and smoke.
This is the site of the Chinese customs and immigration post. It’s also the administrative centre of Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County, stretching from Muztagh Ata to the border, and is home to most of China’s Tajiks. Tashkurgan is about 290km from Kashgar.