The Silk Road east of Kashgar splits into two threads in the face of the Taklamakan Desert, the second-largest sandy desert in the world. The northern thread follows the modern road and railway to Kuqa and Turpan. The southern road charts a more remote course between desert sands and the towering Pamir and Kunlun mountain ranges.
This off-the-grid journey takes you far into the Uyghur heartland, as well as deep into the ancient multi-ethnic heritage of the region. You're as likely to come across a centuries-old tiled mosque as the ruins of a Buddhist pagoda from the 4th century.
It’s possible to visit the southern towns as a multiday trip from Kashgar before crossing the Taklamakan Desert to Ürümqi, or as part of a rugged backdoor route into Tibet or Qīnghǎi.