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Exploring Tashkorgan and the Tajik of Xinjiang, China

September 12 | 17 Comments

Travel to Tashkorgan, roof of Xinjiang, China

After an extremely bumpy 8-hour trip from Kashgar along the Karakoram Highway, our team arrived in the beautiful Tajik town of Tashkorgan.

The city goes by a number of different spellings, including “Tashkurgan” and “Taxkurgan,” but regardless of how you decide to write it, one things remains the same: Tashkorgan is one of the most visually spectacular and culturally rich cities to visit in China.

We needed a couple days to acclimate to the higher altitude before tackling any major cycling journeys, which meant I had plenty of time to wander the city streets, meet some locals, and take some fun photos. Check out the video below for a short introduction and give it a thumbs-up if you enjoy!

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Exploring Tashkorgan

While Tashkorgan county is quite large, the town of Tashkorgan feels surprisingly small – and that’s a good thing in my opinion.

The main streets are guarded by tall trees on either side, sloping slightly downward toward the grasslands to the east. In the center of town a monument stands to the symbol of the region: an eagle.

Eagle monument in Tashkorgan, Xinjiang

The eagle, which is a symbol of strength and beauty to the locals, was at one time used for hunting. Although this doesn’t occur as much anymore, the culture still reflects the importance of the eagle through the special Tajik eagle dance and their eagle flute.

Near the eagle monument is the Tashkorgan Museum, a small but fun place to spend a few minutes soaking in the history of this region and culture.

Tashkorgan Tajik Museum

I could spend hours just walking the streets and alleyways of Tashkorgan, but for most travelers there are two must-see destinations: the Stone Fort (石头城) and the Alar Golden Grasslands (阿拉尔金草滩).

Since the Stone Fort overlooks the grasslands, it’s possible to experience both in a single trip.

According to a sign at the Stone Fort, the ruins here are more than 2,200 years old, and some historians believe this is the fort described by Ptolemy in his travel accounts. Getting in to walk around costs 30 RMB/person, but based on my experience – and that of other travelers I know – the ruins aren’t that impressive up close.

The view of the fort from the grasslands, however, can be spectacular.

Tashkorgan Stone fort in Tashkorgan, Xinjiang

Best of all, this view is absolutely free! Over the past couple of years a new boardwalk has been added to the grasslands which from a bird’s eye view is shaped like an eagle. This is an addition that many tourist find annoying.

I am indifferent, considering the size of the grasslands. If you’re willing to hike around and get your feet wet, you could spend hours exploring this beautiful part of Tashkorgan.

Alar Grasslands in Tashkurgan, Xinjiang

The grasslands as seen from the ground…

Tashkorgan Eagle Boardwalk

…and the boardwalk shaped like an eagle (as seen from space).

The views from the Alar Grasslands are incredible no matter which direction you’re facing, but the best experience comes when you interact with the Tajik who live here.

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Who are the Tajik of Tashkorgan?

In addition to the beautiful scenery in Tashkorgan, the people there are what really make the town special.

Their facial features are easily distinguished from the Han Chinese and Uyghur who live in Tashkorgan. What captured my attention most was their western features and striking eyes, many of which boast a vivid coloration not normally seen in China.

A young Tajik lady in Tashkorgan, Xinjiang

The official designation for this ethnicity in China is “Tajik,” but interestingly they have their own Sarikol language not spoken in Tajikistan. In fact, the Sarikol language doesn’t yet have a written form, making it a difficult language to learn for foreigners.

I’ve been told that a more precise designation for these people are the “Mountain Tajik,” and based on my experience they are some of the most friendly people you’ll meet in all of China!

Young Tajik boy in Tashkurgan, Xinjiang

Young Tajik girl dressed up in Tashkorgan, Xinjiang

A Tajik man smoking on the grasslands in Tashkorgan, Xinjiang

Regional Sensitivity & Restrictions

Getting to and staying in Tashkorgan wasn’t nearly as difficult as I initially thought. There are no special permits required to visit, although you’ll be required to register at one of the many hotels or hostels.

Unlike that of other cities in Xinjiang, the police presence in Tashkorgan was minimal. The only exception to this is the road leading south toward the Pakistan border. Traveling this road requires either a Pakistan visa or special permit which you can apply for through a travel agency in Kashgar.

Heading north on the road, however, was extremely easy. The only major security checkpoint is down the road from Karakul Lake, quite a distance from Tashkorgan.

How to Travel to Tashkorgan

And now for the details. I’ll try to share with you the most important information, but if there’s anything missing here please let me know in the comments. If you’ll be traveling here I also recommend you grab a copy of the FarWestChina Xinjiang travel guide, which covers not only this area, but the entire region of Xinjiang.

  • Transportation to/from Tashkorgan: There are two primary ways to get to/from Tashkorgan: by public bus or by hired taxi. The bus runs between the Tashkorgan bus station on Tashkorgan Lu and Kashgar’s new international bus station south of town.
  • Lodging in Tashkorgan: To my disappointment, it seems that staying in a yurt on the Tashkorgan grasslands isn’t possible, although I wouldn’t be surprised if a persistent traveler is able to find a way. Instead, there is the excellent K2 Youth Hostel in the north of town and the nicer (but more expensive) Crown Inn.

K2 Hostel in Tashkorgan, Xinjiang

  • Eating in Tashkorgan: There are a number of hole-in-the wall restaurants that serve Uyghur and Chinese food. If you’re looking for traditional Tajik food – and I highly recommend doing that – it’s best to arrange a meal in a yurt down on the grasslands. Ask at your hotel or at a travel agency in Kashgar to help get this set up.
  • What to do in Tashkorgan: I recommend visiting the Tashkorgan Museum (free), spending time on the Alar Grasslands (free) and possibly exploring the Stone Fort (30RMB/person). If you have a chance, you should also try to experience a Tajik wedding or the incredible game of Buzkashi on horseback/yak. This can’t be arranged ahead of time, so you’ll have to ask around when you arrive.

Anything I’m missing here? Leave a comment below!

About Josh Summers

Josh is the author of Xinjiang | A Traveler's Guide to Far West China, the most highly-reviewed and comprehensive travel guide on China's western region of Xinjiang. He lived, studied and run a business in Xinjiang, China for more than 10 years, earning recognition for his work from CCTV, BBC, Lonely Planet and many others.

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Leave a Comment

  1. just visited Taskorgan two weeks ago! Had a great trip there. Beautiful views and great people! Really enjoyed my time there. The owners of World Roof restaurant are great people, highly recommend eating there. Their yak curry was amazing! Hope to visit again one day!

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    Josh Summers on September 12th, 2015 at 10:55 am

    So true! It was my first time to try Pakistani food and it was AMAZING!

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  2. Great pictures and account as expected from the author.
    I did not mind the boardwalks when I was there. I wonder if one can recognize the eagle design from a ground position – I had not.
    I confirm that the Stone Fort is for lovers of somewhat shapeless archeological ruins only (I am one of them).
    The clothes worn by the local population are a good reason for going there.
    Thanks for sharing !

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on September 14th, 2015 at 2:06 am

    Thanks, as always, for your input, Laurent! I appreciate the comment.

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  3. Hi,

    I have a couple of questions for my upcoming visit to West Xinjiang. I plan to visit Tashkorgan and Karakul Lake around October 25th, weather-like is it doable or I should expect inconveniences?

    My other question is related to transportation and permits. I will travel alone, so the cost of an organized trip or a driver might be steep, so if possible I’d like to travel on my own using local transportation. Is it possible to go from Kashgar to Karakul and Tashkorgan with a night at each place using local buses? Do I require any permit? And if so, can travel agencies arrange such permit without booking a trip?

    Any help will be useful, thank you very much!

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  4. You mention the bumpy Karakoram Highway. When we visited last year, I forgot to take off my pedometer when we climbed into our hired cab in Kashkar. When we arrived in Tashkorgan, I learned I had taken more than 7,000 steps! The area is beautiful and worth every step.

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on September 21st, 2015 at 5:55 am

    Hahaha! That’s awesome, Dick. Thanks for sharing :)

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  5. There is also an Ismaili janatkhana (house of worship) in Tashxorghan, and, if I am not mistaken, a new Ismaili museum as well. Don’t expect to be able to attend a service (unless you are Ismaili–no, you won’t be able to fake it–and perhaps you also need to be a PRC citizen as well), but you can visit the janatkhana when services aren’t being held. A photo of HH the Aga Khan IV is kept in a case on the wall, behind blue shutters (the covering up is a concession to local political sensitivities).

    [Reply]

    Josh Summers on April 8th, 2016 at 11:20 am

    Very interesting. Do you know where this is in the town?

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  6. Hi Josh, your website was an amazing reference in planning my Xinjiang backpacking trip 2 weeks ago!

    I had planned to visit Karakul Lake and Tashkurgan by bus, but it seems like recent security policies have restricted independent travel. So here’s some updates based on my understanding (and speaking to my driver):

    1. Foreigners need to engage a tour agency / private driver with some tour agency permit (foreigners do not need a personal permit, this agency permit will suffice)

    2. The bus stations seem to have moved out. I tried to find it, but got sent all around town before I gave up. Wrote about my experience here – http://travel.garylow.net/finding-the-bus-to-tashkurgan.html

    3. No more overnight stays in a yurt at Karakul Lake. Yes, I am utterly heartbroken, but I guess there’s always next time (but before they build a small tourist village right by the shore).

    [Reply]