Cross the Torugart Pass
The remote Torugart Pass is one of China’s most incredible border crossings, sat atop mountain peaks between Xinjiang and Kyrgyzstan. On the Kyrgyz side, a single road winds its way past lonely yurt camps, herds of camels and bleak permafrost-covered landscapes, to an isolated border posting that’s only accessible for several months of the year. Although you can cross from Kashgar to Kyrgyzstan in a day, the paucity of accommodation options awaiting you on the other side means you’re better off starting in the laid-back Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek and returning into China. Bishkek is a pleasant place to spend a couple of days – its ominous Soviet architecture is offset by friendly locals and streets that turn into mini-fairs at night – but it’s the largely unspoilt countryside between the capital and the Chinese border that provides the highlights of the journey. One of these is Lake Issyk-kul – the second largest salt-water lake in the world – located in the eastern Tianshan Mountain, which boasts crystal-clear waters that remain warm throughout the year despite being surrounded on all sides by beautiful snow-capped mountains (hence the water’s name, which means ‘hot lake’).
When to go May or September are generally the best months for travel in Kyrgyzstan, when temperatures are at their most bearable. The Torugart Pass is technically open all year, but in reality is only accessible from late May-September.
How to get there
China Southern offers return flights, with a stopover in Urumqi, for 2,980RMB (booked through ctrip.com
). While the capital is easy enough to navigate independently, you’re best off arranging a tour to get around the rest of the country. See caravanistan.com
for a good list of operators and for more essential information on the country. Kyrgyzstan recently removed visa restrictions for many foreign nationals, but still check ahead before travelling.
Where to stay
In Bishkek, the five-star Hyatt Regency
has rooms from 2,150RMB a night, while the Baikhan
hotel offers more basic accommodation from around 440RMB a night.