Tracing a vague southern parallel to the Tian Shan range, the road from Dunhuang in western Gansu to Turpan covers some of the harshest terrain in all of China – little water ever reaches this area of scorching depressions, which was dreaded by the Silk Road traders as one of the most hazardous sections of the entire cross-Asia trip.

The first major city you’ll hit on crossing from Gansu is Hami, though most visitors skip this and head straight to Turpan, famed for its grapes and intense summer heat – despite which it can be one of the most relaxing and enjoyable places in all China. The route then skirts along the Tarim Basin to the wealthy but dull town of Korla, but it is Kuqa, just beyond, which is more deserving of a stopover, thanks to its traditional feel and the Silk Road relics in the surrounding deserts. There’s then a long journey to Kashgar, via Aksu – the scene of a major terrorist bombing in 2010.

The road is in fairly good condition all the way, though given the vast distances involved, it makes more sense to travel by train. Note that east of Turpan (itself rather far from its attendant station) there are only a couple of services per day in either direction.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

China features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

From ancient temples to hyper-modern skyscrapers, these are just a few of the world's most incredible architectural wonders. Whether you're looking to wander l…

01 Feb 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
China travel tips: 8 things you need to know before you go

China travel tips: 8 things you need to know before you go

Even 20 years ago China was not a conventional tourist destination. Despite the allure of its beautiful landscapes and history-filled cities, politics, poverty,…

13 Jan 2017 • Simon Frank insert_drive_file Article
The roof of the world: a first-timer's guide to Tibet

The roof of the world: a first-timer's guide to Tibet

The ‘roof of the world’ has exerted a magnetic pull over travellers and adventurers for centuries. This vast, high altitude desert has spawned myths and leg…

10 Nov 2016 • Stuart Butler insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month