The cities of Khotan and Korla – respectively on the Northern and Southern silk routes – can be linked in three different ways. The most painless option is to take the new cross-desert highway from Khotan to Aksu (阿克苏; ākèsū) on the Northern Silk Route, from where you’ll at least have the option of continuing on by train; the 440km journey across the desert takes just five or six hours, since there’s precious little chance of a traffic jam. There’s another such highway several hundred kilometres to the east of Khotan, its southern terminus the town of Niya; this is longer at 522km, and will save you a little time if you’re heading directly to Korla, Turpan or Ürümqi. Both roads cross the Taklamakan desert, and will give you a close-up of why the Uyghurs call this the “Sea of Death”. Unfortunately, most buses travelling in either direction make the crossing at night, so you don’t get a view of the impressive irrigation grid that provides water for shrubs to protect the road from the ever-shifting desert sands.

For a dustier, more interesting trip to Korla, you’ll want to catch a bus east from Khotan, continuing on the Southern Silk Road.

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