Urumqi to Kashgar: To Train or to Plane That is the Question

A frequent question that never grows old is: “Should I fly or or is the train really worth it?”  If this was 6 years ago, I would not have hesitated to say “YES! Take the train!  It’s absolutely necessary otherwise you won’t get the real feel of things.  If you want to travel and soak in the culture and the people, you MUST take the train.”  There would be nothing you could say to argue my points. Nowadays, I have a much more balanced view.  I would begin my answer with:

Well that depends on who you are and what you want to see.  First you’ll have to decide, do you have time?  The train from Urumqi to Kashgar takes 24 hours and it is often delayed.  During the summer months the trains set off earlier from Urumqi and are supposed to arrive in Kashgar around 10:30am, sometimes they make it, sometimes they don’t.  Often the main reason for train delay is bad weather.  The wind storms are wild therefore forcing the train to slow down for fear it will fall off the track (which did happen in 2007 because the driver didn’t slow down).  The worst case I’ve heard of is a train delayed for 12 hours.  I would not want to be stuck on a train for a total of 36 hours if I was coming from Urumqi.

Another factor to consider is the price.  Yes the train to Kashgar is cheaper than the flights, a little less than 350rmb.  However, if you book early, or get it just right or fly during off season (I’m really not sure what makes the difference) you can get a flight for 350rmb.  The average price though, is around 700rmb.  Twice as much, a fraction of the time.  The plane only takes 1 1/2 hours from Urumqi to Kasghar.

The view.  What about the scenery along the way?  Yes it’s really cool.  On the Urumqi-Turpan side of the track you’ll meet towering snow capped mountains.  On the Turpan-Kashgar side the landscape changes completely to dessert/gravel type of barrenness.  On the outskirts of Atux and Kashgar, the landscape alternates from sandy dessert and playful camels to lush green vines and farmland.  Yes, the scenery is very enjoyable.  If you aren’t interested in rushing your way to Kashgar and you want to stop and smell the dessert, the train is the way to go.

Comfort.  The train is arguably comfortable.  Nice, stain and smell free (I won’t go so far as to say clean) beds await you in your berth.  You will be sharing a compartment with three other people.  The trains to Kashgar are different from trains to other places in China. They are multi-leveled with 4-berth compartments on each level.  The toilets are located between train cars and deteriorate in hygiene and usually run out of water halfway through the trip. If you have a top bunk, you can’t sit up and will have to make sure you claim a seat by the window early on. If you have a bottom bunk, other passengers will feel at liberty to sit on the bed with you. It’s really a great chance to mingle with the locals.

It all depends on what you want. If you feel that the journey is your reward – if you want to take your time, mix with the locals and explore along the way, the train is the way to go. On the other hand, if you want to get to Kashgar smoothly, comfortably and quickly with less chance of disruption then a flight to Kashgar is the way to go.

Note: This article contributed to our blog from Gallery Cafe in Kashgar when they left from Kashgar middle of  summer 2011. We missed Gallery Cafe!

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2 Responses to “Urumqi to Kashgar: To Train or to Plane That is the Question”

  1. Nicola says:

    Thank you for the post – have you traveled this route, or near it? And have you ever read the Lost Heart of Asia, by Colin Thubron? He wrties about this area, and its rich history. If you haven’t, I recommend it highly.

    • kashgar says:

      Hi Nicola, thank you for your comment and visiting our blog. We do travel quite often on this route both by our own or with our groups. It is good to get others insights on this route as well, especially experienced writers about history, culture, geography, custom of Uyghur and other ethnic groups in Xinjiang. Thanks fo r your recommendation, we will try to get the book and read it.

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