High altitude, thin, freezing dry air; intense harsh sunlight, galeforce winds with sub-zero windchill for hundreds and hundreds of kilometres. China National Highway 219 (G219) runs along the southwestern border of the People's Republic of China, from Yecheng (Karghilik) in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to Lhatse in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Several stretches of the road are known to many as "no man's land."
The road, also known as Tibet - Xinjiang Highway, is 1,296 miles (2,086 kilometers) long. Expect many stretches with no water or food for tens or hundreds of kilometres, dozens of high passes, no shower or even a wash for weeks, and nightime temperatures of -25 degrees C or lower. Welcome to the 219; Not an Easy Road, in fact probably one of the most challenging roads in the world, but at the same time one of the best and most rewarding. Along the Xinjiang-Tibet Highway there is a lot of military presence. Every person passing through is required to report their passport at the military police. Be aware that the situation can change any time - be careful anyway.
The weather on this zone is harsh and highly unpredictable and it does not take much time for the bright sun shine to change over to moderate to heavy snow fall. Construction of this road started in 1951. It was completed in 1957 and fully paved with asphalt in 2013. The road, also known as the "Sky Road" in Chinese, passes through disputed area of Aksai Chin, an area administered by the People's Republic of China but also claimed by India, and its construction was one of the triggers for the Sino-Indian War of 1962.
It has a well-deserved reputation for being dangerous because of unpredictable snowstorms and blizzards, and driving under these conditions, can be extremely challenging. On this road you're firmly on altitudes over 5,000m. For an unacclimatized person this can be fatal. The breathtaking scenery ranks as some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet. The road is terrible, with a notorius lack of oxygen that tests the organisms and a high degree of steepness. Most people feel altitude sickness at around 2,500-2,800 meters. Travelers are known to have to wear oxygen masks during this stretch, to deal with altitude sickness.
The road still remains an adrenaline-pumping journey and is definitely not for the faint of lungs, heart, or legs. A quick glance at the map confirms that this is no hype. Don’t stuff your belly too much. Eventually, you might feel vomiting temptations while climbing circuitous roads at higher altitudes. The road is long and arduous and crosses several mountain passes of 5,000, 4,000 and 3,000 meters:
Qieshan La (5.400m-17,716ft)
Satsum La (5.350m-17,552ft)
Mayum La (5.225m-17,142ft)
Tielong Pass (5.200m-17,060ft)
Kura La (5.105m-16,748ft)
Chiragsaldi Pass (4,980m-16,338 ft)
Kirgizjangal Pass (4.950m-16,240ft)
Sing La (4.914m-16,122ft)
Lame La (4.832m-15,853ft)
Jerko La (4.832m-15,853ft)
Sha Zi La (4.717m-15,475ft)
This road passes through remote areas, so you need to be prepared. Despite its reputation for running through terrain that is by and large uninhabited, the G219 does pass through a number of important historical and religious sites. The route demands 100% concentration. This road has humbled many egos. It’s not for the sissies and shouldn’t be attempted by novice drivers. If you do choose this route please check up to date information. It’s certainly breathtaking and it has a fearsome reputation. It still remains an adrenaline-pumping journey and is definitely not for the faint of lungs, heart, or legs. Perched more than 5,000 meters above sea level, the terrain here is harsh, and there are few signs of life, other than the odd Tibetan antelope, wolf or other wild animal.
The road is long and arduous. Words can’t describe the road and pictures don’t do it justice. The drive is definitely worth it. A drive not to be missed! There are many excellent photo opportunities. Yet intrepid travelers are not dissuaded, for to travel along the highway - the highest in the world - is to get a glimpse of places unlike any others in the world. Don't forget your camera with lots of film/memory, fully charged batteries and an empty memory card! Those who take the G219 are usually the ones who inhabit a spirit of adventure.