Three college students sit on the train No. 7559 from Kashgar to Hotan. (Xinhua/Zhao Ge)
URUMQI, June 3 (Xinhua) -- On the southwestern edge of the vast Taklimakan Desert, Train No. 7559 takes 10 carriages with hundreds of passengers daily from China's westernmost Kashgar Prefecture east to southern Xinjiang's hinterland Hotan Prefecture.
Passengers queue to board on the train No. 7559 in Shache, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, May 23, 2016. (Xinhua/Zhao Ge)
Known as the cheapest train ride in China, the eight-hour journey along 485 kilometers of the southern branch of the historic Silk Road costs just 28 yuan (about 4.25 U.S. dollars) per person.
Passengers on the train No. 7559 from Kashgar to Hotan. (Xinhua/Zhao Ge)
Setting off at 10: 35 a.m., the train stops in 7 counties - Akto, Yengisar, Shache, Zepu, Yecheng, Pishan and Moyu - which are all populated mainly by Uygurs.
The service began on May 15. Hairuiguli Osman took the first No. 7559 train from Kashgar back to her home in Hotan together with 22 relatives after attending a family wedding. She was surprised to find that the train ticket was only one third of the bus fare.
Ablikim and his grandson are seen on the train No. 7559 from Kashgar to Hotan, May 23, 2016. (Xinhua/Zhao Ge)
Kashgar resident Ablikim was taking his grandchild, Abudureheman, to see a doctor in a Hotan hospital.
A woman carrying a cross-stitch artwork walks to board on a train at the railway station in Hotan, May 24, 2016. (Xinhua/Zhao Ge)
At Hotan station, a female passenger carrying a cross-stitch artwork said she was going to visit her relatives.
The sand on the carriage window. (Xinhua/Zhao Ge)
Wang Weishuai, a driver on the No. 7559, said the journey from Kashgar to Yecheng offers pleasant oasis views, but sandstorms frequently blight the section from Yecheng to Pishan, which makes his job more challenging.
Hotan is connected to Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and the rest of China's rail network through the Kashgar-Hotan Railway, which began passenger services in 2011. Two passenger trains run on the line, but the other train is much more expensive.
Before 2011, only planes and buses connected Hotan to the rest of the country.
Drivers work in the train cab, before traveling between Kashgar and Hotan, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, May 23, 2016. (Xinhua/Zhao Ge)
The budget train service has been welcomed by people living in poverty-stricken southern Xinjiang. More than 8,000 passengers have taken it in the first 10 days.