View from my Hotel:
I have a better sense which routes I might take onward from Urumqi.
Nisagul is indeed up for taking that trip together to Southern Xinjiang. Near Hotan is a village called "Jiya". That's the location of a shrine where large numbers of pilgrims trek every year. We wouldn't be visiting at the right time for the annual pilgrimage, but she's curious about the shrine itself.
If Nisagul and I do go to Jiya together, we'd have to leave Urumqi either tomorrow or in ten days' time. November 17 marks the holiday of Eid-ul-Adha. She wants to be in Urumqi over that time to celebrate with her family. If we left tomorrow, she could make it there and back again to Urumqi in time for Eid. Or, we could wait until after the celebrations are over to leave.
I was all set to leave tomorrow, but Nisagul found out further details that make me inclined to stay in Urumqi longer. As a tour guide working for a travel agency she knew just the right places to call to get the official word on travel routes I had been contemplating out of Xinjiang:
The Khunjerab Pass is not my first choice of route. It might be a difficult time to be in Pakistan now what with bombings, the aftermath of floods, and widespread anger at the American occupation of neighboring Afghanistan. Still, going that way would be an overland route out of Xinjiang I didn't think was open.
An additional wild card: I'm sure that December 31 is only the "official" date of closure. The real date could be moved forward due to foul weather. Heavy snow or avalanches can make driving conditions along that road (the Karakorum Highway) impossible any time of year.
I now know to not bother trying to enter Tibet from that road beginning in Kaghalik. I don't feel like hitching lifts on cargo trucks this time around. If I do make my way out through Tibet it will be on the train running to Lhasa.
I don't know if I can avoid paying anything extra. I don't know if I'll even be able to get the travel permit: getting anything done officially in China is necessarily bureaucratic and bound-up by time-consuming red tape. But, I am a step further along with this concrete information on routes and knowing the official word on traveling to Tibet as a foreigner.
I'll add some more days to my stay in Urumqi to try to flesh out the logistics of where I go next. Nisagul and I will meet tomorrow for lunch (liver kebabs!) then make a trip to that office to try to get my Alien Travel Permit issued.