karakoram highway tourist attractions
Posted in City Breaks Gilgit-Baltistan Roads & Highways

Karakoram Highway Tourist Attractions

The Karakorum Highway (KKH), N-35, is the greatest wonder of the modern world. The highway is also dubbed as the 8th wonder of the world. It is a human determination and ingenuity and considered a great feat of engineering by Chinese and Pakistani workers. It runs along the Indus for 310 kilometers and leaves the Indus at the Junction of three mountain ranges for Gilgit, Hunza, and Khunjerab rivers to take on the Karakoram range where 12 out of 30 highest mountains in the world overlook the KKH. The Karakoram Highway tourist attractions are worldly known and there is no other highway in the world crowned with such rich attractions.

The 1300 kilometers (800 miles) long KKH originates from Hassan Abdal, a historic city some 45 kilometers from Islamabad on the Islamabad – Peshawar Highway. The asphalt ribbon runs through the cities of Abbottabad, Manshera, crosses the River Indus at Thakot, on to Gilgit through rugged mountains of Besham, Pattan, and Sazin and Chilas, and snakes through Hunza and Sost before crossing the Khunjerab Pass at 4,733 meters (15,750ft). The Khunjerab top is also named as Zero Point between Pakistan and China. The highway then enters the high Central Asian plateau before winding down through the Pamirs to Kashgar, at the western edge of the Taklamakan Desert.

The Karakoram Highway is crowned with a huge number of attractions ranging from ancient rock carvings and petroglyphs, natural beauty, and manmade marvels. Major attractions along the Karakoram Highway include:

Ashoka Rocks Mansehra

ashoka rocks mansehra
ashoka rocks mansehra

The three granite boulders bearing 14 edicts engraved by order of the Mauryan King Ashoka in the 3rd century BC are located on the north side of the town of Mansehra. The inscription bearing Kharoshti script is fading away and almost impossible to see despite the shelters to protect.

Petroglyphs in Chilas

Petroglyphs in Chilas
Petroglyphs in Chilas

The town of Chilas is surrounded by striking petroglyphs and are easy to access. The jeep bridge leading to Thalpan is the ‘Chilas I’ site with inscriptions found on both sides of the KKH. The most striking art is found on the large stupa bearing banners flying. And across the river, there are boulders bearing art of mythical animals, battle scenes, royal lineages, and Buddhist tales. The ‘Chilas II’ site near the police check post on the KKH, less than 1km down the jeep track, is a huge rock bearing hunting and battle scenes and Buddhist stupa, the long-horned ibex, symbols of fertility, and elusive trophy animals.

Fairy Meadows and Nanga Parbat

The Karakoram Highway
The Karakoram Highway

About 80 km short of Gilgit placed the Thakot Bridge on the Karakoram Highway which is also the place of departure for Fairy Meadows and Nanaga Parbat (the Killer Mountain) base camp. There are several places along the Karakoram Highway and Thalechi viewpoint is a designated point to make a short stopover to enjoy superb views of Nanga Parbat.

Partab Bridge

Partab bridge
Partab bridge

The Partab Bridge (Pul, in urdu), located at about 40 km southeast of main Gilgit city near the Junction Point of Three Mountain Ranges on the KKH, served as a major source of communication for the entire region. It was built to connect Gilgit with Bunji, Astore and Kashmir, years before the construction of the Karakoram Highway (KKH). The bridge was named after Maharaja Partab Singh, Maharaja of Kashmir in the 1890s.

The suspension bridge was constructed during 1889 and 1893 by a British agent named Col Algernon Durand who also inaugurated it and was used mainly for defense and trade. However, during the revolt of 1947 when Gilgit won its independence from Dogra raj, it was burnt down. Later it was rebuilt but again it had nearly collapse from a decade long neglect and was rebuilt after 2010 floods.

Junction Point of Three Mountain Ranges

Junction Point of three mountain ranges
Junction Point of three mountain ranges

The junction point of three mountain ranges is situated near Jaglot on the Karakoram Highway (KKH), only 40 km southeast of Gilgit, Pakistan. It is here that the world’s three famous mountain ranges – the Karakoram (the black gravel), the Himalaya (home of snow), and the Hindukush (the killer of Hindus) – make a knot popularly known as the “Junction Point of the world’s three mountain ranges”. This exclusive site also serves as the junction of Gilgit and Indus Rivers and the Skardu road branches out from the KKH near this place.

Uprising Memorial Gilgit

The Uprising Memorial is the final resting place of local heroes who rose against the Maharaja in 1947. The local heroes Mohammed Babar Khan and Safiullah Beg of the Gilgit Scouts, and Mirza Hassan Khan of the Kashmir Infantry. Through a rebellion, these heroes were able to emancipate Gilgit-Baltistan by arresting Governor Ghansara Singh on Nov 01 from the Maharaja of Kashmir.

The Victory Monument of Taj Mughal

Victory monument of Taj Mughal
Victory monument of Taj Mughal

The 700 years old Victory Monument of Taj Mughal is a commemorative tower, measuring 21’-10” high and 14’-4” wide, located on a mountain lap in Gilgit town, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. The monument was named after Taj-ud-Din Mughal, an Ismaili ruler from Badakhshan, who came to Gilgit -Baltistan during the 13th century AD. The Taj Mughal monument was built by his soldiers to celebrate his victory.

Danyore Suspension BridgeDanyore Suspension Bridge

The Danyore Suspension Bridge near Gilgit is one of the oldest suspension bridges in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. The 510 ft long bridge has served as a source of commute to the people otherwise had to take the local raft or a detour to travel to Gilgit city – the administrative headquarter and the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly northern areas. It is now serving as one of the major tourist attractions in Gilgit-Baltistan used only by the pedestrians and motorcyclists.

Danyore Rock Inscription

Danyore Rock Inscriptions1
Danyore Rock Inscriptions1

The Danyore Rock Inscriptions is a gigantic boulder bearing inscriptions from the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. The inscription is the most important discovery of Danyor and was seen for the first time by Karl Jettmar in 1958. The inscribed rock is situated in the premises of a private house in Danyore, across Gilgit city in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan and is locally known as “Likhitu Giri”. The archaeological site is not very much popular and known only to a limited count of individuals/organizations related to archaeology and tourism.

Chinese Graveyard Danyore

Chinese Graveyard
Chinese Graveyard

Locally known as China Yadgar, the Chinese graveyard (The memorial Park) is the final resting place of mighty Chinese engineers and workers who sacrificed their lives during construction of the mighty Karakoram Highway (KKH) in the 1960s and 1970s. The cemetery is located in Danyore, about 10 km across main Gilgit town – the capital city of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan. To be exact, the graveyard can be accessed in the residential area on the KKH, adjacent to Sehat Foundation Hospital.

Memorial Monument on the KKH

Memorial monument on the KKH

Memorial monument on the KKH

At a distance of about 35 km from Gilgit, on the main Karakoram Highway, a monument bearing the symbol of a Drilling Machine has been erected in memory of the brave people who lost their lives during the construction of the Karakoram Highway. The monument reads:

MEMORIAL 103 EB (Engineering Battalion)

In memory of their gallant men who proffered to make the Karakorams their permanent abode.

There shall be-

In that rich soil a richer dust conceals.

1966-1972

Silk Route segments

Running parallel to the Karakoram Highway, across the river between Gilgit and Hunza, several sections of the ancient Silk Route still exist retaining the rich legacy of ancient trade. It is only being used by the locals mostly to graze heard or to travel locally to annexing valleys. These sections can be utilized to draw in tourists.

Collision Point of Continental Plates

Collision point of continental plates
Collision point of continental plates

The collision point of continental plates is located near Chalt Valley on the Karakoram Highway (KKH), some 53 km north of Gilgit town. The Indian and the Eurasian continental plates collided along a line which passed through this point giving rise to the Himalayan mountain range and formed Tibetan plateau some 50 million years ago. The tremendous pressure forced the earth’s crust to produce the towering Karakoram Mountains in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan.

Kino Kutto

Kino Kutto
Kino Kutto

Kino Kutto” or the Black Knee in local Shina language, is a section of the historic Silk Road which is now not in use. Located high up on the cliff side between Budalas valley of Nagar and Khizrabad village of Hunza, the section can easily be seen from the KKH. Once a footpath, then evolved to a pony track, it was later widened to a single jeep road in 1958-60 but remained unused since the construction of the Karakoram Highway. However, to show the nature of the historic connection, the Aga Khan Cultural Services Pakistan (AKCSP), with funding from the Royal Norwegian embassy Islamabad, restored the visible section of the road in partnership with Budalas and Khizerabad (Hunza) communities. Kinu Kutto has great views of Rakaposhi.

Rakaposhi View Point

Rakaposhi View Point
Rakaposhi View Point

Rakaposhi View Point or “the Zero Point of Rakaposhi” is a prominent viewpoint offering the closest view of Rakaposhi and the natural beauty lies in its scenery. This remarkable viewpoint is located right on the Karakoram Highway (KKH) in Ghulmet village of Nagar Valley.

Nilt Fort

Nilt fort
Nilt fort

The Nilt Fort was a fort once existed in Nilt, Nagar, on the main KKH about 65km from Gilgit. It was destroyed in the famous Anglo-Brusho war fought between locals of Hunza-Nagar and the British during 1891revolt. The Nilt Fort withstood for days but the offensive from a far superior army, duly supported by a local conspiracy, apparently lead to its destruction. However, a lasting history still remains. It’s not just the Nilt Fort that disappeared and only seen in the literature but the historic Maiun Fort in lower Hunza (Shinaki) across the river and the forts in Chaprote, Thol, and Pisson have all disappeared gradually even without any historical accounts. The Nilt Fort site is easily overlooked by travellers, even though it is easily accessible on the way to Hunza from Nagar.

Queen Victoria Monument

Malika mo Shikari
Queen Victoria Monument Hunza

Locally known as Malika mo Shikari, the Queen Victoria Monument on the shoulder of the rock face over Karimabad is a tower believed to be erected by Nazim Khan.  The tower can be reached in an hour from Baltit village by going straight up to the base of the cliff.

Kha Basi Cafe

Kha Basi Cafe
Kha Basi Cafe

The Kha Basi Café is a unique restaurant located under the shadow of Altit Fort in the ancient royal garden called “the Kha Basi” – a gorgeous and very well-kept-up fruit orchard full of apricot trees – located on the edge of the Altit town in Hunza Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. It was a nice piece of simple old-fashioned architecture almost falling to decay. The Café was recently renovated and turned into a classic restaurant. Standing at the verge of the royal garden, overlooking the majestic mountains of Hunza/Nagar and the Karakoram Highway running along the Hunza River, the Kha Basi Café has both majestic views and a traditional taste.

Altit Fort

Altit fort Hunza
Altit fort Hunza

Perched on the edge of a 1000 feet high rocky cliff rising sharply from the Hunza River, the epoch-making 900 years old impressive Altit Fort is one of the ancient forts surviving today in Gilgit-Baltistan (formerly northern areas), Pakistan. It has, for centuries, served as a palace to the local Mirs – the hereditary rulers of the state of Hunza – and later as a fort following some subsequent additions. The award-winning Altit Fort is a major tourist attraction not only because of its longstanding rich history but also for its unique architectural design facing the Karakoram Highway and for its strategic location on the ancient Silk Route.

Baltit Fort

Baltit Fort
Baltit Fort

Standing arrogantly on the moraine of Ultar glacier, with a commanding view of Hunza valley and its tributaries, the over 700 years old Baltit Fort featuring the Tibetan influenced architecture, is a glorious structure purposefully built for defence and definition of the then rulers of Hunza. The majestic fort now serves as a museum and a cultural centre. Baltit Fort is the recipient of several international awards and holds a global recognition.

Ganish Historic Settlement

Ganish Historic settlement
Ganish Historic settlement

Ganish (derived from Ghenish which in local brushaski language means Gold) is the oldest and the very first known settlement on the ancient Silk Road (now the Karakoram Highway) in the Hunza Valley. The town is located about 100 km (approx 2.5 hours traveling time) from Gilgit and about 180 km, approx 3.5 hours) from the Chinese border and situated on the right bank of Hunza River. It is one of the striking valleys bearing a rich history. The  more than 1000 years old settlement (now renovated) houses various homes, narrow streets, imposing watch towers, traditional mosques with striking floral designs, modern religious centers, and a water reservoir near the main entrance.

Haldikish

Sacred rocks of Hunza
Haldikish – petroglyphs and rock inscriptions on the KKH

Haldikish – the sacred rocks of Hunza – is a 30 ft high and 200 yards long huge boulder on the left bank of Hunza River located at a distance of 1.5 km from Ganish village and about a kilometre from Ganish Bridge on the KKH. The rocks are inscribed with the scripts and carvings of many different eras from past. Divided into two major portions, the upper portion of the sacred rock consist of inscriptions carved in Sogdian, Kharosthi, Brahmi, Sarada and Proto Sarada languages while the lower portion is engraved by the images of Ibexes. These ibexes are shown in different situations, including being hunted. There used to be many Buddhist shelter caves in ancient times which later collapsed or fell over time.

Attabad Lake

Attabad Lake
Attabad Lake

The Attabad Lake in Hunza, on the main Karakoram Highway, is a gorgeous lake and a major tourist attraction. It was created as a result of a massive landslide on January 04, 2010. The incidence claimed precious human lives and properties appearing a doomsday at the time of occurrence, but the entire scenario changed over time and unlocked a range of opportunities in the region. The lake has earned a great reputation and already placed itself as a leading tourist hotspot drawing a multitude of visitors on a daily basis.

Borith Lake

Borith Lake
Borith Lake

At 2,600 meters (8,500 ft) Borith Lake is a natural lake surrounded by Borith hamlet in Gulmit, upper Hunza Valley in Gilgit–Baltistan, Pakistan. The lake can be reached via a 2 km unpaved uphill jeep track from Husseini village, adjacent to Ghulkin village, on the KKH. The lake is a sanctuary for migrating wildfowl and is often visited by bird-watchers and nature lovers. The site is also a launching pad for beautiful Patundas trek and walking trails to nearby villages of Gulkin and Kamaris in Gulmit Village.

Husseini Suspension Bridge

Husseni Suspension bridge
Husseni Suspension bridge

The Husseini Suspension Bridge over the Hunza River in upper Hunza (Gojal) is a rickety cable and plank bridge with huge gaps between them. The long bridge connects Husseini village with Zarabad hamlet and used by locals mostly with heavy loads on. Tourists flock from around the world to test their nerves on this crumbling structure. It is probably the worst still-functioning bridge in the world located at about 45 km from Aliabad Hunza and 132 km from Gilgit.

Passu Glacier

Passu Glacier
Passu Glacier

The 20.5 km long Passu Glacier spreading over 115 sq km can be seen as soon as one enters the Passu village while travelling from the south to north along the Karakoram Highway. The glacier is located to the east of the highway displaying a panoramic view. At the same time, one has the best ever views of the entire Passu valley and the Passu Cones (Cathedrals) from this point. The Passu Glacier flows directly from the 7,478m (24,534 ft) Passu Peak which itself is positioned in the back end of the glacier.

Passu Cathedral

Passu Cones
Passu Cathedrals

Passu Cathedral or the Passu cones are the jagged spires rising from a set of mountain peaks located to the north of Passu Valley in the Karakoram mountain range of Pakistan. Standing to the other side of the Hunza River, the cones present a majestic view from different points along Karakoram Highway passing through the Gulmit and Passu Valleys. The sun-drenched mountain peaks are known by several names including Passu Cones, Cathedral Spires, and locally called Tupopdan but are still prominent among the tourists as Passu Cathedral. Passu Cathedral is the most photographed peak scaled for the first time by the British in 1987.

Sost

Sost
Sost

Sost is a beautiful village in upper Hunza and the last town on the Karakoram Highway before the Chinese border. At 2800 m above the sea level Sost is now a busy bazaar, has Pakistani immigration and customs departments based here, and all the trade goods and passengers pass through this town. It is almost a melting pot of diverse people, mostly traders, from different geographic backgrounds. Local inhabitants speak Wakhi Language but here almost every language is spoken which is spoken in all major cities of Pakistan besides some dialects of Chinese language and also English as a tourist language. Sost has a couple of good hotels providing accommodation facilities for domestic and international tourists.

Khunjerab Pass

Khunjerab Pak-China Border
Khunjerab Border

At 4700 m the Khunjerab Pass is the highest paved international border crossing in the world. It is the meeting point of two sections of the Karakoram Highway connecting Gilgit-Baltistan area of northern Pakistan and Xinjiang province of western China. Out of the 1300 km highway, 887 km traverses through Pakistan while rest of the 413 km passes through the Chinese territory.

Khunjarab Pass
Posted in Gilgit-Baltistan Passes

Khunjerab Pass

At 4700 m the Khunjerab Pass is the highest paved international border crossing in the world. It is the meeting point of two sections of the Karakoram Highway connecting Gilgit-Baltistan area of northern Pakistan and Xinjiang province of western China. Out of the 1300 km highway, 887 km traverses through Pakistan while rest of the 413 km passes through the Chinese territory.

The area constituting the Khunjerab Pass (Or Khunzerav) is quite a fair stretch surrounded by the Karakoram mountains, mostly snow topped. During summers, the area around the Pak-China border pass is decked with a variety of wildflowers on green patches in the foothills of the glittering snow-covered mountains encompassing some of the most impressive sceneries in the world.

The Khunjerab Pass is the origin point of the Hunza River. The melting snow from the peaks around the border streams to form a creek that flows down and several of these waterways along the KKH meet to make up the Hunza River until it meets Gilgit River in Gilgit. The Gilgit River further flows along the Karakoram Highway and meets up the River Indus at the Junction point of three mountain ranges and continues all the way to Thakot.

Construction of the Khunjerab Pass

The Kilik and Mintaka Pass located to the north of Khunjerab served as primary passes on the Karakoram range before the construction of the KKH. The choice of Khunjerab Pass for Karakoram Highway was decided on the technical basis with the major reason being Kilik and Mintaka more susceptible to air strikes and Khunjerab was recommended in 1966 and created in 1978.

 Attraction

The Khunjerab Pass is a major tourist attraction drawing thousands of domestic and international tourists on a daily basis. The entire Karakoram Highway is crowned with natural and manmade attractions and scenic views at every turn. The panorama on the top is extraordinarily marvellous providing options for short hikes and for photography. A journey along the highway all the way to the border area simply provides with a lifetime experience.

The major portion of the Khunjerab Pass encompasses the Khunjerab National Park which was established in 1979 to preserve endangered species. The Khunjerab park is home to several rare animal species including the Marco Polo sheep and the Snow Leopard. The eastern stretch of the Khunjerab pass makes up the Chinese Xinjiang province territory which could be easily seen from the border area.

Access

On the Pakistani side, the pass is 75 km from Sost customs and immigration check post while it is about 180 km from Hunza, 280 km from Gilgit airport and 890 km from the capital city Islamabad. On the Chinese side, it is 130 km from Tashkurgan, about 420 km from Kashgar, and 1890 km from Urumqui. There are helpful road-sign giving tourists information about the distances involved.

It must be noted that the Chinese side is right-hand drive and Pakistan side is left-hand drive. The border is the switching point.

Although the highway to the Pakistani side is very well paved yet the sudden altitude gain near the top again may slow down the journey. Likewise, there are checkpoints on both sides of the pass that may also lead to slow down the overall journey.

On the Pakistan side, there is a certain amount of fee charged to all local and international tourists. Currently, it is Rs. 40 from Pakistani tourists and $ 8 from international tourists. The entry fee may be revised every year and knowing the exact amount well in time will be a good idea to manage expenses particularly for large groups.

The pass remains opened from May till November for trade and tourism and in the remainder of the period remains closed and inaccessible due to heavy snowfall. During November it sometimes gets extremely cold and sometimes winds make it hard to stay on the top. However, in fine weather conditions, it is still a place must visit.

 Bus service

There is a daily bus service between Sost (the last human settlement along the KKH), Pakistan, and Tashkurghan, China. Both Pakistani and Chinese buses serve a drop service from their respective bus stations in the home country and return empty. One can hire private Cars/4WD from Sost to Tashkurghan for a drop-off and can proceed to Kashgar using a shared ride or simply hire a taxi.

Precautions

Due to high altitude, it has been observed that some tourists may suffer altitude sickness. The symptoms including feeling dizziness, having headaches, or even experience shortness of breath. It is advisable to immediately return to low altitude and see a doctor or must carry altitude sickness medicine in advance.

During peak summers there are chances of flooding due to sudden snow melting near the top and a timely return is advisable. Moreover, sudden loose-gravel breaks, particularly in rainfall can also cause damages on the highway.

Whether you ride a motorbike or drive a car, and particularly if you are new to the refurbished KKH, be very careful to keep your cool on the accelerator and don’t ever be overconfident. After the renovation, the Karakoram Highway has cost many precious lives. For the tourists travelling from down cities, knowledge of the entire highway before planning to take up a self-drive tour is mandatory. Enjoy the trip and return home with beautiful memories.

Before you go

All Pakistani tourists must carry their CNIC and foreign tourists must have a Passport to prove their identification. Foreign tourists or Pakistani nationals crossing over to China must obviously carry a Chinese Visa (Pass for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan who only wish to travel to the nearby city of Kashgar).

Buses from Sost leave for Tashkurghan in the morning (between 08:00 am and 09:00 am) and it is advisable that the ticket be purchased well in time. In case if you wish to hire a car, there are private Pakistani cars allowed to travel all the way to Kashgar. The fare is not fixed and is negotiable.

The Karakoram Highway
Posted in Gilgit-Baltistan Roads & Highways Tourism Blogs

The Karakoram Highway

The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is the highest paved international road and a major trade artery linking China and Pakistan at the Khunjerab Pass at an elevation of 4,733 meters. The highway is also a legendary tourist attraction encompassing a rich blend of historic landmarks, cultural diversity, and natural beauty – a thrill for adventure lovers.

Starting from Hasanabdal in Punjab province of Pakistan, the Pakistani section of the highway culminates at the Pak-China border at Khunjerab Pass. The entire highway passes through the rugged terrain of KPK, twisting northeast along the bank of River Indus, and glides through the Karakoram and Pamir Mountains until it meets the Chinese section at Khunjerab Pass.  The Chinese section of the highway continues further along the Pamir Mountains to Kashghar. The Karakoram Highway is called the Friendship Highway in China. Yet, due to its rugged terrain, high elevation, and hard conditions in which it was forced through, it is sometimes referred to as Eighths Wonder of the World.

The total length of the KKH is approximately 1300 (810 mi) km, with 887 km in Pakistan and 413 km in China Though the new route does not follow exactly the old silk route but the track follows mostly the same region so it can be said as revive of the old Silk Route. It is estimated that each kilometer constructed cost a labor, both Pakistani and Chinese. The Chinese workers who died during the construction are buried in the Chinese cemetery or China Yadgar in Danyore near Gilgit.

Historic Background

Historically the Karakoram Highway was a caravan trail – one of the several branches of the ancient Silk Route that has hosted traders, pilgrims, warriors, and common men for several centuries whose movement along the route brought about tremendous changes in social, cultural and economic aspects of the lives of residents.

Construction of the Highway

Long before the Karakoram Highway or the KKH was constructed the northern areas (now Gilgit-Baltistan) were attracted by the Russians, Chinese, and the British merely due to its strategic importance yet the access to the region was a sheer challenge. The British being in power during the 1800s decided to sustain their authority by building an all-weather communication infrastructure along the Indus. Materializing the idea was not an easy task though. The British simply improved an old Srinagar foot track into a mule track at the initial phase and later another seasonal passage was devised through Chilas over the Babusar Pass to connect to the Kaghan valley which hardly remained open for 3 months a year during summers.

Following the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, the Srinagar road was blocked permanently. It was the time when the northern areas were divided into several states functioning under the local rulers. In the year 1958, to build an all-weather road link between Swat and Gilgit, Indus Valley Road (IVR) was conceived. Its construction was started as a joint venture of the two governments in 1959. In 1966, under a Sino-Pak agreement, the government decided to develop the IVR into the Karakoram Highway. Near the completion phase, the construction work was discontinued due to financial constraints when the war broke out between Pakistan and India in 1971 but the valuable assistance from China made it possible to carry on.

At the initial stage, the KKH was to construct from Thakot to the Khunjerab Pass and then to be linked to the highway on the Chinese side. But later the entrance was shifted from Thakot to Hasan Abdal and the project was completed in 1979. The highway was opened to the general public in 1986. During the course of construction, about 800 Pakistanis and 200 Chinese workers lost their lives, mostly in landslides, yet the unofficial toll is believed to be much higher.

Reconstruction of the Karakoram Highway

In June 2006, a MoU was signed between Pakistan’s NHA and China’s CRBC to upgrade the KKH with overall width expansion from 10 to 30 meters to accommodate heavy-duty vehicles even in extreme weather conditions. However, the construction was carried out but the width remained almost the same as the original.

During the course of construction, the Attabad incident took place on 4 January 2010 when a section of the highway was damaged by a massive landslide in the Attabad valley of Hunza, about 19 kilometers upstream from Hunza’s capital of Karimabad,. The landslide shaped the 23 km long Attabad Lake, interrupted the flow of Hunza River and general travel along the Karakoram Highway. Construction of the tunnels through a revised 24 km long route began in July 2012 and was completed in September 2015. The realigned route through newly constructed 5 tunnels and a bridge restored the road link between Pakistan and China.

Socio-Economic Significance of the Highway

The entire region being mountainous the highway slashes through the collision zone between the Eurasian and Indian plates where China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan come within 250 kilometers (160 mi) radius. Essentially because of the enormously complex Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan, KKH has strategic and military significance to these nations, particularly Pakistan and China. The construction of Karakoram Highway has not only enriched trade and tourism between Pakistan and China but has contributed significantly to the improvement in living standards of the local population. CPEC is expected to bring enormous economic gains to the region but China and Pakistan are planning to link the Karakoram Highway to the southern port of Gwadar in Balochistan through the Chinese-aided Gwadar-Dalbandin railway, which extends to Rawalpindi.

Tourism Potential along the Karakoram Highway (KKH)

The Karakoram Highway has sought to receive international recognition and is now ranked as a niche adventure tourism destination. From Hassan Abdal (about 50kms from Rawalpindi city) the dual carriage asphalt ribbon leaves dusty plains of Punjab and enters through the lower Himalayas of Hazara district while heading north winding through several interesting natural and historic sites until the Pakistan section of the road meets the Chinese part at Khunjerab border in upper Hunza valley.

The Pakistani section of the highway is connected through more than 90 small and large bridges while making the way through the junction point of three mighty mountain ranges – the Karakorams, the Hindukush, and the Himalayas – and also the high Pamirs in Gilgit-Baltistan. From Hasan Abdal the highway winds through many beautiful spots up to Thakot where it meets the Indus River. The highway further traverses parallel to the Indus River for almost 300 km to the junction point and joined by the Gilgit River. The highway then passes through Gilgit after almost 40 km, the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan, where Gilgit River is joined by the Hunza River and continues through the valleys of Nagar and Hunza for another 280 km before it climbed to Khunjerab border.

The entire 887 km section of the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan from the plains of Punjab to the culmination at the Khujerab border, the land is extremely diverse and rich in tourist attractions – from the272 BC edicts of Ashoka in Mansehra to the world’s highest metal border at Khunjerab Pass encompassing a blend of attractions including rocky and snow-crowned mountain peaks, glaciers and rivers, tiny mountain valleys and terraced fields, fruit laden orchards and serene pastures, hiking trails and challenging treks, the junction point of three mountain ranges in the world and the collision point of Eurasian and Indian plate, people with diverse cultural background speaking different languages and dialects, and the four distinct seasons manifesting a diverse range of natural colors. The Karakoram highway is a paradise for cyclists and bikers to explore thoroughly.

Major Attraction along the Karakoram Highway (KKH)

To begin with, the historic 4-yard thick and 16 yards high fortress in Haripur (Now serving as police station); then Major James Abbott’s historic city – Abbottabad; the 272 BC edicts of Ashoka of Maurya dynasty inscribed on three large boulders in Mansehra;  more than 20,000 pieces of rock art and petroglyphs dating back to between 5000 and 1000 BC concentrated at ten major sites between Shaital and Hunza; access to Fairy Meadows and Nanga Parbat BC, stunning views of Nanga Parbat (The Killer mountain and 2nd highest in Pakistan 8,126m high); Junction point of three mountain ranges; Kargah Buddha and Henzal Stupa near Gilgit town; attractions in Gilgit city; Chinese Graveyard and ancient rock carvings in Danyore; Monument in Rahimabad; Collision point of Eurasian and Indian Plate near Chalt; Sections of ancient silk rote along the highway; Rakaposhi View Point; Altit Fort & Baltit Fort; Duikar; Karimabad town, Altit old settlements, and ancient village of Ganish; Haldikish; Attabad Lake and Borit Lake; Passu Cathedrals and Batura Glacier; scenic views of Rakaposhi, Diran, Golden Peak, and Lady Finger; Hoper valley and Hoper Glacier, Passu valley and glacier, and the tiny terraced valleys along the gorge leading to Khunjerab, and the Hunza River, Gilgit River and Indus River are all part of this beautiful journey.

The KKH was ranked as “third best tourist destination” in Pakistan by “The Guardian”. It provides mountaineers and cyclists easy access to the attractions along the highway including mountains, glaciers, and lakes and also to interact with people. The highway also provides access to the two major tourist destinations –Gilgit and Baltistan – which host the highest mountains and longest glaciers outside polar region besides manifesting wealth of attractions.

For travelers along the KKH, there are sufficient food and accommodation arrangements. The major stopovers recommended are at Besham, Chilas, Gilgit, Hunza, and Sust where tourists can find standard accommodation at a reasonable price. There are also several short excursions to the nearby mountains, glaciers, and valleys one can carry out between Gilgit and Khunjerab. The best time to travel along the KKH is between April and November. The border at Khunjerab remains closed from the end of November until the start of April every year.

 

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