The Karakoram Highway connects China and Pakistan across the Karakoram Mountains. At its highest point, the Khunjerab Pass reaches an elevation of 4,693 meters / 15,397 feet at 36°51′00″N 75°25′40″E. It has become a popular adventure destination for off-road drivers, motocross specialists, cyclists and even backpackers willing to attempt the approximately 1,300 kilometres / 800 miles.
Pausing Place on Karakoram Highway
The roadway was built to celebrate a Pakistani / Chinese friendship treaty in 1959, and follows an ancient trade route. Its condition varies across its length, and it is in better shape where it connects cities within individual countries. It crosses the point where the Eurasian and Indian plates touch, and where China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan are all within 250 kilometres / 160 miles of each other. Earthquakes and other disturbances are common.
In 2010, a massive landslide blocked the Pakistani side of the road 15 kilometres / 9 miles north of Karimabad in the Hunza Valley, creating the potentially unstable Attabad Lake that is 21 kilometres / 13 miles long and reaches a depth of 110 metres / 350 feet. A track bypasses this high up on a mountainside that is unsuitable for people with fear of heights.
Backpackers can avoid the detour by negotiating with local boatmen. A variety of accommodation are available to help them overnight.
Innovation Karakoram Highway Style
There is much of interest along the Karakoram Highway for those with time to look. Several previously inaccessible rivers and lakes create pleasant diversions in the otherwise arid, rocky landscape. There are more than 50,000 rock engravings marking the passage of invaders, traders, and pilgrims who passed along the trade route. The earliest of these dating from 5000 BC depict single animals, triangular men, and hunting scenes in which animals are larger than their hunters.
Ancient Beliefs Meet Modern Traffic Problems
The best time to take on the Karakoram Highway is in early Autumn before heavy winter snowfalls, or in spring when the melt creates a thousand waterfalls and cataracts. Sumner is also best avoided for this is when monsoons arrive, causing landslides than can engulf anybody passing, and block the road until help arrives.