Karakoram Highway China

Karakoram highway

This highway connects China and Pakistan across this mountain range, through the cities of Kashgar, China (which was once a major trading stop on the famed Silk Road trading route) and Islamabad, Pakistan, through the 4730 m Khunjerab Pass, the Hunza valley, and the trading post of Gilgit.

Karakoram highway

flcikr image by Marc van der Chijs

Famous for being part of the original Silk Road trading route as well as for its preservation of peoples and cultures from that era (many villages along this route have maintained their way of life for centuries), this route will evoke this era in terms of sights, cultures, people, and goods. Although a rocky and oftentimes bumpy and rough road, this route more than makes up for this with the rugged and majestic beauty of the mountains, gorges, and valleys, unseen anywhere else in the world. (One must note that the first leg of the highway, also known as the Khunjerab Pass, which passes through the highest altitude of the entire route, is closed due to snow during the months of November through May, and hence one must plan accordingly; this route is also not for the faint of heart literally and physically due to the extreme altitude, so it is important to consult with a doctor for any heart conditions before attempting to cross this .)

Khunjerab Pass

flickr image by limaiksiang

Before departing from the starting point of Kashgar, one may wish to stop at the market otherwise known as the Sunday market (also known as the highest market in the world) in this famed city, said to have changed very little from the times of the Silk Road era, Marco Polo, and the Orient trading route; shopping this market has been compared to stepping back in time to this ancient era, with very little having been changed since this famed era. Mud brick houses, tent market stalls, homemade pottery, rugs, foods, and other wares make up most of the market’s items, and farming and tourism are the two main industries of this village; surrounding this village is stark terrain, including vast desert and cragged, rugged mountains. Although located in China, its people are mostly Muslim and of a central Asian race, including Uigur, Kazahk, and Tajik. As you depart from Kashgar you will enter the first leg of the highway known as the Khunjerab Pass, the highest point of the journey at 4700 meters, and will encounter majestic, snow-capped mountains surrounded by lush green meadows; the caves surrounding this portion of the road are filled with rock art dating back 7000 years.


flickr image by Travelling Runes

As you journey along you will next come across a number of the above mentioned ancient villages whose ways of life have changed very little from the years of the Silk Road trading route; the villages of Passu and Gulmit are considered to be prime tourist destinations and are not to be missed. Located a short distance off the Karakoram highway, the village of Passu is known for its hiking and trekking routes, with its most famous activity being the crossing of the “two bridges walk,” which goes from Passu over a couple of cable suspension bridges to the village of Husseini; this crossing is said to be one of the most unforgettable highlights of this route.


flickr image by sksbukhari

After this detour, you will wish to get back on the Karakoram highway to continue on to the fabled Hunza valley, where you will want to visit its capital city of Karimabad, also a popular destination for tourists, sightseeing, quality restaurants, and the luxurious World Roof Hotel; located several hundred feet uphill from the highway, it is surrounded by dramatic mountains while at the same time itself a lush and green meadow filled with orchards and fields. Its people have maintained a lifestyle unchanged for centuries, with villages existing much as they have since the days of the Oriental Trading route. The principal historical sites of the Hunza valley that one must not miss are the Baltit Fort and the Hunza Royal Palace.

Hunza Valley Pakistan

flickr image by Ch. Khawar

The last major leg of this highway is along the Indus river gorge and through the city of Gilgit (you are lready in Pakistan at this point) and the Gilgit river valley; with even more dramatic views of gulleys, valleys, and majestic peaks, including the famed peaks of K2, Gasherbrums I-IV, Masherbrum and Nanga Parbat you will also want to stop here for what is considered to be the best trekking of the entire route. This city is a small but important trading center and market town, As you make your way to the city of Islamabad, you may wish to reflect back on your journey as taken by those including Alexander the Great, Marco Polo, Darius of Persia, and St. Thomas the Apostle, all of whom traveled this famed route of the Silk Road, and the great similarity of this route taken even today as well.

(Note: It is important to note that due to recent current events in Pakistan this route one may no longer be safe to travel, or there may be significantly higher risks when traveling this route. )

Date posted: 13th April, 2016

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