The KKH, which connects Pakistan to China, passes through the Pamir, Himalaya, and Karakoram Mountain Ranges and is thought to be the highest paved international road in the world.
The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is the only land link between Pakistan and China and is thought to be the highest paved international road in the world. Officially known as National Highway 35 (N-35) in Pakistan and as China National Highway 314 (G314) in China, since it leads through the Karakoram Range it is commonly known as the Karakoram Highway.
The total length of the KKH is approximately 1300 km, with 887 km in Pakistan and 413 km in China. It contains 85 bridges and can gain a maximum altitude of 4,693 m at the Khunjerab Pass. Starting in the city of Hassan Abdal, the KKH passes through the Pamir, Himalaya, and Karakoram Mountain Ranges. It travels alongside the Indus River for almost 200 km and together they pass through the junction which divides the Himalaya Mountains from the Karakoram Range. Then KKH leaves the Indus and joins its route with the Gilgit, Hunza, and Khunjerab Rivers. It eventually reaches the Khunjerab Pass, winds its way through the Pamirs, and finally ends in the Chinese city of Kashgar.
There are several interesting sites, natural and historical, to see along the Karakoram Highway. Nanga Parbat (8126 m), also known as Killer Mountain, can easily be viewed from KKH. Four glaciers – Minapin, Passu, Gulkin and Khunjerab – and the four rivers – Indus, Hunza, Gilgit and Khunjerab – can all be seen from the KKH.
Another attraction is the petroglyphs placed at ten sites between Hunza and Shaital. Dating back from 500 – 1000 BC, these petroglyphs are carvings on stones and boulders left by pilgrims, traders, and invaders.
The Karakoram Highway possesses a long history. In the late 1800s, the Russians, Chinese and British empire all had their eyes on the northern areas, yet access to this area was not easy. To maintain their hold over the northern territories, it became necessary that the British Empire improve their communication infrastructure. After surveying the area, it became clear that the only all-weather approach to the area was along the Indus.
The British, aware of the difficulties of building a new road, simply improved an old Srinagar foot track into a mule track. Later on, a second route was developed for pack animals passing through Chilas over the Babusar Pass into the Kaghan Valley. But this route was open for only three months a year and could not be used as a primary means of transportation. After partition, the Srinagar route was blocked and the second route was the only land route available linking the Northern Areas with the rest of Pakistan.
In 1958, a modest project by the name of Indus Valley Road (IVR) was inducted. The idea was to provide an all-weather road link between Swat and Gilgit. In 1966, under a Sino-Pak agreement, the government decided to develop the IVR into the Karakoram Highway. Under phase one of the project, the KKH was to begin in Thakot, Pakistan, extend to the Khunjerab Pass located at the Pakistan-China border and then linked to the road on the Chinese side. Near to the completion of the KKH, it was decided that the entrance would shift to the city of Hassan Abdal. The KKH, with significant help from the Chinese, was completed in 1978.
It is estimated that for almost every kilometer built, one man died, both Pakistani and Chinese. Yet the construction of Karakoram Highway has not only improved trade and tourism between Pakistan and China but has contributed significantly to the improvement in living standards of local population.
Dani, Ahmad Hasan. Human Records on Karakorum Highway. Islamabad: Department of Archaeology: Government of Pakistan, 1983.
Khalid, Muhammad Mumtaz. History of Karakorum Highway. London: and C Black, 2009.