The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is the highest paved international road in the world. It connects China and Pakistan across the Karakoram mountain range, through the Khunjerab Pass, at an altitude of 4,877 metres (16,002 feet). It connects China's Xinjiang region with Pakistan's Northern Areas and also serves as a popular tourist attraction. It is also referred to as National Highway 35 or N35.
The Karakoram Highway, also known as the Friendship Highway in China, was built by the governments of Pakistan and China, and was completed in 1986, after 20 years of construction. 810 Pakistani and 82 Chinese workers lost their lives, mostly in landslides and falls, while building the highway. The route of the KKH traces one of the many paths of the ancient Silk Road.
On the Pakistani side, the road was constructed by FWO (Frontier Works Organization), employing the Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers. Presently, the Engineer-in-Chief branch of the Pakistani Army is working on a project documenting the history of the highway. It is being written by Brigadier (Retired) Muhammad Mumtaz Khalid, who oversaw its construction.
The highway, connecting the Northern Areas of Pakistan to the ancient Silk Road, runs approximately 1,300 km from Kashgar, a city in the Xinjiang region of China, to Havelian, located in the Abbottabad District of Pakistan. An extension of the highway meets the Grand Trunk Road at Hasan Abdal, west of Islamabad, Pakistan.
The highway cuts through the collision zone between the Asian and Indian continents, where China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India come within 250km of each other. Owing largely to the extremely sensitive state of the Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan, the Karakoram highway has strategic and military importance.
On June 30, 2006, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Pakistani Highway Administration and China's State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) to rebuild and upgrade the KKH. According to SASAC, the width of the highway will be expanded from 10 meters to 30 meters, and its transport capacity will be increased three times. As well, the upgraded road will be constructed to particularly accommodate heavy-laden vehicles and extreme weather conditions.
China and Pakistan are also planning to link the Karakoram Highway to the southern port of Gwadar in Balochistan through the Chinese-aided Gwadar-Dalbandin railway, which extends up to Rawalpindi.
Mountains and glaciers
Karakoram Highway provides the pathway to expeditions for almost all peaks in the Northern Areas of Pakistan and several peaks in Xinjiang China. The regions includes some of the world's largest glaciers like Baltoro Glacier. Five of the Eight-thousanders (above 8,000m) of the world that are in Pakistan are accessible by the highway. The peaks include:
K2, border of Pakistan and China, 2nd highest in the world at 8,611m.
Nanga Parbat, Pakistan, 9th highest of the world at 8,125m
Gasherbrum I, border of Pakistan and China, 11th highest of the world at 8,080m.
Broad Peak, border of Pakistan and China, 12th highest of the world at 8,047m.
Gasherbrum II-IV, Pakistan, 13th-17th highest of the world at 8,035m-7,932m
Masherbrum (K1), Pakistan, 22nd highest of the world at 7,821m.
Muztagh Ata, China, 7,546m.
Kongur Tagh, China, 7,719m.
Rivers and lakes
Several lakes are also made accessible by the highway. These include:
Karakul Lake in Xinjiang (China)
Sheosar Lake in Deosai Plains (Pakistan)
Satpara Lake in Skardu (Pakistan)
Shangrila Lake in Skardu (Pakistan)
Rama Lake near Astore (Pakistan)
Deosai Plains, the second highest plains of the world at 4,115 m (13,500 feet) are in the South of Skardu and in the East of the Astore Valley. The plains cover an area of 3,000 km². The area was declared as Deosai National Park in 1993.
Commuter service between Gilgit and Kashghar
On June 1, 2006, a daily bus service began between Gilgit, FANA, Pakistan and Kashghar, China, through the Sust and Tashkorgan border area.
The KKH is best travelled in the spring or early autumn. Heavy snow during harsh winters can shut the highway down for extended periods. Heavy monsoon rains, around July and August, cause occasional landslides that can block the road for hours or more. The border crossing between China and Pakistan at Khunjerab Pass is open only between May 1 and October 15 of every year.