More than two months after finishing my journey along the Karakoram Highway from Kashgar, China to Rawalpindi, Pakistan I finished a photo essay about the highway. The KKH is the world's highest paved international road. Not to make "paved" sound like luxury, but, well, I will let the pictures to the speaking in that regard! The Karakoram Highway was completed in 1986 and provided the quickest overland route between Pakistan and China. After 20 years of being open and used, the road was in a state of complete decay and unsafe to travel on. The journey which should have taken 14 hours was taking up to three days.
That was in 2006. Now the road is going through reconstruction by Chinese companies and Chinese workers (on both the Pakistani and Chinese sides of the road).
I made the journey in early July and took my time along the way. Started in Kashgar, China and went from there on a NATCO Pakistani bus to Lake Kara Kul, which is an absolutely beautiful (and cold enough to actually freeze my water bottle in less than 20 minutes!). From Kara Kul to Tashkurgan I hitched a ride on another bus for about 30 RMB. This was a private bus company, but in all honesty, all of the buses in this part of the world are basically the same.
Bus at a Passport checkpost between Tashkurgan and Khunjerab Pass.
Tashkurgan is the last town in China before the long climb up to Khunjerab Pass and the border between China and Pakistan. After the Pass it is a frighteningly steep and windy thin dirt road that possesses more switchbacks than the Yankees have World Series titles.
Inside the NATCO (run by the Pakistani Government) bus
Khunjerab Pass, at 4693m above sea level, is the physical land border of Pakistan and China along the Karakoram Highway.
Farther along the road is Sust, the first town in Pakistan (coming from the Chinese side). After Sust it is a journey to try to get anywhere. Bus schedules go out the window and most people try to negotiate rides with the locals who prey on tourists, but it is still a bargain. Buses do go through Sust, but not very often. I ended up sharing a taxi with some Chinese people and ended up in a town in the middle of nowhere in the northern edge of the Hunza Valley. Taxi got a flat tire and was out of gas, but the village was really cool. Small place and incredibly friendly people. One of the families there was having a wedding the next day, so tons of relatives were in town from all over Pakistan. Talked to the family of the groom-to-be while the Chinese people frantically tried to find another ride down to Karamibad.
One of the many switchbacks along the route down from Khunjerab Pass to the valley floor in Hunza.
Inside of the taxi that got the flat. Rockslides and rockfall along the KKH are nothing to be jokes about. It was difficult to find any vehicle in running order that did not have dents in them or cracked windshields and mirrors.
Its nice to not have a set schedule while traveling like this. Minor setbacks like a flat tire in the middle of nowhere are not a bad thing. They allow you to step out and really see places that haven't been destroyed yet, by tourism, capitalism, communism or whatever else it may be.
Anyways, from the place of the flat tire, ended up in the back of a Jeep, hanging half-way out a back window and savoring every single bump, dip and gigantic rock or detour from the unpaved torn-up road at night. Its all good though. Where is the fun if you go somewhere or do something and have no stories to tell from them?
Most of the road in the Hunza Valley looked like this. Hard packed dirt and tractors or giant trucks with all kinds of colorful shiny and clanky metal things dangling everywhere. The peaks are beyond beautiful and the sense of scale just defies everything I thought possible. The peaks in the background in the picture above are not tiny. From the base of the valley floor to the top of the peaks is about 2000m.
Just another view of the road from inside a Jeep. On the right it drops off a good 20m and on the left is a 50m pure vertical jump to the next layer of the road.
These people were heading up to the wedding a farther north. Our Jeep and driver were from the town the wedding was in and these people were asking about the road conditions.
Links to images included in this blog post:
Karakoram Highway Passport Checkpoint, NATCO Bus, Khunjerab Pass, Karakoram Highway Switchbacks, Cracked Taxi Windshield, Upper Hunza Valley, Karakoram Highway, Karakoram Highway Van