The Karakoram Highway is the highest international road in the world and cuts its way between Western China and Pakistan passing impressive mountains and some of the most inaccessible terrain in Asia.
Unofficially called the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, the 1,300 km highway was built with the cooperation of the governments of Pakistan and China – originally called the China-Pakistan Friendship Highway – and took almost 20 years (from 1959 to 1979) and 24,000 workers to be completed.
The “eighth wonder” of the world: the most legendary mountain road on the planet
The route was one of the branches of the “Ancient Silk Road” that crossed the Himalayas, with a history that begins in the second century BC.
Although Pakistan initially proposed the route through the Mindaka Pass, in 1966, China recommended the steep Kunjarab Pass, citing Mindaka’s vulnerability to air strikes. About 800 Pakistani and 200 Chinese workers died during the construction of the highway, many of them from landslides.
Landslides, rock slides, floods and avalanches are a permanent hazard from the time the road was built until today. Even after its completion, the highway requires constant maintenance and continues to function as a major trade and transport route that strengthens economic, cultural and military ties between the two countries, crossing the belt between the Eurasian and Indian plates where China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan they are 250 kilometers from each other.
The route, which follows one of the many routes of the “Ancient Silk Road”, stretches from the small town of Hassan Abdal in Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, via Kunjerab, the world’s highest accessible border crossing, at an altitude of about 4700 meters.
The official start of the grand route starts from Hasan Abdal, about 60 km from Islamabad and passes through some of the most stunning landscapes and tourist spots such as the ninth highest mountain on Earth, Nanga Parbat, Hunza Valley, Lake Atabad etc. In the valley of Hunza and for 194 kilometers the road is surrounded by the Karakoram mountains that give the highway its name.
Atabad Lake is located among the picturesque landscapes of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan
The story of Lake Athabat begins with a huge landslide that leveled many villages with dozens of houses and people dead, closing the bed of the Hunza River and gradually creating the current lake that took the name of Athabat village.
The Hunza region and the districts of Gilgit-Baltistan until the 20th century were largely cut off from the world. The remote region, home mainly to Buruso and Waki, has its own languages, music and culture, unlike anything in Pakistan – or anywhere else in the world. In fact, many locals often claim that their ancestors came from Macedonia, referring to Alexander the Great, and insist that the Burusaski dialect spoken by the tribes in the valley is derived from the Macedonian language.
The Karakoram Highway, although a popular tourist attraction, has a constant risk of landslides and rock falls.
The impressive height of the road, as well as the difficult conditions in which it was built, gave it the nickname “The 8th Wonder of the World”. It is a permanent destination for adventure travelers or mountain expeditions and bikers seeking access to three of the world’s most important mountain ranges: the Karakoram, the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush.
To get there you can take the bus from the main NATCO bus terminal in Islamabad for just under $20. Alternatively, he can take a flight from Islamabad International Airport at a cost of about $95 and day departure or rent a car for a 12-hour drive from Hassan Abdul to the Hunza Valley.
Despite its reputation as a dangerous road, the highway is generally safe.
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