DRIVE THE KARAKORAM HIGHWAY: A Road Trip Through The Eighth Wonder of the World.

WHAT: Driving The Karakoram Highway

Driving The Karakoram Highway is a road trip along one of the greatest engineering feats of our age. It began in 1966 when the Chinese and Pakistani governments teamed up to create a land bridge between the two nations.  Two decades, thousands of deaths,  and countless tons of dynamite later, the Karakoram Highway opened for business. At the rooftop of the world, they had created what would later be dubbed its eighth wonder. A 1200 km single road weaving through the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges. Essentially, the highest, most rugged, and inhospitable region on earth. Karakoram road trip

mountain pass
Construction of The Karakoram Highway Cost Hundreds of Lives.  Photo Credit: Creative Commons

As part of the Ancient Silk Road, driving the Karakoram Highway is to follow the ancient footsteps of merchants, murderers, princes, paupers, pilgrims, and traders who shaped the trajectories of east and west civilization. Driving the Karakoram Highway incorporates glaciers, the stunning Kashmir valley, and the Pamir, Hindu Kush, and Himalayan mountain ranges.

On the China-Pakistan border, you’ll pass the Karakoram mountain range, home to the planet’s highest peaks, including ‘Karakoram 2’ or K2, which kills around one in five of those who try climbing it. 

A Karakoram Highway road trip has humbled the egos of countless travelers. Even when the going is good, there are narrow roads, endless hairpin turns, barrier-free sections overlooking sheer rock walls, and countless natural hazards. Consequently, the Karakoram Highway is a true test of one’s vehicle, driving abilities,  stamina, and nerves. Despite the hazards, driving the Karakoram Highway is now an established rite of passage for hikers, bikers, drivers, and dedicated adventure travelers. You’ll need a plane ticket, a reliable vehicle, and a toasty jacket to understand why.

Overview of highway connecting China and Pakistan

HOW

The Karakoram highway connects Islamabad in Pakistan and Kashgar in China. You’ll need to prepare, whichever start point you choose. If hitchhiking or taking a bus, pray your driver has done their homework and has real-time information on road and weather conditions.  If you’re driving the Karakoram Highway in your own vehicle, check your tires, fluids, hoses. belts, and fill up on extra gas and groceries.

driving under rocks along Karakoram Highway
The Karakoram Highway’s Construction required an Estimated 8,000 Tonnes of Dynamite. Photo Credit: Creative Commons

The most extensive preparations may all be for nothing if you fail to check weather conditions in advance. These range between sublime clear days and feeling like you’re caught in a cyclone on Jupiter. Even if things look good, prepare for anything. Remember that the higher you get, the colder and thinner the air becomes.

The asphalt makes for a generally smooth ride. However, avalanches, landslides, heavy snowfalls, or flash floods from prolonged monsoon rains often wipe out bridges and road sections, particularly around July and August.  Conditions change quickly, and temporary road closures due to damage or repairs can be frequent. Driving the Karakoram Highway is best attempted during the milder weather of spring, summer, or early autumn.

snow road through the Karakoram Highway
Photo Credit: Creative Commons

While driving the Karakoram Highway, you’ll eventually hit The Khunjerab Pass. Deep within the Karakoram mountain range, this is the highest-paved international border crossing in the world. Owing to India and Pakistan’s ongoing beef over the Kashmir region, it’s also an area of massive strategic importance. Although an active conflict zone, the fact that more soldiers have perished from exposure than combat should tell you all you need to know about the weather.  Depending on traffic, expect to stay near the Khunjerab Pass overnight. Accommodation should be arranged in advance. 

The Khunjerab pass on the Karakoram Highway
The Khunjerab Pass Between China and Pakistan is The World’s Highest Border Crossing.  Photo Credit: Creative Commons
WHERE

The KKH connects Kashgar, in the Xinjiang region of far west China, to Abbottabad,  in the Hazara region Pakistan.

map
Photo Credit: CCCC
RISKS
  • Altitude sickness, extreme weather, landslides, natural hazards, dilapidated lorries piloted by drunk drivers, and hairpin curves.
  • Driving the Karakoram Highway incorporates scenery that is truly the stuff of dreams. However, don’t allow the views to distract your eyes from the road. Vehicles can and do veer off the edge. Fortunately, there’s plenty of time to die of a heart attack before you touch down in a Himalayan gorge thousands of feet below.
Truck overhanging the Karakoram Highway
Photo Credit: Gulan Khan
REWARDS
  • More than just a viewing platform for nature, this route is a somber, spectacular salute to humankind’s battle to conquer it. After driving the Karakoram Highway, many claim it to be the undefeated world champion of road trips. Considering the Karakoram Highway is the only Wonder of the World you can drive on, these claims may be worth considering.
  • As well as the mountains, driving the Karakoram Highway passes more than 50,000 rock art petroglyphs, carved as far back as 10,000 BC by neolithic tribes. They include scenes of mountain life, and men hunting beasts many times their size. Modern pilgrims needn’t fear getting stomped by a mammoth or savaged by a Saber-toothed tiger. However, there’s still as much adventure as you can handle.

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