Feature Story

Karakoram Highway

KKH Taxi
Passport Checkpoint
Khunjerab Pass

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.

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.

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.

Inside of the taxi that got the flat. I wasn't kidding about the rockslides and rockfall along the KKH. 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?

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6 responses

  • phyllis neriah

    phyllis neriah said (27 Sep 2009):

    I was in Pakistan for a few months in 2007. This brings back memories. Thanks!

  • Tim Martin

    Tim Martin said (3 Oct 2009):

    Thanks! I'm glad it brought back memories for you, its such an incredible part of the world that I will be visiting again and again :)

  • A. Selman Nur

    A. Selman Nur (Deleted) gave props (3 Oct 2009):

    Photos of the story are just great! Thanks for the story.

  • Chris Prestel

    Chris Prestel gave props (18 Oct 2009):

    Great photos and incredible place.

  • Tim Martin

    Tim Martin said (19 Oct 2009):

    Thanks for the props guys! Glad you enjoyed the story and photos :)

  • Nick Nicks

    Nick Nicks said (19 Oct 2009):

    Great photos and story.

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