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Karakoram Highway

A Collage of Panorama at KKH on Pakistani Side.

Karakoram Highway
Route information
Part of G314
Maintained by NHA, SASAC
Length: 1,300 km (800 mi)
Pakistan: 887 km (551 mi)
China: 413 km (257 mi)
Existed: 1966 – present
History: Completed in 1979, open to the public since 1986
Major junctions
North end: Kashgar, Xinjiang, China
South end: Hasan Abdal, Punjab, Pakistan
Major cities: Hasanabdal, Abbottabad, Thakot, Chilas, Gilgit, Aliabad, Sust, mandi gobindgarh, Kashgar
Highway system

National Highways of Pakistan

Motorways of Pakistan
Karakoram Highway
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese 喀喇昆仑公路
Urdu name
Urdu شاہراہ قراقرم śāharāha qarāqaram

The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is one of the highest paved international roads in the world.[1] It connects Sinkiang Uighur of China and Gilgit–Baltistan of Pakistan across the Karakoram mountain range, through the Khunjerab Pass, located at , at an elevation of 4,693 metres (15,397 ft).[2][3]

Connecting China's Xinjiang region with Gilgit–Baltistan region of Pakistan, the road is a popular tourist attraction. Due to its high elevation and the difficult conditions in which it was constructed, it is referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World.[4][5][6]

The Karakoram Highway is known informally as the KKH; within Pakistan it is known officially as the N-35, while within China, it is known officially as China National Highway 314 (G314). It is also a part of the Asian Highway AH4.


  • History 1
  • The highway 2
    • Pakistani section 2.1
      • Karakorum Highway Realignment (China-Pakistan Friendship Tunnels) 2.1.1
    • Chinese section 2.2
    • Major towns 2.3
  • Tourism 3
    • Mountains and glaciers 3.1
    • Rivers and lakes 3.2
    • Rock art and petroglyphs 3.3
    • Travel 3.4
    • Bus service between Gilgit and Kashghar 3.5
  • Weather 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Karakoram Highway route map
Summits of Karakoram Mountain Range as seen from the Karakoram Highway near Nagar, Gilgit.

The Karakoram Highway, also known as the Friendship Highway in China, was built by the governments of Pakistan and China. It was started in 1959 and was completed and opened to the public in 1979. About 810 Pakistanis and about 200 Chinese workers lost their lives,[7] mostly in landslides and falls, while building the highway. The Chinese workers who died during the construction are buried in the Chinese cemetery in Gilgit. 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 Gilgit, and the construction of Indus Valley Road. The second volume records events leading to the conversion of the Indus Valley Road to the Karakoram Highway, the difficulties in its construction, and the role of Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers and their Chinese counterparts in its construction.[8]

The highway

Jingle trucks on Karakoram Highway.

The highway, connecting the Gilgit–Baltistan region of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to the ancient Silk Road, runs approximately 1,300 km (810 mi) from Kashgar, a city in the Xinjiang region of China, to Abbottabad, of Pakistan. An extension of the highway southwest from Abbottabad, in the form of the N-35 highway, meets the Grand Trunk Road, N-5, at Hassanabdal, Pakistan.

The highway cuts through the collision zone between the Eurasian and Indian plates, where China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan come within 250 kilometres (160 mi) 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 to these nations, but particularly Pakistan and China.

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 Karakoram Highway. According to SASAC, the width will be expanded from 10 to 30 metres (33 to 98 ft), and its transport capacity will be increased three times its current capacity. In addition, the upgraded road will be designed to particularly accommodate heavy-laden vehicles and extreme weather conditions.

China and Pakistan are planning to link the Karakoram Highway to the southern port of Gwadar in Balochistan through the Chinese-aided Gwadar-Dalbandin railway, which extends to Rawalpindi.

On 4 January 2010, the KKH was closed in the Hunza Valley, eliminating through traffic to China except by small boats. A massive landslide 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) upstream from Hunza's capital of Karimabad created the potentially unstable Attabad Lake, which reached 22 kilometres (14 mi) in length and over 100 metres (330 ft) in depth by the first week of June 2010 when it finally began flowing over the landslide dam. The landslide destroyed parts of villages while killing many inhabitants. The subsequent lake displaced thousands and inundated over 20 kilometres (12 mi) of the KKH including the 310 metres (1,020 ft) long KKH bridge 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) south of Gulmit.[9][10][11]

It is highly questionable whether the lake, which reached 27 kilometres (17 mi) in length in 2011, will drain. Goods from and to further north are transported over the lake by small vessels, to be reloaded onto trucks at the other end.[12] In July 2012 Pakistan began constructing a revised route around the lake at a higher elevation with five new tunnels, with total length of 7.12 km, and two new bridges. The work was contracted out to the China Road & Bridge Corporation (CRBC) and is expected to be completed in September 2015.[13]

Pakistani section

Milestone near Besham in Pakistan.

At 806 kilometres (501 mi) in length, the Pakistani section of the highway starts in Abbottabad, although the N-35 of which KKH is now part, officially starts from Hassanabdal. The highway meets the Indus River at Thakot and continues along the river until Jaglot, where the Gilgit River joins the Indus River. This is where three great mountain ranges meet: the Hindukush, the Himalaya, and the Karakoram. The western end of the Himalayas, marked by the ninth highest peak in the world, Nanga Parbat, can be seen from the highway. The highway passes through the capital of Gilgit–Baltistan, Gilgit, and continues through the valleys of Nagar and Hunza, along the Hunza River. Some of the highest mountains and famous glaciers in the Karakoram can be seen in this section. The highway meets the Pakistani-Chinese border at Khunjerab Pass.

Karakorum Highway Realignment (China-Pakistan Friendship Tunnels)

A large section of the highway was damaged by landslides in 2010 that created Attabad Lake. A new 24 km route along the south-eastern side of the lake was completed in 2015 and opened to the public on September 14, 2015.[14] The route comprises 5 tunnels and several bridges. The longest tunnel is 3360m, followed by 2736m, 435m, 410m and 195m. The Shishkat Great Bridge on Hunza River is 480m long.The Attabad tunnel was completed in 14 September 2015 and was inaugurated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other political leaders. The realignment restored the road link between Pakistan and China and it is expected that significant amount of trade will be conducted between China and Pakistan through KKH. KKH is also a part of Pakistan China Economic Corridor, and is expected to significantly increase economic integration between China and Pakistan. China and Pakistan are currently pursuing significant number of infrastructure, communication and energy projects throughout the country. In addition, tourists from all over the country and abroad are flocking to Northern Pakistan to see this construction master piece.

Chinese section

The Karakoram Highway in the Xinjiang region of China.

The Chinese section of the Karakoram Highway follows the north-south Sarykol ("Yellow Lake") valley just west of the Tarim Basin. The road from Kashgar goes southwest about 80 kilometres (50 mi) and then turns west to enter the Gez (Ghez) River canyon between Chakragil mountain on the north and Kongur mountain on the south. From the Gez canyon the population becomes Kirgiz. Having climbed up to the valley, the road turns south past Kongur, Karakul Lake, and Muztagh Ata on the east. Below Muztagh Ata, a new road goes west over the Kulma Pass to join the Pamir Highway in Gorno-Badakhshan, Tajikistan. The main road continues over a low pass (where the population becomes Tajik) and descends to Tashkurgan. Further south, a valley and jeep track leads west toward the Wakhjir Pass to the Wakhan Corridor. Next the road turns west to a checkpost and small settlement at Pirali, and then the Khunjerab Pass, beyond which is Pakistan, the Khunjerab River and Hunza.

A bus accident on the KKH, August 2004.

Major towns

KKH near Passu in Pakistan.


In recent years the highway has sought to become a 'niche' The Guardian.[15] The road has given mountaineers and cyclists easier access to the many high mountains, glaciers, and lakes in the area. The highway provides access to Gilgit and Skardu from Islamabad by road. These are the two major hubs for mountaineering expeditions in the Gilgit–Baltistan region of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.[16]

The Gilgit–Baltistan Administration of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the Xinjiang Administration of China have signed an agreement to issue border passes to their permanent residents. This pass is valid for a calendar year and is used to travel through Khunjerab Pass only.

Mountains and glaciers

KKH along the Indus River, 2001.

Karakoram Highway provides the pathway to expeditions for almost all peaks in Gilgit–Baltistan, Kashmir and several peaks in Xinjiang China. The region includes some of the world's largest glaciers like the Baltoro Glacier. Five of the Eight-thousanders (mountains taller than 8,000 metres (26,000 ft)) of the world that are in Pakistan are accessible by the highway. The notable mountains that can be directly seen while traveling on the highway are:

Many glaciers can be seen while traveling on the highway:

  • Minapin Glacier
  • Passu Glacier
  • Ghulkin Glacier
  • Khunjerab Glacier

Rivers and lakes

Karakoram Highway near Juglot

Several rivers and lakes are made accessible by the highway. These include:

Rock art and petroglyphs

On the Karokoram Highway near Chilas.

There are more than 50,000 pieces of rock art and petroglyphs all along the highway that are concentrated at ten major sites between Hunza and Shatial. The carvings were left by invaders, traders, and pilgrims who passed along the trade route, as well as by locals. The earliest date back to between 5000 BC and 1000 BC, showing single animals, triangular men, and hunting scenes in which the animals are larger than the hunters. These carvings were pecked into the rock with stone tools and are covered with a thick patina that yields their age.


There are several transport companies in Pakistan that offer bus service between major towns of the highway and from Rawalpindi and Lahore. The largest company is Northern Areas Transport Corporation (NATCO). Other companies are Masherbrum Travel, Silk Route Travel, K-2 movers, Anchan Travel, and Saeed Travel.

Bus service between Gilgit and Kashghar

On June 1, 2006, a daily bus service began between

  • Urdu: Safar Hai Shart A documentary on Karakoram Highway 8th wonder of the world
  • History of KKH by Brigadier (Retired) Mumtaz Khalid (Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers)
  • Blankonthemap The Northern Kashmir WebSite
  • Northern Areas Development Gateway
  • Pakistan's Northern Areas
  • Karakoram Highway Map
  • A good brief description of the highway
  • Photographic Account of Journey through KKH

External links

  1. ^ Karakoram Hindu Kush
  2. ^ Lonely Planet Karakoram Archived October 11, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ It can be argued that the Chile Route 27 is international since it connects to Argentina, and it is 4,810 metres (15,780 ft)
  4. ^ World record highways - Karakoram
  5. ^ Mahnaz Z. Ispahani (June 1989). Roads and Rivals: The Political Uses of Access in the Borderlands of Asia (First ed.). Cornell University Press. p. 191.  
  6. ^ Tanveer Naim (2010). "South Asia". UNESCO Science Report (Report).  
  7. ^ 25th Anniversary of the Karakoram Highway (1978 - 2003)". Pakistan Post Office, May 16, 2006. Retrieved on 2006-07-10.
  8. ^ History of KKH by Brigadier (Retired) Muhammad Mumtaz Khalid
  9. ^ Thousands at risk due to Hunza river blockade
  10. ^ Search Results rising water threatens villages in hunza ss | Latest news, Breaking news, Pakistan News, World news, business, sport and multimedia | DAWN.COM
  11. ^ Blockage of Hunza river, Landslide blog written by Shakeelgilgity, Gilgit-Baltistan
  12. ^ Landslide cuts crucial China-Pak road link, hits military supplies - Indian Express
  13. ^ Khan, Asghar and Khan, Zulfiqar Ali (27 June 2015). "KKH Re-Alignment: 94% work on the project completed so far, remaining to be completed by Sep. 25 this year". Pamir Times. Archived from the original on 27 June 2015. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Windsor, Antonia (October 17, 2006). "Out of the rubble". The Guardian (London). Retrieved May 7, 2010. 
  16. ^ Pakistan and the Karakoram Highway, Owen Bennett-Jones, Lindsay Brown, and John Mock, Lonely Planet Publications; 6 Rev Ed edition (30 Sep 2004), ISBN 0-86442-709-3
  17. ^ "Kashghar-Gilgit bus service planned".  
  18. ^ India-China Bhai Bhai revisited


Landslides often disturb the traffic for several hours.
Karakoram Highway ahead of Juglot, Gilgit

See also

The KKH is best traveled 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 December 31.



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