- This article is an itinerary.
The Karakoram Highway (often abbreviated to KKH and sometimes transliterated as Karakorum) runs between Western China, Gilgit-Baltistan (Pakistan-controlled Kashmir) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is one of the very few routes that cross the Himalayas and the most westerly of them. Following the KKH is considered to be one of the classic journeys of the travel world; it is also the highest international road in the World.
Historically, this was a caravan trail, one branch of the ancient Silk Road. More recently, the Chinese and Pakistani governments have built a highway.
It is the highest border crossing in the world, over 4800 meters (roughly 16,000 feet) in the Khunjerab Pass at the border. For comparison, Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Western Europe, is 4810 m and Mount Whitney, the highest point in the 48 contiguous United States, is 4421.
It may be the ultimate challenge for the devoted cyclist. There are organised bicycle tours, and several books about bicycling this route. Although in recent years as travel as reduced to Pakistan generally through concerns over terrorist attacks, the number of tours has declined. It is a trip that is possible to undertake independently, although consideration should be given to the heat and altitude if travelling unsupported. Unfortunately the border is not open for cyclists. Everybody has to board the bus in either Tashkurgan (China) or Sost (Pakistan). From the Pakistani side you can cycle up to the pass, but not over it. You will have to return to Sost to take the bus.
The Karakorum Highway or KKH is a two-way all-weather road in Pakistan, except for the Khunjarab Pass, which is closed during the winter. Land slides are common at some places during the rainy season (July-September).
On cycling the road in 2011, it is noted as currently being in a state of repair, with much of it being a gravel track although it was commented that these repairs should be finished soon, it didn't look likely, especially given the limited summer and general state at the time, with major tunnel operations underway, however it was still passable.
Some parts of the highway, e.g. the areas between Besham and Chilas in Paskistan and the desert areas on the Chinese side, are very hot during summer; the temperature can reach 45° C (113 F).
On the Pakistan side, the KKH starts (officially) from Hassan Abdal, a town some 50 Km west of the capital. The highway passes through Abbottabad, Mansehra and Besham. The highway runs along the left and right banks of the River Indus to reach Gilgit, passing through the towns of Kamila, and Chilas. The highway passes the Hunza Valley The Hunza was the original Shangri La that inspired the novel (and later movie). Hunza is known for its orchards, moderate Islam, welcoming hospitality and beautiful scenery.
From Kashgar in China, the list of towns and travel time from previous town are:
- Kashgar - Tashkurgan - 8 hour
- Tashkurgan - Sost - 6 hours; this is where you cross the border
- Sost to Passu - 1 hour
- Passu to Karimabad - unknown (need to cross lake by ferry)
- Karimabad to Gilgit - 2 to 3 hours
- Hunza Baltit inn, Hunza Valley.
- PTDC Motel, Hunza.
- Marco Polo inn, Gulmit Village in Hunza Valley (Along Karakoram Highway).Check-out: 12 noon. The Gulmit museum, full of traditional ethnic artifacts is part of the Marco Polo Inn.
- Gulmit Continental Hotel, Gulmit Jojap Upper Hunza (Hunza). Gulmit Continental Hotel nestles in an Amphitheater of peaks, located in the heart of the beautiful Gulmit valley which is perched on 2500 meters high above sea level. Only 140 KM from Gilgit and 50 meters from the legendary Silk Route it is conveniently accessible
Hunza is one of the most peaceful region in Pakistan so the travellers do not need to worry about the security there, you are free to go anywhere, Just avoid drinking the tap water and use mineral water. If you are in Upper Hunza (Gojal) then you can drink the tap water, its clear and it comes directly from the spring.
From Gilgit to the Chinese border along the pass is generally safe with care, general unrest, displeasure with the local police, government or local politics can sometimes create localised issues and difficulties. Watch everyone else, see how they are reacting and be wary that indiscriminate gunfire is a possibility even with arguements between individuals. with care and common sense, the valley and area is stunning visually, has friendly locals who are relaxed and are keen to interact with you. Near Karimabad there are troops stationed and visable, whilst further up the valley, there appears to be just local police.