The Karakoram Highway is the highest international road in the world and runs between Western China and Pakistan crossing impressive mountains and some of the most inaccessible terrain in Asia.
Unofficially dubbed the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’, the 1,300km highway was built with the cooperation of the governments of Pakistan and China – originally named the China-Pakistan Friendship Highway – and took almost 20 years (from 1959 to 1979 ) and 24,000 workers to complete.
Its history and geopolitical significance
The route was one of the branches of the “Ancient Silk Road” that crossed the Himalayas and the westernmost of them, 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 raids. During the construction of the highway approximately 800 Pakistani and 200 Chinese workers died, many of them from landslides and falls.
Landslides, rockfalls, floods and avalanches are a perennial risk from the time the road was built until today. Even after its completion, the highway requires constant maintenance and continues to function as a key trade and transport route strengthening economic, cultural and military ties between the two countries, crossing the belt between the Eurasian and Indian plates where China, the Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan are within 250 kilometers of each other.
The route which follows one of the many routes of the “Ancient Silk Road” stretches from the small town of Hassan Abdal to Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, via Kunjerab, the highest accessible border crossing in the world, at an altitude of about 4,700 meters . The official start of the magnificent route starts from Hasan Abdal, about 60 km from Islamabad and passes through some of the most breathtaking landscapes and tourist spots such as the ninth highest mountain on Earth, Nanga Parbat, Hunza Valley, lake Attabad etc. In the Hunza Valley and for 194 kilometers the route is surrounded by the Karakoram mountains that also give their name to the highway.
The history of Athabat Lake begins with a huge landslide that flattened many villages with dozens of houses and dead people, closing the bed of the Hunza River and gradually creating the current lake that took the name of Athabat Village.
The region of Hunza and the districts of Gilgit-Baltistan until the 20th century were for the most part cut off from the world. The remote region, home mainly to the 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 state 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 impressive altitude of the route, as well as the difficult conditions under which it was built, gave it the nickname “the 8th Wonder of the World”. It is a permanent destination for adventure travelers or mountain and cycling expeditions seeking access to three of the world’s most important mountain ranges: the Karakoram, the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush.
To get there one can take the night 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 around $95 and daily departures or rent a car for a 12-hour journey from Hassan Abdul to the Hunza Valley.
Despite its reputation as a dangerous road, the highway is generally safe. The Pakistani government has made many efforts to improve its safety in recent years and the number of accidents has decreased significantly.
The ideal time to travel is between June and September. The highway is open year-round, except for the Kunjerab pass, which is only open between May 1 and December 31.
With information from www.newmoney.gr | of Georgia Kotsiopoulou
Source: Εναλλακτική Δράση by enallaktikidrasi.com.
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