The Karakoram Highway (KKH) goes from Western China to Pakistan across the Himalayas and is the world’s highest highway. Although the highest peaks are on the Pakistan side, driving the Chinese part is, nonetheless, enthralling for adventurists.
The Karakoram Highway is known as the ‘Ninth Wonder of the World‘ and National Highway 35 (N35), and parts of it are taller than Europe’s Mont Blanc. It cuts right through the lofty Karakoram mountain range.
The road was built over an historical caravan trail which was once part of the ancient Silk Road, and was a combined effort between China and Pakistan. The Karakoram Highway provides access to the otherwise unreachable massive peaks of the Karakoram for mountaineers and cyclists.
Much of the Karakoram Highway is yet to be completely paved, although most of it is sealed on the Chinese side. One of the most interesting points on the Chinese side is Little Karakul, a lake near the town of Subashi between Kashgar (Kashi) and the Pakistani border. It is a pretty blue/green lake with the 7,000-plus-meter peaks of Kongur Shan and Muztagata rising in the distance.
Eventually you come to the town of Tashkurghan, which is near the Pakistan border. It is a tiny town at altitude and is loaded with hurried traders and cheap Chinese liquor. There are hotels, restaurants, and shops here and a daily bus to the Khunjerab Pass. It is the highest point on the Karakoram Highway at 4,600m-plus.
Tourists need to change buses at the Pakistani border town of Sust and the journey time from Tashkurghan to Sust takes all day. The complete highway, between Kashi and Havelian (near Islamabad), takes a tough 48 hours. The Karakoram Highway is only open a few months of the year, with the early fall being the best time.
Those who plan on doing the complete journey have many highlights including the massive Baltoro Glacier, passing five of the eight-thousanders (mountains above 8,000m) and going through the beautiful Hunza Valley.
Unfortunately the Karakoram Highway is not open to cyclists, although you can get on a bicycle tour, whereby the tour company carries the bikes across the border. The ride between Tashkurghan and the Khunjerab Pass is fantastic but demanding.
Getting There & Away
The entry point is the city of Kashgar in Xinjiang, China’s westernmost major town. Kashgar Airport is 18kms north of town and receives flights from Hong Kong and Urumqi. Flight time from Hong Kong is 5 hours. Trains run to Kashgar from Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital, in around 27 hours. Buses also serve in about the same time.