The Karakorum Highway KKH

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Featured Image: Nanga Parbat, Killer Mountain, KKH 1995

Featured Image: Nanga Parbat, the ‘Killer Mountain’ 8126 metres, from Fairy Meadow, 1995

ORT_LogoBreadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 2 April 2021

The Karakorum Highway (KKH) in 1995

The Karakorum Highway (KKH) runs from around Rawalpindi in Pakistan to Kashgar in China a distance of about 1300 km, through some of the highest mountains and deepest valleys in the world.

The KKH is sometimes called the eighth wonder of the world as a tribute to the engineering feat when it was constructed. Like similar roads in similar regions, for example Nepal and China, the KKH requires extensive maintenance to keep it open. Nowadays, in China there are endless spectacular engineering feats high bridges and roads that make the KKH seem old-fashioned.

The KKH threads its way through a ‘knot’ of four great mountain ranges: the Pamir, the Karakorum, the Hindu Kush and the [western edge] of the Himalayas, all of them part of the vast collision zone between [the Asian and the Indian tectonic plates]. (Lonely Planet)

Chinese Danyor Bridge, Constructed 1960s, Gilgit, KKH, 1995
Chinese Danyor Bridge, Constructed 1960s, Gilgit, KKH, 1995

The highest peaks near the KKH are Nanga Parbat (Himalaya 8126 metres or 26,660 feet), Rakaposhi (Karakorum 7790 m), Batura Peak (Karakorum 7785) Mt Kongur (Pamir 7719), un-named peak at the head of the Passu Glacier (Karakorum 7611), Muztagh Ata (Pamir 7546), Malabiting (Karakorum 7450), Haramosh (Karakorum 7400), Ultar Peak (Karakorum 7388).

There are many others slightly lower. In the Northern Areas of Pakistan there are about three dozen peaks over 7000 metres. K2 (Karakorum 8611 m or 28,250 feet), the second highest mountain in the world, near Skardu is not far from Gilgit in the Gilgit-Baltistan region.

The Karakorum has four glaciers over 50 km long. One the Batura comes down to the KKH at Passu.

The KKH road links Pakistan and China around the Khunjerab Pass (4730 m or 15,520 feet). The pass is open theoretically from 1 May to 31 December, but this of course varies.

Lady Finger & Hunza Peak, Karimabad KKH, 1995
Lady Finger & Hunza Peak, Karimabad KKH, 1995

From Abbotabad on, the KKH winds mostly through narrow gorges on the Hunza, Gilgit and Indus rivers, which flow into one another down from the Khunjerab Pass. There are many bridge crossings across seemingly endless tributaries. The deepest and narrowest gorges are on the road from Abbottabad to Gilgit. The gorges open out somewhat above Gilgit. The climate at the bottom of the gorges is unbelievably hot and oppressive in summer.

It is like an oven, the gloomy bank manager from Dasu said who travelled with us on a ‘Wagon’. The heat radiates from the cliffs thousands of feet above and is reflected down into the bottom of the valley. Although heat rises, it does not rise quickly enough. We met some walkers who had walked down from Fairy Meadow near Nanga Parbat base camp to the Raikot Bridge. The soles of their boots had melted on the black rocks. They regretted not paying for the jeep.

On the Chinese side the mountains are more rounded and the landscape mostly a rolling plateau with broad valleys.

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