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March 20, 2013

The Karakoram Highway

Milestone near Besham in Pakistan.
Milestone near Besham in Pakistan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is the highest paved international road in the world.[1] It connects China and Pakistan across theKarakoram mountain range, through the Khunjerab Pass, at an elevation of 4,693 m/15,397 ft as confirmed by both SRTM and multiple GPSreadings.[2] It connects China’s Xinjiang region with Pakistan’s Gilgit–Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa regions and also serves as a popular tourist attraction. Due to its high elevation and the difficult conditions in which it was constructed, it is also referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”[3]
The Karakorum Highway is known informally as the KKH, and — within Pakistan — officially as the N-35; within China, officially as China National Highway 314 (G314).

History

The Karakoram Highway, also known as the Friendship Highway China, was built by the governments of Pakistan and China, it was started in 1959 and was completed in 1979 (open to the public since 1986) about 810 Pakistanis and about 200 Chinese workers lost their lives,[4] mostly in landslides and falls, while building the highway. 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 FWO (Frontier Works Organisation), employing the Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers. Recently, the Engineer-in-Chief’s Branch of the Pakistani Army has completed a project documenting the history of the highway. A book ‘History of Karakoram Highway’ has been written by Brigadier (Retired) Muhammad Mumtaz Khalid. It is in two volumes. In the first volume the author discusses the land and the people, the pre-historic communication system in the Northern Areas, the need for having an all weather road link with Gilgit and the construction of Indus Valley Road. The second volume records events leading to conversion of Indus Valley Road to Karakoram Highway, the difficulties in its construction and the role of Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers and the Chinese counterparts in its construction.[5]

 The highwayThe highway, connecting the Gilgit–Baltistan region of Pakistani 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 south west from Abbottabad, in the form of N-35, meets the Grand Trunk Road, N-5 at Hassanabdal, Pakistan.

The highway cuts through the collision zone between the Eurasian and Indian plates, where ChinaTajikistanAfghanistan and Pakistan come within 250 km 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.
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 of the highway will be expanded from 10 metres to 30 metres, and its transport capacity will be increased three times. In addition, the upgraded road will be constructed to particularly accommodate heavy-laden vehicles and extreme weather conditions.
China and Pakistan are also planning to link the Karakoram Highway to the southern port of Gwadar in Balochistan through the Chinese-aidedGwadar-Dalbandin railway, which extends up to Rawalpindi.
Since 2 p.m. January 4, 2010, the KKH has been closed in the Hunza Valley, eliminating through traffic to China except by small boats. A massivelandslide 15 km upstream from Hunza’s capital of Karimabad created the potentially unstable Attabad Lake which reached 22 km in length and over 100 meters 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, while the subsequent lake displaced thousands and inundated over 20 km of the KKH including the 310 m long KKH bridge 4 km south of Gulmit.[6][7][8] It is highly questionable whether the lake, which reached 27 km 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.[9]

Pakistani section ham in Pakistan.

At 806 km 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 the place where three great mountain ranges meet, the Hindukush, the Himalaya and the Karakoram. The western end of the Himalayas, marked by the 9th highest peak in the world, Nanga Parbat can be seen from the highway. The highway passes through the capital of Gilgit–BaltistanGilgit, 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 from the highway in this section. Finally, the highway meets the Pakistan-China border at Khunjerab Pass.

  Chinese section 

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 km and then turns west to enter the Gez (Ghez) River canyon between Chakragil mountain on the north and Kongurmountain 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 towards the Wakhjir Pass to the Wakhan Corridor. Next the road turns west to a checkpost and small settlement atPirali, and then the Khunjerab Pass, beyond which is Pakistan, the Khunjerab River and Hunza.
(In 747 Gao Xianzhi, a Tang general crossed the Broghol Pass into what is now Pakistan – the furthest Chinese penetration in this direction. He was later defeated at the Battle of Talas, and the Chinese withdrew from the region.)


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