The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is the highest paved international road in the world. It connects China and Pakistan across the Karakoram mountain range, through the Khunjerab Pass, at an altitude of 4,693 m/15,397 ft as confirmed by both SRTM and multiple GPS readings. It connects China's Xinjiang region with Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan 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 "Ninth Wonder of the World."
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).
Since 2 p.m. January 4, 2010, the KKH has been closed in the Hunza Valley, eliminating through traffic to China except by small boat. A massive landslide 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 lake displaced thousands and inundated over 20 km of the KKH including the 310 m long KKH bridge 4 km south of Gulmit. The damage is expected to take up to two years to repair.
The KKH is best traveled in the spring or early autumn. Heavy snow during harsh winters can shut the highway down for extended periods. Heavy monsoon rains, around July and August, cause occasional landslides that can block the road for hours or more. The border crossing between China and Pakistan at Khunjerab Pass is open only between May 1 and December 31 of every year.
In recent years, the highway has become a destination for adventure tourism. It was ranked as the 3rd best Tourist Destination in Pakistan by The Guardian. The road has given mountaineers and cyclists easier access to the many high mountains, glaciers and lakes in the area. The highway provides access to Gilgit and Skardu from Islamabad by road. These are the two major hubs for mountaineering expeditions in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
The Gilgit-Baltistan Administration of Pakistan and the Xinjiang Administration of China have signed an agreement to issue border passes to their permanent residents. This pass is valid for a calendar year and is used to travel through Khunjerab Pass only.
Mountains and glaciers
Karakoram Highway provides the pathway to expeditions for almost all peaks in Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan, Kashmir and several peaks in Xinjiang China. The region includes some of the world's largest glaciers like the Baltoro Glacier. Five of the Eight-thousanders (mountains taller than 8,000m) of the world that are in Pakistan are accessible by the highway. The notable mountains that can be directly seen while traveling on the highway are:
Nanga Parbat, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, 9th highest of the world at 8,126m
Rakaposhi, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, 27th highest of the world at 7,788m
Diran, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, most dangerous mountain in Pakistan
Shishpar, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan
Ultar Peak, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan
Tupopdan, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, also known as Cathedral Peaks near Passu
Many glaciers can be seen while traveling on the highway
Rivers and Lakes
Several rivers and lakes are also made accessible by the highway. These include:
Karakul Lake in Xinjiang (China)
Bus service between Gilgit and Kashghar
On June 1, 2006, a daily bus service began between Gilgit, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistani Kashmir and Kashghar, Xinjiang, through the Sust and Tashkorgan border area.