The junction point of three mountain ranges is situated near Jaglot on the Karakoram Highway (KKH), only 40 km southeast of Gilgit, Pakistan. It is here that the world’s three famous mountain ranges – the Karakoram (the black gravel), the Himalaya (home of snow), and the Hindukush (the killer of Hindus) – make a knot popularly known as the “Junction Point of the world’s three mountain ranges”. This exclusive site also serves as the junction of Gilgit and Indus Rivers and the Skardu road branches out from the KKH near this place.
The junction point is a venue of interest due to its unique geographic significance, not only in Pakistan but in the entire world. Pakistan is the only country where the world’s three renowned mountain ranges meet with their respective highest peaks recorded top of the list in their respective range and famous in the entire world as Nanga Parbat, K-2, and Terich Mir. These three major mountain ranges are the sub-ranges of the great Himalayas known as trans-Himalayas.
While standing at the junction point, it is easy to outline the direction of these mountain ranges. The Himalayan range is located to the south and east of Indus River. The Karakorum range stretches towards the northeast of Gilgit River. To the west of Gilgit / Indus River is the Hindu-Kush range.
Unique in many aspects, the Karakoram Range with a length of about 500km covers the borders between Pakistan, India, and China, in the regions of Gilgit-Baltistan (Pakistan), Ladakh (India), and Xinjiang region, (China). It is home to the highest concentration of peaks in just a radius of 160 km which are higher than 5,500 m and more than 100 in numbers including the second highest peak in the world, K-2(at 8,611m). The Karakoram Range is the most heavily glaciated part of the world outside the Polar Regions including some of the longest glaciers in the world such as Siachen, Batura, Baltoro, Biafo, Hisper, Gondogoro, Chogolisa etc.
Likewise, the Himalayan range is home to the 2nd highest peak in Pakistan- Nanga Parbat (8,126m), notoriously known as the killer mountain. Pakistan makes up the western anchor of the Great Himalayas and covers the Astor District dominated by Nanga Parbat massif and parts of Kashmir. The Great Himalayan Range spreads over 2400 km across Pakistan, Nepal, and India. Mount Everest (8,848 m), the world’s highest mountain peak, is in Nepal.
The Hindu Kush Range covers nearly 9600km long looming with its own wonders. It is mostly hosting smaller peaks most of them less than 7,500 m high. This range encompasses the peaks of Ghizer, Yasin and Ishkoman valleys of Pakistan and reaches the Queen of Chitral, Terich Mir, at 7,708 meters in the district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The range further stretches from the Pamirs to Iran.
A brief stopover at this point is mandatory to get educated about this exclusive site. This unique venue also offers a magnificent panorama of the entire zone from the confluence of Gilgit & Indus Rivers to the stretch of the mountain ranges bowing here to make a junction.
There is local folklore attached to the junction point which is discussed even today that this site used to be the abode of Jinns and fairies. It was said that at the confluence of the rivers the water was used by these supernatural creatures for drinking and taking bath.
An elevated prominent platform accessible by stairs has been erected on the edge of the Karakoram Highway that gives a 360-degree view of the entire region and pictorial information on the coordinates of the mountain. There is enough parking space created for vehicles and informative signboards have been displayed providing important details on the venue.
Unfortunately, not so many – both from within the country and from abroad – seem aware about the significance of this fascinating piece of land. Many tourists (mostly domestic or those travelling by public transport or even those who pass this place in the odd hours/in darkness) just pass by without noticing it and miss the opportunity to see it. However, many international tourists make it a vital part of their itinerary well before getting to the venue.
Best Time to Visit
The Karakoram Highway remains opened year-round and one can visit or pass by this site any time of the year. However, the best time to visit Gilgit-Baltistan is from March till November as winters are quite freezing and hard to bear in the region.
The Deosai National Park is the second largest alpine plateau in the world covering an area of 3626 sq. km. The region is one of the few areas of the world to hold a vast natural expanse of exceptional natural scenery and wealth of wildlife. Deosai Park can be reached from Skardu directly and from Gilgit via Astore through a scenic road.
The park is located at an elevation of 13600 feet above the sea level, at the junction of 04 major mountain ranges – The Karakoram, Ladakh range (Trans-Himalaya), Zanskar range (Trans-Himalaya), and Himalaya in the rugged Northern region – between Skardu and Astore districts in Gilgit-Baltistan territory of Pakistan. The national park also serves as a major tourist attraction in Gilgit-Baltistan drawing hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.
Deosai, basically a combination of two words, Deo and Sai, literally means Land of Giants and also referred to as Roof of the Earth. For decades a myth prevailed that the region was haunted by giants and the name “Land of Giants” thus came into being. Local people of Baltistan, however, call this place ‘Ghbiarsa’ referring to ‘summer’s Place’ because it is only accessible in summer.
The park is a protected area and divided into several zones some of which are restricted. The core zone is a specially protected area for the Brown Bear. Tourists can only visit certain zones. Deosai being a prime tourist attraction visited by a massive amount of domestic and international tourists each year.
The park is abundant in natural beauty with its vast expanses covered by wildflowers. There are multiple streams and lakes teaming with trout fish and major spots to stay for overnight. some of the major attractions include:
Sheosar Lake is the mole on the cheek of Deosai Plains and the entire lake is surrounded by hills crowned with snow and its immediate surroundings have green patches covered with wildflowers.
Kala Pani or the black water is a major campsite by a stream called Kala Pani while driving from Sheosar lake towards Skardu. This water stream is called Kala ( Black ) Pani (water) because it looks almost black from a fair distance. However, the water is actually crystal clear and freezing. The campsite is located at a low altitude, surrounded by small green hills, ideal for camping by avoiding the chilly nighttime winds.
Bara Pani is a local name to indicate the Larger Water stream flowing from the top of icy mountains of Deosai. Bara Pani is located between Kala Pani and Ali Malik Mar Pass ( Deosai Top ). Bara Pani is an ideal campsite surrounded by a vast stretch of the park and snow-crowned mountains.
Ali Malik Mar Pass (Deosai Top) is about 30km uphill drive from Skardu town and is part of an adventurous half day excursion. While driving from Astore side, it is the end of Deosai plains before descending to Skardu.
Shatoung Nala is an uphill gorge leading up to Deosai from Skardu surrounded by snow-covered mountains. The freshwater stream flowing all the way is the primary source of water of the Sadpara Lake in Skardu.
There are a number of trails to explore but the best one is to walk along the jeep track and around the Sheosar Lake to explore the vast expanse of the park.
One can go fishing by acquiring a valid license. Nights are special when the sky is clear to observe Milky Way galaxy in a deafening silence.
Those who wish to spend a night at Deosai must carry tents and food unless there is confirmed arrangements for accommodation and food. Heavy rains sometimes make movement difficult and to be on the safe side careful planning and necessary arrangements must be made in advance.
Flora and Fauna
The Deosai National Park was established in December 1993 by the government of Gilgit-Baltistan with the prime objective to conserve the rare wildlife. The park makes up one of the last frontiers of natural habitat for the Himalayan brown bear – a rare species once roamed the mountains freely. The park currently has about 20-28 Brown bears. The population of the Brown Bear is growing since strict conservation measures were taken.
The national park is home to a variety of significant species of wildlife. Himalayan Ibex, Snow Leopard, Tibetan Red Fox, wolf, the Ladakh urial, the snow leopard and Golden Marmot are among the 18 different mammals exist. There are three types of fresh-water fishes and 209 bird Species (both resident and migratory) including Honred lard, Citrine Wagtail, Mountain Finch, Eastern Swift, and Craig Martin.
Deosai Plateau is poised between sub-alpine and glacial fields where only the shrubs and forbs are found and no tree can be sited at all. The park is also famous for its variety of medicinal and aromatic plant species. There are 342 species of plants belonging to 142 genera and 36 families. Notable plant species include Artemisia, Aconitum, Jurinea, Rheum, Mentha, Swertia, Valeriana, Verbascum, Viola, Potentilla, Ephedra, Thymus, Saussurea, and Bunium.
The park remains snowbound throughout most of the year and is only accessible for about four to five to six months from June to November. Its environment is characterized by extreme cold coupled with low atmospheric pressure and low oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. One must be cautious about aridity and intense and rapid solar ultraviolet radiation. The Deosai plain receives higher rainfall than adjoining northern and northeastern valleys of Baltistan due to its geographical location facing the monsoon affected outer Himalayas. The weather during the months of July and August remains pleasant. However, most times it is unpredictable as it even snows in July and August sometimes. Annual precipitation varies from 350 to 550 mm., mostly received during winter as snow. Average daily temperature ranges from -20C in winters and 12 C in July and August.
Deosai National Park is accessible both from Skardu district in the north and Astor valley in the west. It is about 9 to 10 hrs journey from Gilgit to Skardu via Astore and Deosai or vice versa unless there is an overnight stay plan either in Astor or anywhere at the National Park. While visiting Deosai tourists usually spend a night in Astore valley to visit Rama valley and Rama Lake. Others prefer to spend an additional night in Deosai, preferably at Sheosar Lake or other designated campsites. A 4WD is the recommended conveyance because of the altitude and road condition.
The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is the highest paved international road and a major trade artery linking China and Pakistan at the Khunjerab Pass at an elevation of 4,733 meters. The highway is also a legendary tourist attraction encompassing a rich blend of historic landmarks, cultural diversity, and natural beauty – a thrill for adventure lovers.
Starting from Hasanabdal in Punjab province of Pakistan, the Pakistani section of the highway culminates at the Pak-China border at Khunjerab Pass. The entire highway passes through the rugged terrain of KPK, twisting northeast along the bank of River Indus, and glides through the Karakoram and Pamir Mountains until it meets the Chinese section at Khunjerab Pass. The Chinese section of the highway continues further along the Pamir Mountains to Kashghar. The Karakoram Highway is called the Friendship Highway in China. Yet, due to its rugged terrain, high elevation, and hard conditions in which it was forced through, it is sometimes referred to as Eighths Wonder of the World.
The total length of the KKH is approximately 1300 (810 mi) km, with 887 km in Pakistan and 413 km in China Though the new route does not follow exactly the old silk route but the track follows mostly the same region so it can be said as revive of the old Silk Route. It is estimated that each kilometer constructed cost a labor, both Pakistani and Chinese. The Chinese workers who died during the construction are buried in the Chinese cemetery or China Yadgar in Danyore near Gilgit.
Historically the Karakoram Highway was a caravan trail – one of the several branches of the ancient Silk Route that has hosted traders, pilgrims, warriors, and common men for several centuries whose movement along the route brought about tremendous changes in social, cultural and economic aspects of the lives of residents.
Construction of the Highway
Long before the Karakoram Highway or the KKH was constructed the northern areas (now Gilgit-Baltistan) were attracted by the Russians, Chinese, and the British merely due to its strategic importance yet the access to the region was a sheer challenge. The British being in power during the 1800s decided to sustain their authority by building an all-weather communication infrastructure along the Indus. Materializing the idea was not an easy task though. The British simply improved an old Srinagar foot track into a mule track at the initial phase and later another seasonal passage was devised through Chilas over the Babusar Pass to connect to the Kaghan valley which hardly remained open for 3 months a year during summers.
Following the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, the Srinagar road was blocked permanently. It was the time when the northern areas were divided into several states functioning under the local rulers. In the year 1958, to build an all-weather road link between Swat and Gilgit, Indus Valley Road (IVR) was conceived. Its construction was started as a joint venture of the two governments in 1959. In 1966, under a Sino-Pak agreement, the government decided to develop the IVR into the Karakoram Highway. Near the completion phase, the construction work was discontinued due to financial constraints when the war broke out between Pakistan and India in 1971 but the valuable assistance from China made it possible to carry on.
At the initial stage, the KKH was to construct from Thakot to the Khunjerab Pass and then to be linked to the highway on the Chinese side. But later the entrance was shifted from Thakot to Hasan Abdal and the project was completed in 1979. The highway was opened to the general public in 1986. During the course of construction, about 800 Pakistanis and 200 Chinese workers lost their lives, mostly in landslides, yet the unofficial toll is believed to be much higher.
Reconstruction of the Karakoram Highway
In June 2006, a MoU was signed between Pakistan’s NHA and China’s CRBC to upgrade the KKH with overall width expansion from 10 to 30 meters to accommodate heavy-duty vehicles even in extreme weather conditions. However, the construction was carried out but the width remained almost the same as the original.
During the course of construction, the Attabad incident took place on 4 January 2010 when a section of the highway was damaged by a massive landslide in the Attabad valley of Hunza, about 19 kilometers upstream from Hunza’s capital of Karimabad,. The landslide shaped the 23 km long Attabad Lake, interrupted the flow of Hunza River and general travel along the Karakoram Highway. Construction of the tunnels through a revised 24 km long route began in July 2012 and was completed in September 2015. The realigned route through newly constructed 5 tunnels and a bridge restored the road link between Pakistan and China.
Socio-Economic Significance of the Highway
The entire region being mountainous the highway slashes through the collision zone between the Eurasian and Indian plates where China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan come within 250 kilometers (160 mi) radius. Essentially because of the enormously complex Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan, KKH has strategic and military significance to these nations, particularly Pakistan and China. The construction of Karakoram Highway has not only enriched trade and tourism between Pakistan and China but has contributed significantly to the improvement in living standards of the local population. CPEC is expected to bring enormous economic gains to the region but China and Pakistan are planning to link the Karakoram Highway to the southern port of Gwadar in Balochistan through the Chinese-aided Gwadar-Dalbandin railway, which extends to Rawalpindi.
Tourism Potential along the Karakoram Highway (KKH)
The Karakoram Highway has sought to receive international recognition and is now ranked as a niche adventure tourism destination. From Hassan Abdal (about 50kms from Rawalpindi city) the dual carriage asphalt ribbon leaves dusty plains of Punjab and enters through the lower Himalayas of Hazara district while heading north winding through several interesting natural and historic sites until the Pakistan section of the road meets the Chinese part at Khunjerab border in upper Hunza valley.
The Pakistani section of the highway is connected through more than 90 small and large bridges while making the way through the junction point of three mighty mountain ranges – the Karakorams, the Hindukush, and the Himalayas – and also the high Pamirs in Gilgit-Baltistan. From Hasan Abdal the highway winds through many beautiful spots up to Thakot where it meets the Indus River. The highway further traverses parallel to the Indus River for almost 300 km to the junction point and joined by the Gilgit River. The highway then passes through Gilgit after almost 40 km, the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan, where Gilgit River is joined by the Hunza River and continues through the valleys of Nagar and Hunza for another 280 km before it climbed to Khunjerab border.
The entire 887 km section of the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan from the plains of Punjab to the culmination at the Khujerab border, the land is extremely diverse and rich in tourist attractions – from the272 BC edicts of Ashoka in Mansehra to the world’s highest metal border at Khunjerab Pass encompassing a blend of attractions including rocky and snow-crowned mountain peaks, glaciers and rivers, tiny mountain valleys and terraced fields, fruit laden orchards and serene pastures, hiking trails and challenging treks, the junction point of three mountain ranges in the world and the collision point of Eurasian and Indian plate, people with diverse cultural background speaking different languages and dialects, and the four distinct seasons manifesting a diverse range of natural colors. The Karakoram highway is a paradise for cyclists and bikers to explore thoroughly.
Major Attraction along the Karakoram Highway (KKH)
To begin with, the historic 4-yard thick and 16 yards high fortress in Haripur (Now serving as police station); then Major James Abbott’s historic city – Abbottabad; the 272 BC edicts of Ashoka of Maurya dynasty inscribed on three large boulders in Mansehra; more than 20,000 pieces of rock art and petroglyphs dating back to between 5000 and 1000 BC concentrated at ten major sites between Shaital and Hunza; access to Fairy Meadows and Nanga Parbat BC, stunning views of Nanga Parbat (The Killer mountain and 2nd highest in Pakistan 8,126m high); Junction point of three mountain ranges; Kargah Buddha and Henzal Stupa near Gilgit town; attractions in Gilgit city; Chinese Graveyard and ancient rock carvings in Danyore; Monument in Rahimabad; Collision point of Eurasian and Indian Plate near Chalt; Sections of ancient silk rote along the highway; Rakaposhi View Point; Altit Fort & Baltit Fort; Duikar; Karimabad town, Altit old settlements, and ancient village of Ganish; Haldikish; Attabad Lake and Borit Lake; Passu Cathedrals and Batura Glacier; scenic views of Rakaposhi, Diran, Golden Peak, and Lady Finger; Hoper valley and Hoper Glacier, Passu valley and glacier, and the tiny terraced valleys along the gorge leading to Khunjerab, and the Hunza River, Gilgit River and Indus River are all part of this beautiful journey.
The KKH was ranked as “third best tourist destination” in Pakistan by “The Guardian”. It provides mountaineers and cyclists easy access to the attractions along the highway including mountains, glaciers, and lakes and also to interact with people. The highway also provides access to the two major tourist destinations –Gilgit and Baltistan – which host the highest mountains and longest glaciers outside polar region besides manifesting wealth of attractions.
For travelers along the KKH, there are sufficient food and accommodation arrangements. The major stopovers recommended are at Besham, Chilas, Gilgit, Hunza, and Sust where tourists can find standard accommodation at a reasonable price. There are also several short excursions to the nearby mountains, glaciers, and valleys one can carry out between Gilgit and Khunjerab. The best time to travel along the KKH is between April and November. The border at Khunjerab remains closed from the end of November until the start of April every year.