At 4700 m the Khunjerab Pass is the highest paved international border crossing in the world. It is the meeting point of two sections of the Karakoram Highway connecting Gilgit-Baltistan area of northern Pakistan and Xinjiang province of western China. Out of the 1300 km highway, 887 km traverses through Pakistan while rest of the 413 km passes through the Chinese territory.
The area constituting the Khunjerab Pass (Or Khunzerav) is quite a fair stretch surrounded by the Karakoram mountains, mostly snow topped. During summers, the area around the Pak-China border pass is decked with a variety of wildflowers on green patches in the foothills of the glittering snow-covered mountains encompassing some of the most impressive sceneries in the world.
The Khunjerab Pass is the origin point of the Hunza River. The melting snow from the peaks around the border streams to form a creek that flows down and several of these waterways along the KKH meet to make up the Hunza River until it meets Gilgit River in Gilgit. The Gilgit River further flows along the Karakoram Highway and meets up the River Indus at the Junction point of three mountain ranges and continues all the way to Thakot.
Construction of the Khunjerab Pass
The Kilik and Mintaka Pass located to the north of Khunjerab served as primary passes on the Karakoram range before the construction of the KKH. The choice of Khunjerab Pass for Karakoram Highway was decided on the technical basis with the major reason being Kilik and Mintaka more susceptible to air strikes and Khunjerab was recommended in 1966 and created in 1978.
The Khunjerab Pass is a major tourist attraction drawing thousands of domestic and international tourists on a daily basis. The entire Karakoram Highway is crowned with natural and manmade attractions and scenic views at every turn. The panorama on the top is extraordinarily marvellous providing options for short hikes and for photography. A journey along the highway all the way to the border area simply provides with a lifetime experience.
The major portion of the Khunjerab Pass encompasses the Khunjerab National Park which was established in 1979 to preserve endangered species. The Khunjerab park is home to several rare animal species including the Marco Polo sheep and the Snow Leopard. The eastern stretch of the Khunjerab pass makes up the Chinese Xinjiang province territory which could be easily seen from the border area.
On the Pakistani side, the pass is 75 km from Sost customs and immigration check post while it is about 180 km from Hunza, 280 km from Gilgit airport and 890 km from the capital city Islamabad. On the Chinese side, it is 130 km from Tashkurgan, about 420 km from Kashgar, and 1890 km from Urumqui. There are helpful road-sign giving tourists information about the distances involved.
It must be noted that the Chinese side is right-hand drive and Pakistan side is left-hand drive. The border is the switching point.
Although the highway to the Pakistani side is very well paved yet the sudden altitude gain near the top again may slow down the journey. Likewise, there are checkpoints on both sides of the pass that may also lead to slow down the overall journey.
On the Pakistan side, there is a certain amount of fee charged to all local and international tourists. Currently, it is Rs. 40 from Pakistani tourists and $ 8 from international tourists. The entry fee may be revised every year and knowing the exact amount well in time will be a good idea to manage expenses particularly for large groups.
The pass remains opened from May till November for trade and tourism and in the remainder of the period remains closed and inaccessible due to heavy snowfall. During November it sometimes gets extremely cold and sometimes winds make it hard to stay on the top. However, in fine weather conditions, it is still a place must visit.
There is a daily bus service between Sost (the last human settlement along the KKH), Pakistan, and Tashkurghan, China. Both Pakistani and Chinese buses serve a drop service from their respective bus stations in the home country and return empty. One can hire private Cars/4WD from Sost to Tashkurghan for a drop-off and can proceed to Kashgar using a shared ride or simply hire a taxi.
Due to high altitude, it has been observed that some tourists may suffer altitude sickness. The symptoms including feeling dizziness, having headaches, or even experience shortness of breath. It is advisable to immediately return to low altitude and see a doctor or must carry altitude sickness medicine in advance.
During peak summers there are chances of flooding due to sudden snow melting near the top and a timely return is advisable. Moreover, sudden loose-gravel breaks, particularly in rainfall can also cause damages on the highway.
Whether you ride a motorbike or drive a car, and particularly if you are new to the refurbished KKH, be very careful to keep your cool on the accelerator and don’t ever be overconfident. After the renovation, the Karakoram Highway has cost many precious lives. For the tourists travelling from down cities, knowledge of the entire highway before planning to take up a self-drive tour is mandatory. Enjoy the trip and return home with beautiful memories.
Before you go
All Pakistani tourists must carry their CNIC and foreign tourists must have a Passport to prove their identification. Foreign tourists or Pakistani nationals crossing over to China must obviously carry a Chinese Visa (Pass for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan who only wish to travel to the nearby city of Kashgar).
Buses from Sost leave for Tashkurghan in the morning (between 08:00 am and 09:00 am) and it is advisable that the ticket be purchased well in time. In case if you wish to hire a car, there are private Pakistani cars allowed to travel all the way to Kashgar. The fare is not fixed and is negotiable.
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.
Rakaposhi is a famous mountain peak in the Karakoram mountain range of Pakistan, to be exact, standing arrogantly in the Nagar valley of Gilgit-Baltistan with Bagrot and Danyore in the background. It is the 27th highest and most amazing mountain in the world and ranked as 12th highest in Pakistan. Rakaposhi means “Snow Covered” and is locally called Bilchhar Dumani (“Mother of Mist” or “Mother of Clouds”).
The first and most fabulous glimpse of Rakaposhi, while travelling from Gilgit to Hunza, is from the Karakoram Highway (KKH) opposite to Kino Kutto (“Black Knee” in local Shina language to denote the shape of the rocky mountain located between Chalt and Khizr Abad). This site is also called the view point of Rakaposhi but the major and famous view point is located in Ghulmet. The broader view of Rakaposhi, however, at this particular spot with Jaffarabad village in the backdrop is stunning and serves as a threshold to Hunza.
The scenic views of Rakaposhi from this point ahead along the whole course of KKH all the way to the Hunza valley are diverse. However, if travelling from the opposite side of the Hunza River, along with the valleys of lower Hunza or Shinaki (Khizr Abad, Hussainabad, Mayun, and Khanabad), one can have stunning faces of Rakaposhi in sight. From Khanabad, it is possible to make it again to the KKH in Ghulmet, almost 5 km short of the viewpoint. The view point in Ghulmet village is about 75 km from Gilgit and is a famous vacationer spot.
Rakaposhi is notable for its exceptional rise over a local terrain of 5900m in only 11.2 km horizontal distance from the Hunza-Nagar River. It is the only mountain peak in the world rises directly from the scenic cultivated fields. Rakaposhi is more prevalent for its excellence than its rank.
Rakaposhi was first ascended by Mike Banks and Tom Patey via the Southwest Spur/Ridge route in 1958. Both endured minor frostbite amid the climb. Another climber slipped and fell on the drop and died amid the night.
The people of Nagar have dedicated the Rakaposhi extend mountain region as a national park and was inaugurated by Minister for Northern Areas. The Rakaposhi mountain extend is the home of endangered species including Marco Polo sheep, Snow Leopard, wolves and several other different species.
Rakaposhi View Point or “the Zero Point of Rakaposhi” is a prominent viewpoint offering the closest view of Rakaposhi and the natural beauty lies in its scenery. This remarkable viewpoint is located right on the Karakoram Highway (KKH) in Ghulmet village of Nagar Valley.
The Karakoram Highway is not merely an asphalt line connecting Pakistan and China at the Khunjerab Pass; it is rather a highway crowned with a series of tourist attractions. These attractions include natural beauty, archaeological sites, cultural heritage and architectural wonders that lure tourists to make short stopovers and overnight stays to further explore these attractions. Rakaposhi View Point is one of such places bearing utmost natural beauty.
While travelling between Gilgit and Hunza, tourists make a must stopover at the Rakaposhi View Point, to relax and to enjoy the natural scenery in the shadow of Rakaposhi – the world’s 27th highest peak at 7,788 m. Small terraces along the water flowing down from the glacier have been created for tourists to sit, eat, and enjoy. During summers tourists enjoy sitting by, dipping feet in cold glacier water, and taking pictures of scenic views.
The Rakaposhi View Point was developed dramatically over the course of several years. The gradual rise in tourist influx lead to a steady increase in its prominence that further spurred development of infrastructure at the site. Major natural attractions at the site include the mountain itself, the glacier surrounded by greenery and the melting stream flowing down the site permitting the visitors to enjoy the scenery and breeze.
In the beginning, the Rakaposhi viewpoint was nothing more than a gift shop and a local food outlet to serve mostly local travellers. Steadily, the development of local businesses including gift shops, handicraft shops, tuck shops, restaurants, campsite and now tourist class accommodation has turned this place a full-fledged tourist attraction. A new road has been constructed giving close access to the glacier coming down from Rakaposhi and development of other tourist attractions is underway. There are chances that this site will turn to be a major tourist destination.
For tourists travelling between Gilgit and Hunza, this place is a great choice to stop by for a late and lavish breakfast or for an open-air lunch with great views. Chap-shuro, a kind of local pizza is the speciality of this place. One can order any kind of fresh local food at an affordable price. You will always get delicious food with personalized services.
Pakistan is a unique and blessed state made up of Asia’s most remarkable landscapes. It has diverse geography blended with rich cultures and a long tradition of hospitality mirrored by the people of its country. There is no other country in the world presenting more prospects to trace roots of modern-day humans than Pakistan.
The territory that constitutes today’s Pakistan has for centuries been a cradle of ancient civilizations and home to ancient cultures and dynasties. Tracing its history back from the 9000 years old Neolithic Mehergarh civilization followed by the 5000 years old bronze age Indus Valley Civilization, the 3000 years old Buddhist Gandhara Civilization, the 16th century Mughal Era, the brief Sikh rule, and the 200 years British occupation, until independence in 1947, Pakistan has seen unprecedented events that no other independent sovereign state might have gone through.
Officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is the world’s 6th most populous country in South Asia housing more than 212,742,631 people (as per 2017 census). It is the 33rd-largest country encompassing 881,913 square kilometres (340,509 square miles). The country has four provinces – Sindh, Baluchistan, Punjab, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – and three territories – FATA, Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan – surrounding a well-planned modern capital city, Islamabad, located in the heart of the state.
Pakistan is strategically placed on the crossroads of Asia and divided into three major geographic areas – the northern highlands, the Indus River plains, and the Balochistan Plateau. The country is bordered by the 1046 km coastline of the Arabian Sea in the south, India to the east, China to the northeast, Afghanistan to the northwest, and Iran to the southeast. From the mighty glaciated mountain ranges in the north (Gilgit-Baltistan) to the coastal areas of the south the diverse landscape of Pakistan is rich in alluvial fertile planes, vast deserts, dense forests, plateaus, jungles, flora and fauna, rivers, and lakes.
Pakistan is abundant in tourist attractions.
The northern mountainous part of the country constitutes some parts of KPK (Chitral, Swat, and the Kaghan Valley), Azad Jammu & Kashmir, and the entire Gilgit-Baltistan (formerly northern areas) – making up the westernmost edge of the great Himalayas – a unique playground for adventure lovers. The region is ideal for adventure sports and is known as a haven for nature and adventure lovers.
Gilgit-Baltistan has the honour of hosting world’s highest mountains and longest glaciers located outside the polar region famous for trekking, mountaineering, climbing, white water rafting, mountain & desert jeep safaris, and paragliding. The junction point of three mighty mountain ranges – the Karakoram, the Hindukush, and the Himalaya – and the Pamir mountain range exist in Gilgit-Baltistan. The region has been the melting pot of Buddhism and remained one of the several trade routes of ancient Silk Route – currently the Karakoram Highway connecting Pakistan and China Pakistan and China at Khunjerab Pass as a trade and tourism artery embellished by more than 100,000 petroglyphs and rock carvings testifying the Buddhist rule, towering mountains with tiny valleys and terraced fields in the backdrop, ancient forts featuring architectural dexterity, and hundreds of years old rich history of the natives.
The central territories of the country feature mostly, dense forests, vast deserts, and fertile lands so abundant in history and culture housing unique landmarks. Its archaeological heritage making up ancient sites such as Moenjo-Daro & Harappa of Indus Valley Civilization as well as Taxila & Takht-i-Bahi of Gandhara Civilization are the spotlights drawing domestic and international visitors in volumes. In addition to these sites, Pakistan boasts a wealth of architecturally significant landmarks, many dating from the Islamic era, Moghul Empire, Sikh rule, and from the British era, located in Lahore, Multan, Bahawalpur, Karachi & Peshawar.
Its southern region constituting Sindh and Baluchistan make up archaeological sites, religious landmarks, architectural heritage, lakes, and some of the world’s best golden beaches stretching along the coastal line. The Makran Coastal Highway from Karachi to Gwadar and Jiwani is a unique highway in the world crowned with exclusive tourist attractions. Pakistan hosts six of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and several dozens of sites still lined up to be declared the World Heritage.
The country’s major cities reflect historic and modern influences. The people of different colors and creeds having diverse cultural backgrounds living in different parts of these cities belonging to diverse ethnic groups, practicing their own faiths, wearing colorful costumes speaking some of the world’s distinct languages, consuming rich diet, maintaining and harmonious society are known as the most hospitable people present a true image of the country.
Pakistan is accessible by road from China via Khunjerab border, from Afghanistan via Khyber Pass (currently closed), From Iran via Taftan border and from India via the Wahga border. By air, Pakistan is accessible from several countries directly and indirectly. A number of international flag carriers fly to the major airports of Pakistan including Islamabad, Lahore, Multan, Peshawar, Sialkot, and Karachi.
The region’s four distinct seasons, its countless landmarks including the highest mountain ranges and longest glaciers outside polar region, crystal blue lakes, gushing rivers, longest highways, trekking routes, terraced fields, monuments, cuisines, and cultural diversity are what make it a distinguished region and draw tourists in volumes.
Nestled in the lap of mountains, at an elevation of about 15000 ft., the scenic Naltar valley near Gilgit town in Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan is a striking pine pasture and a prominent tourist destination. The highland is a perfect summer retreat and a world-famous winter ski resort in Pakistan drawing national and international skiers every year for ski competitions. The lush green valley is heavily wooded with pine, spruces, birch, rowan, and juniper, the entire valley is guarded by green hills and snow-topped mountains. It is home to the local Gujjar tribe who grow potatoes famous for their taste and size.
Geography and access
The hill station is located about 19 km uphill barren gorge from Nomal Valley which serves as a base and located at the mouth of the gorge. The Nomal valley itself is located at 20 km from Gilgit via the west bank of the Hunza River and about 70 km from Hunza valley along the Karakoram Highway across Rahimabad and accessible by a concrete bridge over the Hunza River.
From Nomal Lower Naltar (Naltar Payeen or Khirini Naltar in local Shina Language) is about 7 km and then it is another 6 km to Upper Naltar (Naltar Bala or Ajeeni Naltar in local Shina language). Altogether, from Gilgit, it takes about 2.5 hrs while from Hunza it takes about 4 hrs to drive to upper Naltar.
The Naltar valley is highly recommended for a day excursion from Gilgit for anyone looking to spend a day out of hustle and bustle or to enjoy the absolute serenity. One can also plan an overnight stay or two. There are accommodation facilities in the valley and one can go camping. Major attractions in the valley are:
Naltar has now established itself as a prime winter sports destination and now international ski competitions held here. Being at a fair elevation, Naltar receives a good spell of snow every year. There are ski lifts operational under the ‘Ski Federation of Pakistan’. The annual ski competition draws national and international sportsmen every year in February.
The valley also serves as a base for two medium category beautiful treks; one across the Naltar Pass (about 4,600 meters) eastward to Ishkoman valley and the other across the Daintar Pass (4,636 meters) westward to Chalt. Naltar is a two-hour drive and about 47 kilometers from Gilgit via the west bank of the Hunza River to Nomal Village.
From Upper Naltar to the Lakes is about 13 km jeep-able road. However, it also serves as a beautiful walking trail particularly when the road is blocked or washed away. By foot, it takes 2-3 hours while the downhill walk is less than 2 hrs. The rough jeep track runs along the rivulet all the way to the lakes. The colorful lakes are named as Bashkiri Lake – I, Bashkiri Lake – II, and Bashkiri Lake – III, located fairly close to each other at the end of the gorge. Naltar Lakes are also locally known as “Chimo Bari (fish Lake)”, ” Chakar Bari (Multi Ends Lake)’ & “Bodolok Bari (Turbid Lake)
The lakes are surrounded by dense pine forests. Winters are harsh and the lakes are hard to reach because of the snow that usually piles up to 10 to 15 feet. Summers attract a huge number of local and international tourists and trekkers.
The glacial waters originating from the end bordering the Wakhan Corridor collect to make a rivulet which flows through the center of the gorge till it meets the Hunza River. Camping, cooking, and other fun activities along the water is an added beauty for the visitors.
Camping and outdoor activities
There are plenty of camping sites and one can plan overnight/weekend camping. The valley is safe and one can find fresh veggies at a reasonable price. There are hiking trails leading to scenic points. The valley is well known for its flora and fauna and splendid medium range mountains.
Weather in Naltar Valley
The weather in Naltar is always romantic. Even during peak summers, the Lakeside at Naltar receives light spells of rain several times a day. The fluctuating romantic weather and scenery in the surrounding make the trip worth of it.
Light refreshment (tea and cookies) for tourists can be had at the Lakeside, however, tourists willing to spend the whole day at Naltar are recommended to make personal arrangements.
Naltar valley is only accessible by 4WD Jeeps being the road nonmetallic, narrow, rough and tough. Transport can be arranged from Gilgit. There is a camping facility and one can stay overnight in tents.