The Karakorum Highway (KKH), N-35, is the greatest wonder of the modern world. The highway is also dubbed as the 8th wonder of the world. It is a human determination and ingenuity and considered a great feat of engineering by Chinese and Pakistani workers. It runs along the Indus for 310 kilometers and leaves the Indus at the Junction of three mountain ranges for Gilgit, Hunza, and Khunjerab rivers to take on the Karakoram range where 12 out of 30 highest mountains in the world overlook the KKH. The Karakoram Highway tourist attractions are worldly known and there is no other highway in the world crowned with such rich attractions.
The 1300 kilometers (800 miles) long KKH originates from Hassan Abdal, a historic city some 45 kilometers from Islamabad on the Islamabad – Peshawar Highway. The asphalt ribbon runs through the cities of Abbottabad, Manshera, crosses the River Indus at Thakot, on to Gilgit through rugged mountains of Besham, Pattan, and Sazin and Chilas, and snakes through Hunza and Sost before crossing the Khunjerab Pass at 4,733 meters (15,750ft). The Khunjerab top is also named as Zero Point between Pakistan and China. The highway then enters the high Central Asian plateau before winding down through the Pamirs to Kashgar, at the western edge of the Taklamakan Desert.
The Karakoram Highway is crowned with a huge number of attractions ranging from ancient rock carvings and petroglyphs, natural beauty, and manmade marvels. Major attractions along the Karakoram Highway include:
Ashoka Rocks Mansehra
The three granite boulders bearing 14 edicts engraved by order of the Mauryan King Ashoka in the 3rd century BC are located on the north side of the town of Mansehra. The inscription bearing Kharoshti script is fading away and almost impossible to see despite the shelters to protect.
Petroglyphs in Chilas
The town of Chilas is surrounded by striking petroglyphs and are easy to access. The jeep bridge leading to Thalpan is the ‘Chilas I’ site with inscriptions found on both sides of the KKH. The most striking art is found on the large stupa bearing banners flying. And across the river, there are boulders bearing art of mythical animals, battle scenes, royal lineages, and Buddhist tales. The ‘Chilas II’ site near the police check post on the KKH, less than 1km down the jeep track, is a huge rock bearing hunting and battle scenes and Buddhist stupa, the long-horned ibex, symbols of fertility, and elusive trophy animals.
About 80 km short of Gilgit placed the Thakot Bridge on the Karakoram Highway which is also the place of departure for Fairy Meadows and Nanaga Parbat (the Killer Mountain) base camp. There are several places along the Karakoram Highway and Thalechi viewpoint is a designated point to make a short stopover to enjoy superb views of Nanga Parbat.
The Partab Bridge (Pul, in urdu), located at about 40 km southeast of main Gilgit city near the Junction Point of Three Mountain Ranges on the KKH, served as a major source of communication for the entire region. It was built to connect Gilgit with Bunji, Astore and Kashmir, years before the construction of the Karakoram Highway (KKH). The bridge was named after Maharaja Partab Singh, Maharaja of Kashmir in the 1890s.
The suspension bridge was constructed during 1889 and 1893 by a British agent named Col Algernon Durand who also inaugurated it and was used mainly for defense and trade. However, during the revolt of 1947 when Gilgit won its independence from Dogra raj, it was burnt down. Later it was rebuilt but again it had nearly collapse from a decade long neglect and was rebuilt after 2010 floods.
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.
Uprising Memorial Gilgit
The Uprising Memorial is the final resting place of local heroes who rose against the Maharaja in 1947. The local heroes Mohammed Babar Khan and Safiullah Beg of the Gilgit Scouts, and Mirza Hassan Khan of the Kashmir Infantry. Through a rebellion, these heroes were able to emancipate Gilgit-Baltistan by arresting Governor Ghansara Singh on Nov 01 from the Maharaja of Kashmir.
The 700 years old Victory Monument of Taj Mughal is a commemorative tower, measuring 21’-10” high and 14’-4” wide, located on a mountain lap in Gilgit town, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. The monument was named after Taj-ud-Din Mughal, an Ismaili ruler from Badakhshan, who came to Gilgit -Baltistan during the 13th century AD. The Taj Mughal monument was built by his soldiers to celebrate his victory.
The Danyore Suspension Bridge near Gilgit is one of the oldest suspension bridges in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. The 510 ft long bridge has served as a source of commute to the people otherwise had to take the local raft or a detour to travel to Gilgit city – the administrative headquarter and the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly northern areas. It is now serving as one of the major tourist attractions in Gilgit-Baltistan used only by the pedestrians and motorcyclists.
The Danyore Rock Inscriptions is a gigantic boulder bearing inscriptions from the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. The inscription is the most important discovery of Danyor and was seen for the first time by Karl Jettmar in 1958. The inscribed rock is situated in the premises of a private house in Danyore, across Gilgit city in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan and is locally known as “Likhitu Giri”. The archaeological site is not very much popular and known only to a limited count of individuals/organizations related to archaeology and tourism.
Locally known as China Yadgar, the Chinese graveyard (The memorial Park) is the final resting place of mighty Chinese engineers and workers who sacrificed their lives during construction of the mighty Karakoram Highway (KKH) in the 1960s and 1970s. The cemetery is located in Danyore, about 10 km across main Gilgit town – the capital city of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan. To be exact, the graveyard can be accessed in the residential area on the KKH, adjacent to Sehat Foundation Hospital.
Memorial Monument on the KKH
Memorial monument on the KKH
At a distance of about 35 km from Gilgit, on the main Karakoram Highway, a monument bearing the symbol of a Drilling Machine has been erected in memory of the brave people who lost their lives during the construction of the Karakoram Highway. The monument reads:
MEMORIAL 103 EB (Engineering Battalion)
In memory of their gallant men who proffered to make the Karakorams their permanent abode.
There shall be-
In that rich soil a richer dust conceals.
Silk Route segments
Running parallel to the Karakoram Highway, across the river between Gilgit and Hunza, several sections of the ancient Silk Route still exist retaining the rich legacy of ancient trade. It is only being used by the locals mostly to graze heard or to travel locally to annexing valleys. These sections can be utilized to draw in tourists.
The collision point of continental plates is located near Chalt Valley on the Karakoram Highway (KKH), some 53 km north of Gilgit town. The Indian and the Eurasian continental plates collided along a line which passed through this point giving rise to the Himalayan mountain range and formed Tibetan plateau some 50 million years ago. The tremendous pressure forced the earth’s crust to produce the towering Karakoram Mountains in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan.
Kino Kutto” or the Black Knee in local Shina language, is a section of the historic Silk Road which is now not in use. Located high up on the cliff side between Budalas valley of Nagar and Khizrabad village of Hunza, the section can easily be seen from the KKH. Once a footpath, then evolved to a pony track, it was later widened to a single jeep road in 1958-60 but remained unused since the construction of the Karakoram Highway. However, to show the nature of the historic connection, the Aga Khan Cultural Services Pakistan (AKCSP), with funding from the Royal Norwegian embassy Islamabad, restored the visible section of the road in partnership with Budalas and Khizerabad (Hunza) communities. Kinu Kutto has great views of Rakaposhi.
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 Nilt Fort was a fort once existed in Nilt, Nagar, on the main KKH about 65km from Gilgit. It was destroyed in the famous Anglo-Brusho war fought between locals of Hunza-Nagar and the British during 1891revolt. The Nilt Fort withstood for days but the offensive from a far superior army, duly supported by a local conspiracy, apparently lead to its destruction. However, a lasting history still remains. It’s not just the Nilt Fort that disappeared and only seen in the literature but the historic Maiun Fort in lower Hunza (Shinaki) across the river and the forts in Chaprote, Thol, and Pisson have all disappeared gradually even without any historical accounts. The Nilt Fort site is easily overlooked by travellers, even though it is easily accessible on the way to Hunza from Nagar.
Queen Victoria Monument
Locally known as Malika mo Shikari, the Queen Victoria Monument on the shoulder of the rock face over Karimabad is a tower believed to be erected by Nazim Khan. The tower can be reached in an hour from Baltit village by going straight up to the base of the cliff.
The Kha Basi Café is a unique restaurant located under the shadow of Altit Fort in the ancient royal garden called “the Kha Basi” – a gorgeous and very well-kept-up fruit orchard full of apricot trees – located on the edge of the Altit town in Hunza Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. It was a nice piece of simple old-fashioned architecture almost falling to decay. The Café was recently renovated and turned into a classic restaurant. Standing at the verge of the royal garden, overlooking the majestic mountains of Hunza/Nagar and the Karakoram Highway running along the Hunza River, the Kha Basi Café has both majestic views and a traditional taste.
Perched on the edge of a 1000 feet high rocky cliff rising sharply from the Hunza River, the epoch-making 900 years old impressive Altit Fort is one of the ancient forts surviving today in Gilgit-Baltistan (formerly northern areas), Pakistan. It has, for centuries, served as a palace to the local Mirs – the hereditary rulers of the state of Hunza – and later as a fort following some subsequent additions. The award-winning Altit Fort is a major tourist attraction not only because of its longstanding rich history but also for its unique architectural design facing the Karakoram Highway and for its strategic location on the ancient Silk Route.
Standing arrogantly on the moraine of Ultar glacier, with a commanding view of Hunza valley and its tributaries, the over 700 years old Baltit Fort featuring the Tibetan influenced architecture, is a glorious structure purposefully built for defence and definition of the then rulers of Hunza. The majestic fort now serves as a museum and a cultural centre. Baltit Fort is the recipient of several international awards and holds a global recognition.
Ganish Historic Settlement
Ganish (derived from Ghenish which in local brushaski language means Gold) is the oldest and the very first known settlement on the ancient Silk Road (now the Karakoram Highway) in the Hunza Valley. The town is located about 100 km (approx 2.5 hours traveling time) from Gilgit and about 180 km, approx 3.5 hours) from the Chinese border and situated on the right bank of Hunza River. It is one of the striking valleys bearing a rich history. The more than 1000 years old settlement (now renovated) houses various homes, narrow streets, imposing watch towers, traditional mosques with striking floral designs, modern religious centers, and a water reservoir near the main entrance.
Haldikish – the sacred rocks of Hunza – is a 30 ft high and 200 yards long huge boulder on the left bank of Hunza River located at a distance of 1.5 km from Ganish village and about a kilometre from Ganish Bridge on the KKH. The rocks are inscribed with the scripts and carvings of many different eras from past. Divided into two major portions, the upper portion of the sacred rock consist of inscriptions carved in Sogdian, Kharosthi, Brahmi, Sarada and Proto Sarada languages while the lower portion is engraved by the images of Ibexes. These ibexes are shown in different situations, including being hunted. There used to be many Buddhist shelter caves in ancient times which later collapsed or fell over time.
The Attabad Lake in Hunza, on the main Karakoram Highway, is a gorgeous lake and a major tourist attraction. It was created as a result of a massive landslide on January 04, 2010. The incidence claimed precious human lives and properties appearing a doomsday at the time of occurrence, but the entire scenario changed over time and unlocked a range of opportunities in the region. The lake has earned a great reputation and already placed itself as a leading tourist hotspot drawing a multitude of visitors on a daily basis.
At 2,600 meters (8,500 ft) Borith Lake is a natural lake surrounded by Borith hamlet in Gulmit, upper Hunza Valley in Gilgit–Baltistan, Pakistan. The lake can be reached via a 2 km unpaved uphill jeep track from Husseini village, adjacent to Ghulkin village, on the KKH. The lake is a sanctuary for migrating wildfowl and is often visited by bird-watchers and nature lovers. The site is also a launching pad for beautiful Patundas trek and walking trails to nearby villages of Gulkin and Kamaris in Gulmit Village.
Husseini Suspension Bridge
The Husseini Suspension Bridge over the Hunza River in upper Hunza (Gojal) is a rickety cable and plank bridge with huge gaps between them. The long bridge connects Husseini village with Zarabad hamlet and used by locals mostly with heavy loads on. Tourists flock from around the world to test their nerves on this crumbling structure. It is probably the worst still-functioning bridge in the world located at about 45 km from Aliabad Hunza and 132 km from Gilgit.
The 20.5 km long Passu Glacier spreading over 115 sq km can be seen as soon as one enters the Passu village while travelling from the south to north along the Karakoram Highway. The glacier is located to the east of the highway displaying a panoramic view. At the same time, one has the best ever views of the entire Passu valley and the Passu Cones (Cathedrals) from this point. The Passu Glacier flows directly from the 7,478m (24,534 ft) Passu Peak which itself is positioned in the back end of the glacier.
Passu Cathedral or the Passu cones are the jagged spires rising from a set of mountain peaks located to the north of Passu Valley in the Karakoram mountain range of Pakistan. Standing to the other side of the Hunza River, the cones present a majestic view from different points along Karakoram Highway passing through the Gulmit and Passu Valleys. The sun-drenched mountain peaks are known by several names including Passu Cones, Cathedral Spires, and locally called Tupopdan but are still prominent among the tourists as Passu Cathedral. Passu Cathedral is the most photographed peak scaled for the first time by the British in 1987.
Sost is a beautiful village in upper Hunza and the last town on the Karakoram Highway before the Chinese border. At 2800 m above the sea level Sost is now a busy bazaar, has Pakistani immigration and customs departments based here, and all the trade goods and passengers pass through this town. It is almost a melting pot of diverse people, mostly traders, from different geographic backgrounds. Local inhabitants speak Wakhi Language but here almost every language is spoken which is spoken in all major cities of Pakistan besides some dialects of Chinese language and also English as a tourist language. Sost has a couple of good hotels providing accommodation facilities for domestic and international tourists.
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.
Passu Cathedral or the Passu cones are the jagged spires rising from a set of mountain peaks located to the north of Passu Valley in the Karakoram mountain range of Pakistan. Located to the other side of the Hunza River, the cones present a majestic view from different points along Karakoram Highway passing through the Gulmit and Passu Valleys.
The sun-drenched mountain peaks are known by several names including Passu Cones, Cathedral Spires, and locally called Tupopdan but are still prominent among the tourists as Passu Cathedral. Passu Cathedral is the most photographed peak scaled for the first time by the British in 1987.
The origin of the name “Passu” is still ambiguous but there are several attractions associated with it. Notable among them are the stunning Passu Village, Passu Glacier, Passu Peak and of course the Passu Cathedral. All these attractions can be seen from the Karakoram Highway.
The Passu Cathedral is located near the Khunjerab border between Pakistan and China in upper Hunza, about 50kms from central Hunza valley, and some 150kms from Gilgit town. The elegant mountains can be seen from Attabad Lake while driving along the Karakoram Highway. The jagged rocky peaks thrusting skywards from the rest of the Karakoram Range present breathtaking views from Shishkat, Gulmit, and Passu.
A major reason the gorgeous Passu valley is famous for is the 6,106m (20,033 ft) pyramid shape Passu Cathedrals bearing a striking beauty. The Passu Valley is located at 2,400 metres, but from their base, the gleaming cones are almost four kilometres, straight up, and are inspired by its unique structural attributes.
The gorgeous mountain begins to glow when the first rays of sun shined over the jagged cones, particularly, it glitters when it has layers of snow on. And as the day’s last rays shimmer off the cones it turns golden-bronze – a panorama worth observing.
The Cathedral range is surrounded by renowned peaks including Passu Sar, Shishpar, and the 56km long Batura glacier which is the seventh longest non-polar glacier making edge near the KKH. The Passu valley itself serves as base and kick-off point for trekkers heading for diverse treks surrounding the valley.
For the people travelling along the Karakoram Highway in the upper part of Hunza, trekking up Batura glacier, visiting the remote Shimshal valley, or driving further to Khunjerab Pass, the Passu Valley is an ideal base to acclimatize, enjoy the breathtaking views, and taste some traditional organic food. Particularly, to feast the eyes with the early morning sun rays hitting the jagged peaks of glowing Passu Cathedral.