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The Karakoram Highway - The southern Silk Road

The Karakoram Highway is one of those legendary roads to travel in Asia. The name implies it's a big 2 or 4 way street. In fact, it's not even close to a "highway" but it is a road. This road is the road that connects Pakistan to China, for many years. It's a magnificent road!

Karakoram Highway, near Passu in December

On the way to Passu, north Pakistan.

I know, I should be more precise, the Karakoram Highway, or KKH as it is known starts actually in Abbottabad. Up to this town the road is 4 way street and pretty busy.

The legend of the KKH is long and spectacular. Everybody has heard of the legendary Silk Road. As the legend goes, it was the road where silk was transported from China to Europe. The truth of the Silk Road is slightly different.

In the old days there were no merchants traveling the whole route. In fact, silk and other goods from China were transported via different roads, which includes the legendary road Marco Polo traveled. \

Trucks on the Karakoram Highway Pakistan

However, goods were usually traded in cities on the roads going west and south (looking from Chinese perspective.

Therefore we can't say there was one Silk Road. In fact, there were many. The Karakoram Highway as we know the road nowadays was one of those Silk Roads.

From Kashgar (or Kashi as it is known in China) goods were transported over the Khunjarab Pass to the lower lands of the western Indian subcontinent. It was a hard and dangerous road. And even today, it's still a hard road.

I have traveled the Karakoram Highway two times. It's a beautiful experience. As said above, the road starts in Abbottabad and goes north following the Indus to the Khunjarab Pass.

Terrific views on the Karakoram Highway
Terrific views on the Karakoram Highway

The last 15 kilometers are hairpin curves to the pass and then the road swindles down to a more widespread open land with mountains surrounding and gorgeous lakes. In my humble opinion, some of the most beautiful landscapes I have seen where on this road.

One of the many over 6000 meter peaks around the KKH
One of the many over 7000 meter peaks around the KKH

Most people start in Islamabad and cycle from there on a modern 4 way street to Abbottabad, the official starting point of the Karakoram Highway.

Although it was late in the season, I tried my luck in going first to Murree, a little formerly British Hill Station. The idea was to cycle to Muzzafarabad and then go west to the Karakoram Highway. Here you can read my adventures at the Karakoram Highway to Murree

When I arrived at Abbottabad, I had the long Karakoram Highway in front of me. Here's a few lines about my journey to Chilas.

Hunza Valley
Hunza Valley, if paradise ever existed... it might have been here

The next leg would bring me to Gilgit. It's important to know Gilgit in in fact the last city of any size in Pakistan. The next sizable city is Tashkorgan, hundreds of kilometers away.

Supplies can be found further on the KKH in Hunza or Sost but more major things, you have to buy here in Gilgit. There are no descent bicycle shops in Gilgit, as there are none on the whole Karakoram Highway. But if necessary, you could do some very basic repairs in the local bike shops in Gilgit. Don't expect high quality material, the main tool for a bicycle repairman is the hammer but they have magic hands and will be able the most impossible things.

Karimabad Hunza Valley Karakoram Highway Hunza Karimabad
This man made his instruments himself, a master musician
despite he just poses for the photo here

The northern Karakoram Highway

I usually say to people: "If paradise has existed, Hunza with Karimabad as it's center could be one of the possible places". Hunza is beautiful, surrounded by several 6000 meter plus mountains along the Indus river it has a long history.

Further north, the Karakoram Highway follows the Indus all the way to Sost. Here's the Pakistan border post. From here on the road slowly starts swindling up to the physical border.

The Karakorum mountain range, on the way to Gilgit

Pakistani and Chinese soldiers keep an eye on the road. After passing the physical border it's another long way to the Chinese customs in Tashkorgan.

The country side you're traveling in now is open and mostly empty though nomads still live here. One of the most beautiful lakes I ever saw, Karakul Lake is a great place to camp, though not in winter!

The Karakoram highway ends in Kashgar, the great trade city in the far west of China. Marco Polo writes about Kashgar. Walking on the legendary market, and reading Marco Polo's diary, one can see there's not much changed in 700 years. Kashgar's' Sunday Market is still a must have seen in the whole of Central Asia and China.

And thus we come to the point, what did I do on that road?

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Karakoram Highway

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Islamabad via Murree to Abbottabad

I thought it would be neat to cycle via Muzzafarabad and hoped to slip through the check posts. NO WAY, I had to go back

Karakoram Highway via Murree

Cycling in Central Pakistan

Ramadan in Pakistan and other adventures in Multan

Cycling in Central Pakistan


This is why everybody wants to travel the KKH: Hunza valley. If paradise ever existed, it might very well have been here.

The road to Chilas