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Karakoram Highway: A Dream fifty years ahead of time!


Media Partner
Mar 4, 2017
Global Village Space |

Geographers tell us that some forty million years ago, when the Indian Continental Plate steadily moved north and collided with its Asian counterpart, it triggered the creation of the Himalayas.

Four giant crisscrossing mountain ranges: the Himalaya, Karakoram, Pamirs, and the Hindu Kush, formed an unprecedented concentration of the loftiest peaks and largest glaciers which have given birth to the most picturesque meadows, valleys, and lakes.

The mule tracks and dirt roads that ultimately became KKH can be traced back to the Han Dynasty of Ancient Chinese Civilization during 207 BCE-220 BCE. Tradesmen used these winding ‘silk routes’ to carry their wares – silk being the most precious of these – from one side of the continent to the other.

There were four major trade routes called Northern, Southern, North Western, and Maritime Silk Route. KKH is the modern expression of what was once the “Southern Route” connecting Ancient China with the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent, Iran, Mesopotamia, the Northern tip of the Syrian Desert, and the Mediterranean.

It was linked with the Italian peninsula through the sea route. Before the division of the British Indian empire into the new states of India and Pakistan, the Northern Areas were accessible to travelers only through two routes, the “Srinagar–Astore–Gilgit” mule track and the “Kaghan Valley” route crossing over the Babusar Pass to Chilas and Gilgit.

After 1947, the only option left within the new state of Pakistan was the Kaghan route, which unfortunately was only open four months of the year due to the severity of the weather in the region. Heavy snowfall, avalanches, and frequent land sliding left these areas inaccessible to the rest of the country most of the year.

These were the challenges of geography and climate that created the desire for what became known as the “Friendship Highway”. Traversing mountains above the height of four thousand meters (4714 meters, at highest point), KKH is one of the world’s highest paved roads, a marvel often declared as the eighth wonder of the world.

The Pakistani and Chinese engineers built it on their respective sides. One story, as narrated by Lieutenant Colonel Tanveer Hassan Bashir, Staff officer to Engineer-in-Chief during 1965-66 states, “the road link was suggested by China during the period
of Major General Nawabzada Agha Muhammad Raza, Ambassador of Pakistan to China (1962-1967) on the pretext that China is extending its road network till the China – Pakistan border, so should Pakistan for a road link between the two countries.

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Karakoram Highway: A Dream fifty years ahead of time!

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