> Journeying 1 month on the KKH from Lahore to China's Xinjiang province <
We strongly believe that the Karakoram/Karakorum Highway simply is one of the best journeys in Asia or in the entire world for that matter. By implication, any serious traveler should consider to prioritize this journey once (or twice or thrice or…) in their lifetime. This is a rather daring postulate. We have spent a month on the KKH and here is how we've gotten to this conclusion: With the world’s highest concentration of lofty peaks and long glaciers we saw some of the most mind-bending mountain scenery anywhere. The whole Karakoram region is a geographical vortex between the Central Asian desert and the plains of Pakistan. It lies right in the middle of the collision zone of the Pamir, Kunlun, Hindukush, and Great Himalaya mountain systems, while China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan all come within 250km of each other. Not surprisingly, the region is super rich with natural beauty and cultural diversity. It's a melting pot of experiences.
The route is not a superhighway (as the title suggests). Rather it is a series of smaller high roads following a branch of the ancient Silk Road that travels from Rawalpindi and Islamabad in Pakistan to the Silk Road oasis of Kashgar in China’s rural Xinjiang province via the 4.730m Khunjerab Pass, the mythical Hunza Valley and the trading post of Gilgit. Despite half a dozen of languages, the entire region has sort of an identity of its own, defined by Islamic faith (many Shia and Ismaili), commerce, a demanding environment to live in, and a sense of alienation from greater China or Pakistan. Travel is cheap. Going overland the entire 1300km can cost less than US$100 (a bit more as we prioritized semi-technical trekking along the way), and it took us one month. One thing Karakoram Highway travel doesn’t have, however, is predictability. In July and August, we experienced several unplanned delays due to rock falls, floods and mud. A too fixed schedule would have made us frustrated.
On a note, many westerners have exaggerated fears of travel in Pakistan, and of Islamic fundamentalism. During this journey, we chose to dress conservatively in shalwar kameez and we cultivated a beard to avoid insults to Islamic sensibilities. In return, we experienced repeatedly the true Islamic tradition of hospitality, which made this journey a pleasure.
For even more mountain-madness in Pakistan check our mountaineering in the Hunza Valley. For other travels into the Himalayas on the Subindian Continent check our travels on the Hippy Trail into the Western Indian Himalayas and our exploration of the Eastern Indian Himalayas and Bhutan.