Explore the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan

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Secrets of the Silk Road: Discover the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan

Are you dreaming of adventures? Looking for your next hiking fix? Although we’re all stuck at home right now, that doesn’t mean you can’t plan for future bucket list expeditions.

If you’re searching for an activity holiday off the beaten track, then pack your hiking gear and head for Pakistan’s Karakoram Highway!

Northern Pakistan is an epic under-the-radar hiking destination, with dramatic mountain passes, sweeping valleys and glistening glaciers. You can expect jaw-dropping views and a friendly welcome from local residents, who will be delighted to take you on some truly epic treks through these high mountains.

This is a dream destination for keen hikers and adventurous travelers. A trip along the Karakoram Highway will leave you with incredible memories you won’t forget in a hurry!

To whet your appetite, here’s what you can expect from a hiking trip along the Karakoram Highway. 

What Is The Karakorum Highway?

Stretching for more than 1300km from the Punjab region of Pakistan to the ancient market town of Kashgar in China, the Karakoram Highway is a mountain road with a difference. It passes through the stunning Karakoram mountain range, and is one of the highest paved roads in the world.

The name ‘Karakoram’ means ‘black stones’ in Turkic languages. Gazing up at these dark, slightly menacing peaks, it’s not hard to see where these mountains get their name! 

The Karakoram Highway is the perfect place for an unforgettable road trip. It’s also one of the best hiking destinations in Pakistan. The entire region of Gilgit-Baltistan is packed with incredible hiking trails in breathtaking mountain scenery, nicknamed ‘little Tibet’.

With crystal lakes, creaking glaciers, sweeping valleys, and craggy, snow-capped peaks, there’s no better place to take a walk.

Old Route, New Road: History of the Karakoram Highway

Construction on the Karakoram Highway began in 1959 as a collaborative initiative between the governments of both Pakistan and China. In China itself, the route is known as ‘the Friendship Highway’. It passes through the narrow mountain corridor that connects China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

At the Khunjerab Pass, the border between China and Pakistan, the road rises to 4693m, making it the highest point of a border crossing the world (and the location for the highest ATM)!

The Karakorum Highway might be a modern construction, but it traces the path of one of the oldest trade routes in the world, the ancient silk road. The highway is part of the northern Silk Road. A conglomeration of tangled trading roads that moved goods back and forth across China, India, Central Asia and Persia, all the way to the Mediterranean.

Back in the day, you’d find all kinds of luxury goods and commodities traveling back and forth on these roads. From spices and silks to weapons and furs. 

However, the Silk Road was more than simply a place for economic exchange. Ideas, cultures, religions and people moved along these roads, creating a unique, vibrant and incredibly diverse culture.

Hiking along the Karakoram Highway is a chance to discover this rich past, stopping off at traditional villages and tracing the path of long-forgotten travelers. 

Hiking on the Karakoram Highway

Mere mention of the name of the Karakoram Range is usually enough to get mountaineers and climbers excited. In the northwest of the region, K2, otherwise known as the ‘savage mountain’ towers over the region, the second highest peak in the world after Everest.

K2 has a reputation as a deadly challenge, but it happens to be surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountains and valleys in the world. 

While most visitors won’t be attempting an ascent of K2, it’s still possible to trek along the Karakoram Highway all the way to the K2 Base Camp, a challenging route with plenty of scenic rewards. The best way to go trekking in the Karakorum Range is to travel with a reputable tour company. Use an expert guide who has all the local know-how to keep you safe and take you to some of the most spectacular viewpoints in the range.

Check out this K2 Base Camp Trek find out more about the fantastic things you’ll see along the way. 

Highlights of the Karakoram Highway

Here are a few of our highlights of hiking along the Karakoram Highway:

Deosai Plains National Park

Take a slight detour eastwards from the Karakoram Highway, and visit the remarkable Deosai Plains National Park. Sometimes known as the ‘Land of Giants’, this stunning high-altitude plateau and natural paradise is filled with wildflowers in spring, when the grassy plains are teeming with butterflies.

Look out for the incredibly rare Himalayan brown bear, snow leopards, golden eagles, and gray wolves.

Gondogoro Pass

Gondogoro La, or the Gondogoro Pass, is one of the most incredible hiking destinations in the Karakoram Range. This trek leads up to a 5585m-high mountain pass at the point where the Gondogoro Glacier and the Vigne Glacier meet.

You’ll need crampons and plenty of energy to make it to the top, but the views are simply incomparable. Looking out from the pass you’ll see some of the most iconic peaks in the range. Including K2, Masherbrum, Laila Peak and the Gasherbrums.

It’s no wonder this place was dubbed the ‘throne room of the gods’ by wildlife photographer Galen Rowell. 

Attabad Lake

Visitors to Attabad Lake may be surprised to learn that this beautiful, turquoise expanse of water was artificially created in 2010 after a massive landslide at Attabad village in the Hunza Valley. This tragedy resulted in a deadly flood that submerged over 19km of the Karakoram Highway, but the resulting lake is now a popular tourist attraction.

Come here for jet skiing, boating and fishing. Or simply put your feet up by the side of the stunning waters, and admire the view. 

Khunjerab Pass

The Khunjerab Pass, in addition to being one of the highest passes in the world, has a dark history. The name of the pass literally translates to ‘Valley of Blood’, so-named because of the bandits who used the location to ensnare unwitting merchants and travelers.

Today, however, it’s simply a dramatic, high-altitude border crossing. Set just above the beautiful Khunjerab National Park, where you can expect to catch a glimpse of rare Himalayan ibex and snow leopards. 

This remote, challenging landscape is a truly magical destination, perfect for adventurous travelers or keen hikers. See a slice of the world as you’ve never seen it before. Walk in the footsteps of countless medieval merchants, pilgrims and travelers, on the roof of the world. 

Do you enjoy daring adventures? Read more about traveling to Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir in India.

Photo Credit: Deosai Plains National Park, Gondogoro Pass, Attabad Lake, Khunjerab Pass

Accommodation near Karakoram Highway

Rad Season is providing you with hotels and Airbnbs at the lowest prices available online. Book your stay near Karakoram Highway using the map below!

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Lukas Saville

Lukas Saville picked up the travel-bug on his first trip to South East Asia. Since then he has traveled to North America, Central America, South America, and Europe. He found the passion for hiking in the UK’s beautiful Lake District, and hiking and backpacking have become the main goal of his travels ever since. Lukas prefers a night in the tent over a night in the hotel and loves exploring the best trails on earth and sharing his experiences through writing and photography. He hopes his experiences will help more people to start their own adventures and appreciate the world surrounding them a little bit more. Lukas’ favorite hike so far was the 4-day Machu Picchu trail. His next big dream is to do a thru-hike. Lukas has a Communication and Information Bachelor’s degree and has gained invaluable experience in marketing, media and customer relations. He can also rack a barrel and pour a perfect pint.

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