History of Karakoram Highway

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The first time I read about the Karakoram Highway – the so-called “Highway in the Clouds” and universally referred to as the KKH – was in the early 1980’s whilst the road was still under construction by teams of Chinese and Pakistani road-builders. The Chinese call it the “The Friendship Highway”. Many refer to it as “The Eighth Wonder of The World”, linking the Central Asian Chinese province of Xinjiang with Pakistan’s “Northern Areas” province through territory where, according to multiple surveys over many years by the top road-building experts of the world, a road would be impossible to construct. Nonetheless, the two countries decided that nothing is impossible and they did, indeed, make it happen.

It took them, with more than ten thousand workers on the job, some 20 years to complete this road, constructing over 160 river and ravine bridges on the way and when they finally cut the inauguration tape at their common frontier, they had pushed a fairly dangerous but nonetheless negotiable route through stretches which often involved workers hanging from harnesses hundreds of feet long as they blasted ledges above river gorges. In other places, the repetitive movement of scree slopes rising from the roadside up and up and up into the sky often confounded road-building over long distances. The road traverses some of the most mind-bending mountain scenery in the world and it cuts through and partly rises above stretches of the three greatest of all ranges – The Western Himalayas, The Karakoram and the Hindu Kush. The road crosses the continental watershed at the Khunjerab Pass at around 16,000 feet and its total length from China’s Kashgar, generally regarded as the starting or end point (depending on which way one travels it) to Islamabad is some 900 miles.


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