The international highway with the highest elevation is in Pakistan and runs to China: this is the famous Karakoram Highway, a paved roads built under such remarkably difficult conditions (a height of over 4,600m is nothing but that, after all) that people now refer to it as one of the greatest engineering marvels of the world. Commonly referred to as KKH for brevity, the highway is actually a place often traversed by tourists seeking a different journey throughout Pakistan and hoping to put the achievement of having covered Karakoram’s length in their list of accomplishments. This is why there are so many establishments along or near the highway now that offer lodging for those looking for a place to stay before resuming their trip.
This major highway begins a little outside of Islamabad. Once you proceed northwards, you are going to eventually run into a sign that tells travellers which way to take for which destination: a right turn leads to China and proceeding along the straight road takes you to the Khyber Pass. You shall be passing by some spectacular opportunities for exploration along the way. Once you come within range of the Karakoram mountains, for instance, you shall be liable to find ancient rock art just a short way from the road itself-there are thousands upon thousands of these petroglyphs around KKH, as a matter of fact, and they date back to the days when this was traversed by ancient peoples as one of the paths leading to the main Silk Road.
Gilgit-Baltistan is along the way too, and it certainly presents quite a few thrills. Besides its possession of the polo ground with the highest elevation in the world, the area also has some of the most impressive peaks in the world, including several “eight thousanders” and the infamous K2, the second-highest peak on the planet as well as the second-most-dangerous based on fatality-to-summit rates. One out of every four climbers trying to scale K2 dies in the process.
This is not all harsh land and treacherous peaks, though. Along the way you get the chance to stop by Hunza Valley, the place credited with having inspired James Hilton’s Shangri-La. Forts over a millennium in age stand here, as does a culture and society whose people are known for their friendliness to outsiders and unusually long lives, with the average person living to well over a century in age. This is a fabled place, one that merits a visit from every tourist coming to Pakistan.
Typically, people stop at the end of the road just before reaching the border and turn back, since the main goal for most is just to traverse the part of the road within the country in which they are staying. It would be added work too to have to obtain the visa for China, after all. If you are going to be travelling Karakoram Highway, keep in mind a few tips: first off, inquire with local agencies or travel advisories as to the current state of security in the area and if the passes are going to be open (they may be closed at times such as winter). Make inquiries at more than one travel bureau: it helps to get a variety of sources and opinions. Furthermore, while you may take the buses from NATCO or the Northern Areas Transport Company for your trip, be warned that they can be a bit uncomfortable even if they are cheap. It would be far cosier and more likely safer to rent a car and hire a guide from a suitable travel company catering to those interested in Karakoram.