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Day 19: The Karakoram Highway

Karakoram Mountains, Pakistan 
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The tenacity of life in the Karakoram mountains, a flat-topped spur is enough to create a village.
Michael Palin - HimalayaThe view from my hotel window in Gilgit is an exercise in contrasts. Immediately outside is a carefully tended rose garden, of the sort you might see in a Best Kept Village in the Cotswolds. A half mile further away, this tidy view swells into a stupendous wall of mountain scenery, rising from the muddy cliffs carved out by the River Gilgit.

Soon we're running north, deeper into these mountains, along the road that bears their name the Karakoram Highway, also known as the Eighth Wonder of the World.

A collaboration between the Chinese and the Pakistanis, the road winds 800 formidable and majestic miles, from Kashgar in western China almost to the Pakistan capital, Islamabad. It first took traffic in 1978 after 20 years of construction. Considering the obstacles in its course some of the highest and least stable mountains in the world, fierce winds, temperature extremes ranging from icy cold to blazing summer heat 20 years is pretty quick, but the human price paid was considerable. Between 500 and 800 Pakistanis and untold Chinese died in its construction, roughly one life for every kilometre.

Before there was the KKH there was the Silk Road, a network of trails and passes that led from Persia and Turkey through Afghanistan and into China, a commercial conduit following and enriching the precious routes through the mountains.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 19: The Karakoram Highway
  • Country/sea: Pakistan
  • Place: Gilgit
  • Book page no: 42

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