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Day 19: The Karakoram Highway

Michael Palin - HimalayaApart from the increased prosperity brought by the road itself, many projects round here bear the name of the Aga Khan, spiritual head of the Ismaili Muslims, a Shiite sect who believe their leader to be a direct descendant of the Prophet's son-in-law. The Aga Khan Foundation provides money for education (especially girls' schools), healthcare and agricultural schemes. The results can be seen in the communities through which we pass. The settlements are tidy, with solid communal buildings and ingenious irrigation systems flowing between immaculately built dry-stone walls.

In the Hunza valley, believed to be the model for many Shangri-las and the inspiration for James Hilton's book Lost Horizon, the Karakoram Highway is quiet as a country lane, running beside neatly planted fields of spinach, potatoes and cabbage and sun-dappled orchards of apricot, apple, peach, pear and plum. Yet this is one of the geomorphic hot spots of the world. This tranquil countryside lies above the epicentre of a titanic geological upheaval. Around 50 million years ago India collided with the rest of Asia, or rather the great mass called the Indian plate drifted north and ran into the much larger mass of the Eurasian plate. The force of the impact pushed one over the other and thrust them both skywards, creating a momentum that is still at work, carrying India deeper into Asia at the rate of two inches a year. The Hindu Kush, the Karakoram, the Pamirs and the Himalaya are all, in a sense, wreckage from one of the great head-on collisions in the history of the planet.

A sign outside a modest little town reads simply, 'Chalt. Where Continents Collide'. Which certainly puts 'Artichoke Capital of the World' in its place.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 19: The Karakoram Highway
  • Country/sea: Pakistan
  • Place: The Karakoram Highway
  • Book page no: 42

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