The Karakoram Highway (0-300km).

Today was probably the most spectacular day's drive of the trip!

This web page comes to you from the roadside of the Karakoram Highway. The KKH connects Islamabad in Pakistan with the Silk Road oasis town of Kashgar in China passing over the 4740 metre Khunjerab Pass, a total distance of 1300km. The road is an engineering masterpiece and one of the most spectacular drives in the world. The Pakistan part of the road was finished in 1979 but the Khunjerab Pass was only opened for tourists in 1986.

"Sometime in the future when others will ply the KKH little will they realise the amount of sweat courage, dedication, endurance and human sacrifice that has gone into the making of this road. But as you drive along, tarry a little, to say a short prayer for those silent brave men of the Pakistan Army who gave their lives to realise a dream now known as The Karakoram Highway".

Our first stop on the KKH at Abbottabad was problematic. Although we managed to leave Islamabad without a police escort, some time between Murree and Abbottabad we became "escorted". When we arrived in Abbottabad we announced to our escort that we wished to park up in the town. "No problem", just follow them. Half way through the town our escorting pickup truck was replaced by a police minibus. We all pull over and force the minibus to return to us. Again we explain that we wish to park up in Abbattabad. We suggest that we park at the police station. "No problem", just follow them. After 2km we stop and ask them how much farther? Only 1.5km. After another 2km we stop again. It becomes clear that their plan is not for us to stop in Abbattabad but for them to lead us out of town and hand us over to the next police district where the same performance will be repeated.

We notice an area of waste land in the grounds of a very large hospital and drive on to it. We tell our escort that this is fine and that we do not need, a hotel, a bed, a restaurant, food, water or toilets. We are happy here. Our escort is happy and they settle down to "guard" us. Alas after an hour the director of the hospital arrives. He is not happy.

He suggests that because a building 100 metres away is used for radio therapy there may be some radiation risk to us. We accept the risk. He then says that because the hospital is in some way linked to the Pakistan government (and/or the Nuclear/Atomic establishment) we require security clearance to park where we are (10 meters off the highway with an open gateway). He is clearly very uneasy.

We explain the police tactics to him and ask him to act as our interpreter with the chief of police who has now arrived. We try to establish where we can park in Abbottabad. The police suggest we park 1.5km further out of town in the grounds of a school opposite a police station. We agree to move, subject to the chief of police coming with us and making clear we will return to the hospital if the proposed parking spot fails to materialize. Deadlock.

After 10 minutes the police announce that we should return to the centre of town and park in the courtyard of the police station. We do, and spend an interesting time just outside a Women's Police Station where we are the star attraction. At about 22:00 Ann and Olwyn, who are making friends with the police women, are told we must move again. They say no. We have a good nights sleep and leave at 07:30.

The K-Nine Sauna.

Several of the vans on this trip have water heating systems that use the hot water from the engine to heat a calorifier (a hot water tank). These systems normally work very well. However whilst climbing for an hour in temperatures of 45°C K-Nine's engine overheated to 120°C and boiled the water in his calorifier!

The resultant pressure burst a water pipe in the back of K-Nine which instantly filled up with steam and boiling water.

Clive has now fixed the problem.

Our second night's stay on the KKH is far better. We stop at the Pakistan Tourist Development Corporation (PTDC) Motel at Besham (34.899945°N 72.861328°E). Cost $2.00 per person per night with great mountain and river views, plenty of water, a good shop and a passable restaurant (about $4.00 per person). Recommended.

The KKH near Palas, we are driving left to right. The KKH near Palas, we are driving left to right. The KKH near Palas, we are driving left to right.

Today we travelled only 91km on a road cut out of the rock face of the Indus river valley. There are dramatic views down to the grey Indus river, waterfalls, fluorescent birds and butterflies and in the distance snow covered mountain peaks. The air is clear, the road mostly tarmac and the traffic light. Most of the small towns that crowd in on the road are friendly. Again we opted to stay at a PTDC Motel this time at Barseen (15km north of Dasu) (35.357235°N 73.203267°E). We see our first golden eagle. A very fine day.

Stephen Stewart.

Home - This page last changed on 2004-05-16