The Karakoram Highway is the highest paved road on earth. This mountainous stretch of highway runs between western China and Pakistan, and it’s one of the very few routes that crosses through the Himalayas. The mountains, pastures and lakes surrounding this region are absolutely stunning. You have to watch this video to believe what I’m talking about.
The highway begins in Kashgar, a dominantly Uyghur city in the far west of China’s XinJiang Province. From here, we’ll take a van as far as we can down the Karakoram, all the way to the border of China and Pakistan.
After driving for a few hours through some intensely rugged roads, our first stop is at White Sand Lake. Dry desert hills and a massive body of water contrast with each other, making this lake a stunning sight to behold.
Only 30 kilometers further and we’ve reached Karakul Lake. Crystal clear water, snow-capped mountains and roaming camels are a part of everyday life here. Sitting at 12,000 feet above sea level, the scenery here is literally breathtaking. Even while resting, I find myself gasping for the crisp mountain air. Everything about this region sharply contrasts the China most people imagine today. It’s clean, it’s quiet, and it’s sparsely populated.
As the sun goes down at Karakul Lake, so does the temperature. Luckily, this Kyrgyz man and his family have arranged for us to sleep in a traditional yurt beside the lake tonight, blankets included.
The next day, we’re up bright and early to continue our journey down the Karakoram Highway. While it may have taken 20 years to build this road, many areas of the highway are still under construction, and the road is often blocked off temporarily.
Finally, after stopping more than a dozen times for either construction delays or an overheated engine, we’ve reached our destination, Khunjerab Pass, the highest border crossing in the world. It’s here where China and Pakistan meet, and where two Belgian travel companions proposed an interesting challenge: is it possible to stand in China, but pee in Pakistan?
Sadly, we weren’t able to pee across the border, but the challenge left me with a lot to think about as we turned the van around and made our way back to Kashgar. We stopped in Tashkurgan for the night, but before we went to sleep, we paid a visit to the beautiful Tashkurgan Tajik grassland.
The Karakoram Highway runs through one of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in the world. Towering, snow-covered mountains and pristine lakes coexist with white sand dunes and expansive green pastures. The trip took three days to complete, and during that short time, I saw some truly amazing sights and made friends with some cool and interesting people.
This isn’t a journey I’ll be forgetting any time soon.