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Published: August 16th 2014
The Karakorum Highway (KKH as it is popularly known) is a spectacular mountain highway that goes from Kashgar to Islamabad in Pakistan. The LP describes it as "one of the worlds most spectacular roads , and China's gateway to Pakistan". I suspect they wrote that before the roadworks took place that we were about to experience. We are going along the KKH only(445kms round trip) as far as the Pakistan border at Kunjerab Pass (5200m) via Kara Kul Lake and Tashkurgan. After passing thru Opal village where we stocked up with water, bread and fruit, we headed up to the mountains.
Two hrs from Kashgar, we passed thru the canyon of the river Ghez with brilliant red sandstone rock faces, and the first major military checkpoint, where our passports and permits are scrutinised. Before we get to the lake, we hit the road works - a massive effort to rebuild the road thru the mountains. The road conditions were appalling - huge potholes, no tarmac for 100kms, frequent one way sections poised on narrow precipices , tons of huge lorries ferrying construction equipment coming at you on the 'wrong' side of the road - not the place for a nervous
traveller. The armies of Chinese workers are also building three hydroelectric plants in the same area. We bumped into three major traffic jams, mostly caused by jacknifing of the big construction lorries. What a snafu - kms of bumper to bumper cars and trucks, all trying to double pass and crawl thru the jam. We got thru the first when a bulldozer cut a temp. road that enable us to bypass the crash site. The second we waited about an hr, before finding a way thru.
But finally finished with the roadworks, and on to a decent road thru amazingly wide valleys lined with massive snow capped mountain ranges. Massive glaciers - literally dozens of them - snaked their way between all the peaks. Kara Kul lake is glacier fed, and turquoise in colour, with the backdrop of the massive Muztagh Ata peak (7450m) is really beautiful. The plan was to stay the nite at the lake in a yurt - a new experience but turned out to be favourable as we had the yurt all to ourselves, and soon settled into the blankets and floor coverings that were provided. The yurt is commonly seen all thru this valley
housing the nomadic families as they wander and graze thru the summer. We had dinner with a local family - fresh baked nan bread with Yak butter (surprisingly good) and a yak/vegetable stew thing with rice, and copious chai. Pretty good meal considering where we are.
During the night, we heard a bit of rain, and experienced it firsthand when the yurt roof started to leak - a restless night ensued, as we continually moved our sleeping blankets to avoid the drips. The night felt only a little chilly, so imagine our surprise when we opened the yurt door/flap to discover that it had snowed during the night, and everything around us including the yurt had a fine layer of snow ! The lower slopes of the mountains that surrounded the lake were all covered with snow - and this is mid-summer ! 25C when we went to bed, and -5C when we woke up.
Today, it was off to the Pakistan border - more amazing mountain scenes and glaciers everywhere. Had a bit of low cloud that mucked up the photos a bit, but still well worth the journey. We climbed up to the Kunjerab pass, but
unfortunately got stopped by Chinese border guards before we could get actually to the border gate. But we did see over to Pakistan !
A brief stopover at Tashkurgan to visit the Stone Fortress - a 1400 yard old relic that still had some walls and buildings intact, but generally was pretty run down - this tends to happen after 1400 yrs of neglect ! Apparently the Fort and the valley were used as locations for the filming of The Kite Runner.
Day three was the return back to Kashgar and that was the end of the Karakorum Highway adventure . Summary of the three days was spectacular mountain scenery, glaciers, enormous construction projects, glorious lakes, and the changeable weather.
Back in Kashgar, we are slumming it at a 5***** Chinese luxury hotel which we picked up at just twice the cost of the grottiest youth hostel. Seems the real decline in tourism since the 'troubles" in this Xinjiang province has resulted in slashing of hotel charges. So we are enjoying our good fortune before crossing the border to Kyrgystan on Monday and back to hostels and home stays
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