High in the sky on the Karakoram Highway
High in the sky on the Karakoram Highway
The Indus river valley which follows much of the Karakoram Highway - with the Himalayas in the background
The Indus river valley which follows much of the Karakoram Highway - with the Himalayas in the background

DURBAN - Adventurer Kingsley Holgate and his expedition team reached one of the highest paved roads in the world - the Pakistan Karakoram Highway - achieving a dream during their Cape Town to Kathmandu expedition.

With a maximum elevation of 4 714 meters, the Pakistani Karakoram Highway and its treacherous passes is often referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World.

“For months we’ve dreamed about achieving this major expedition objective,” said Holgate. “It’s a long, fascinating and sometimes arduous journey of mountain passes, tunnels, wash-aways, and landslides. We find ourselves squeezing past colourful, jingling Bedford trucks; the Landys’ tyres just millimetres from the edge of dizzying drops into steep gorges where the green waters of the Indus River tumble and meander. We’ve met police checkpoints and travelled in convoys, all flavoured with the friendliness of the amazingly tough Baltistan people who inhabit this rough mountainous region which through centuries of the Silk Road trade, has linked northern Pakistan to China,” said Holgate.

He added that the  ‘Roof of the World’ is where the three highest mountain ranges on the planet collide – the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush and the Karakorams, describing it as the fabled Shangri-La (The Kingdom of Lost Horizons) – a land of snow leopards, bears, apricot orchards, stone-built villages and hardy people. The area plays home to vast glaciers, alpine deserts and 33 of the highest mountains on Earth, like the snow-covered 8 126m peak of Nanga Parbat, Pakistan’s second-highest mountain after the 8 610m ‘Killer Mountain’ of K2, which is only exceeded by Mount Everest.

The expedition team had some fun near the Hunza Valley, breaking away for some tough off-road sections of the ancient Silk Road.

The Karakoram Highway will soon be unpassable by any vehicle. A new, faster highway is being built through these mountains by the Chinese to quicken the transportation of goods to the Port of Karachi on the Arabian Sea. The waters of a new dam on the Indus will also flood large sections of the old Karakoram Highway, which when it was built in the 1970s, claimed a life for each of its 883km.

“What a great feeling. It’s been a special privilege to travel this iconic road which will one day be only a memory,” said Holgate this week.

The Cape Town to Kathmandu expedition continued south across the Punjab to Lahore in time for the daily military ceremony at Wagah. Then it was on to New Delhi, the famed Taj Mahal at Agra and onwards again to meet the Ganges at Varanasi en route to the final destination of Kathmandu in the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal.

Independent on Saturday