The jewel in Pakistan’s crown is Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly known as the “Northern Areas”. North of Punjab and Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa the Karakoram Range climbs with ever taller and more jagged peaks. Jutting in from the west is the Hindu Kush mountain range from Afghanistan from the north west Tajikistan’s mountain range bears down on the region, while the eastern flank comprises the tail end of the Himalayas. High altitude lakes and cascades, snow-capped ranges, fruit orchards, glaciers and secret mountain passes all await the intrepid visitor.
The Karakoram Highway, 1,300 kilometre-long from Islamabad to Kashgar in China, is the backbone of this region. The highest paved road in the world crosses from Pakistan to China at the Khunjerab Pass, at a height of 4,693 metres. Built from 1959 to 1979, but only opened to the public in 1986, over one thousand lives were lost during its construction, and when you see the terrain it crosses, it’s easy to see why. Road travel is smooth and easy, thanks to a network of Chinese and Pakistani-built roads to encourage trade.
‘Intrepid’ is the key word here, not ‘brave’ – things here are not as much ‘scary’ as ‘unreliable’, and road blockages of days aren’t uncommon, especially during the monsoon (July – September) and in the snowy winter (November – March). Much of the northern part of Gilgit – Baltistan (Gojal, or Upper Hunza) shuts down between November and May; check with local authorities.