Surviving the Eight Wonder of The World in A Coaster – The Karakoram Highway

The coaster took a sharp swerve at a speed of what felt like 140 km/h, on the Karakoram Highway.

My eyes jolted, and I jumped a little. The view was blurry, and my eyes were trying to see where we were. 

Sitting in the front seat of the coaster gave me a slight advantage in terms of view. 

But, this also means that I had to face any thrilling experience firsthand O.O.

The coaster was moving fast. I peeked at the meter. It was 50 km/h. But the turns and the zig-zags of the Karakoram highway made it feel like we were in a race, putting us off from our seats from time to time. 

Like a Formula 1 race without Charles Leclerc, instead, we had our own lovely version of Formula 1 driver, Mr Muhammad Shabbir, who never failed to greet me good morning every single day while I was in town. 

My sleepy head swayed to the left and right, front and back. It felt like we were on a roller coaster. 

Our guide, Awais, was having small, continuous conversations with Mr Shabbir. 

I sighed with relief. It was good to know that somebody was accompanying the driver. 

I turned my head to the back; everyone was sleeping. Next to me, on my right, was my mom, who was in a deep sleep, in the comfort of the backrest and a cozy jacket to cover her from the coldness. 

By the time my eyes were wide open, I saw what lay ahead of us. 

Beyond the high beam light of our coaster LES 60, it was pitch black. The road ended there, and the coaster needed to take a turn. I could see the rocks piled up at the end of the route, meaning that there was a steep slope that came right after those stones.

The driver took another swerve to the right, and there I was, holding on to my little life of mine, praying that all of us would be fine. 

the karakoram highway pakistan 1

It was already hours into the drive on the most scenic mountain road of the Karakoram Highway, also known as KKH. This was our second day on another stretch of the Karakoram Highway. 

The highway’s total length is 1300km, with 887 km in Pakistan and 413 km in China. Due to its high elevation and extreme weather conditions during construction, it is considered the Eight Wonder of the World.

The Karakoram Highway, also known as the Friendship Highway in China, was built by the governments of China and Pakistan to improve trade and economic growth. It is the highest paved mountain highway and has been gaining considerable attention.

The journey on the Karakoram highway took forever, like legit forever. It felt way longer than a direct flight from Paris to K.L. 

In this article, I’ll share the thrilling, exhausting, endless hours of sitting on a coaster (more like a roller coaster) through the beautiful wonders and the ugly side of the Karakoram Highway. 

Disclosure: Some of the links here are affiliate links, and I may earn if you click on them, AT NO EXTRA cost to you. I hope you find the information here useful! Thanks!

The Unspoken Perils of the Karakoram Highway

The scenic journey on a coaster brings me to a world of endless mountain views. One mountain range after another. I love how peaceful and calming it looks from afar, with the glacier draping from the top.

It was enjoyable to see Pakistan’s highest peaks from afar. Just being there feels like an achievement!

So calming, so mesmerizing. 

Until I realized we were no longer on a proper tarmac road. 

It was rather raw, dusty, and unsafe. The roads were now attached to the mountainsides, and there were no barriers on the other side. 

We weren’t the only ones on the road. All sorts of transportation vehicles use this road to get to their destinations, including cars, motorcycles, buses, trucks, and coasters!

I could see the big trucks carrying heavy items, trying to find a balance on a pathway full of potholes and big rocks. 

Individual cars overtake on a narrow road to gain some time and be ahead of us and the trucks. 

the karakoram highway pakistan 2

I could see how some trucks were slanted towards one side. A driver’s wrong step could bring the truck down a thousand feet below. 

And no, it’s not like a slight hill slope. It’s basically a ravine. 

Anything can happen to anyone at any time, which makes it even way more terrifying. 

I remembered looking outside through the shield view and was about to let my mind roam freely in the dreamy wonders of Pakistan. 

From far away, I could see that the cars and trucks started to slow down. It was probably a sharp bend. 

Until I saw an orange bus on a steep slope being pulled up by a crane. The bus looked so familiar…

A day before, I remembered we stopped by for a quick toilet break, and I found myself looking over Mr Shabbir’s shoulder as he watched a video of an accident that happened in Gilgit. I was like, oh wow, that’s scary. 

A bus lost its control and eventually dropped into a ravine, claiming the lives of the innocents. 

And there it was—the same orange bus I saw from Mr Shabbir’s TikTok feed. It was a hot topic in the news for a while. Apparently, the driver lost control of the bus during its trip from Rawalpindi to Gilgit, killing 20 people on board the bus

I clenched my teeth, shocked to even get a glimpse of the orange bus. I never thought that we would actually be going down the same way as the bus did. 

Mr Shabbir parked the coaster on the left side and went down. Awais followed him. Both of them stood next to the cliff, looking and trying to assess the situation.

the karakoram highway pakistan 3

A slight delay could lead to a bigger problem, and checking into one of the checkpoints at Dassu within the stipulated time is now a high risk.

Only small cars were allowed to pass, and other trucks lined up behind both our coasters. Our coaster’s height would not have been able to surpass the crane lever pulling the scrapes of the unfortunate orange bus.

The rest of us waited on the coaster for about 15 – 30 minutes, and eventually, I saw both of them running back to our coaster. 

The workers agreed to make way for us, and we quickly drove away, praying that our journey would be easy and smooth for the rest of the day. 

The Zig & Zags of The Karakoram Highway

As the coaster went on the pathway of KKH, I could tell you that my heart was racing. 

My hands constantly tried to get a grip of the chair, squeezing it hard at every sharp bend we took, at every centimeter away from the ravine, at every minute a car or a truck tried to overtake us on the narrow highway.

Mr Shabbir went straight on the road attached to the mountainside, honking every single time there was a blind corner. I can’t recall how many blind corners he took, but I’m pretty sure that he honked more than a thousand times.

This zig and zag went on for hours, some with lower intensity swerve and some on a hardcore level. Hence, why the mental game needed to be strong. 

It’s wild. The drive itself offers an outstanding view of the mountains and rivers, but it is notorious for its landslides and raging rocks. 

Yes, falling rocks. Not the big ones, thank god. But I swear there were minor rocks, dancing and tumbling their way down the 8000-foot-high mountain.

My eyes were constantly forced to stay open cause I was scared to fall asleep. 

All the ”what ifs” came to my mind like a freaking jazz melody blues by Guy Davis with his Loneliest Road That I Know. 

By the time we reached the Dassu checkpoint, Mr Shabbir had again parked our coaster and gone down with Awais. I looked outside the windows to my right; everyone was out of their cars. 

I wondered how long they had been waiting there. The weather was dry and hot, but it was still bearable. 

As far as my eyes could see, the police blocked the road. This only means one thing: another uncertain, restless waiting game.

the karakoram highway pakistan 4

Due to the coaster’s stillness, everyone eventually woke up. Everyone looked as puzzled as I was. 

Awais eventually returned to the coaster and told us that the checkpoint was closed and would reopen in two hours hours. 

Everyone gasped! 

Two hours? 

Apparently, the opening and closing times of the checkpoint were changed for that day. 

We managed to get there in time before the initial cut-off time. Unfortunately, due to the changes in time, we now had to wait.  

The road closure was due to the ongoing dam works on the Karakoram Highway, which involves mountain blasting. Blasting reduces a solid body mountainside rock facade to tiny fragments. 

Then, it’s all about clearing away the path to make way for transportation vehicles like ours. It will definitely take some time for all of it to be cleared up.

Awais gave us the option to stay on the bus or go outside. 

My knees were killing me, so there I was, taking a stroll on the mountainside road, being observed by a thousand eyes, wondering why this lady was there. 

The Edge of Patience: A Two-Hour Cliffside Wait

I jumped down the coaster and approached the cliff. The Indus River was flowing gracefully in its muddy color, unbothered by any obstacles. 

At this point of elevation, I can tell you that the mountains were not lush with greenery. They were pure, solid, brown, greyish-looking rock. 

The roads were covered with dirt and soil. The river stream looked like an endless black sesame latte flowing with a slightly concentrated greyish color. 

There was a shepherd with a stick, guiding and overseeing his little goats. He made sure that none of the goats were fooling around and that none of them would be rolling down the cliff. Haha. 

the karakoram highway pakistan 5

Locals were sitting on benches made for the waiting game, chit-chatting over the view of the Rocky Mountains.

Some of the uncles and aunties from both our coasters went for a walk, hunting down big trucks with fancy decorations. 

I could see their attempt to have small conversations with locals using sign language. I was not sure if they managed to understand each other… 

Eventually, Awais came over and saved the whole conversation. Haha.

From a distance, I saw Mom go up to a Punjabi family, making small talk and having conversations. There were five ladies altogether, including my mom.

The ladies seemed shy at first. It was more like a one-way conversation: My mom would ask one thing, and the ladies answered one thing. Eventually, the ladies started opening up and were curious to know what we were doing on the Karakoram Highway! 

We exchanged ideas on both cultures and shared the differences on a neutral ground. It was very insightful. Lovely ladies, indeed. I hoped they had returned safely to their home and family <3 

Small conversations are meaningful. They are the ones that I’ll forever remember from the trip. 

The Three Musketeers with AK47 

From Dassu onwards, the road conditions were purely poor. 

We were accompanied by unlimited potholes, a one-way lane for everyone, a lack of drainage, hectic traffic, and horrible rocky, bumpy roads. 

The roads were covered with a carpet of dust and soot, and the air was filled with smoky black smoke from every vehicle’s exhaust. 

Also, landslides are a regular thing on this side of the world. 

So, it’s not surprising that landslide obstacles block half of the one-way lane most of the time, leaving a narrow path for the coaster to pass without tumbling down the cliff into the river. 

the karakoram highway pakistan 7

Can you imagine looking out the window and all you see is vertigo-inducing views of the surrounding peaks and valleys?

Definitely not for the faint-hearted or those with health problems! 

Do you have a tendency to have panic attacks? Not for you. 

Anxiety problems? Not for you. 

Knee problem? Not for you. You’ll be stuck in your seat for long hours. 

At that moment, I was glad my dad didn’t come along. If he had, his complaints would have lasted for generations. 

Mom was cool, though. She slept most of the time… no worries at all. She was 100% in vacation mode, like a true traveler. 

Only the time when she woke up to tell me that her knees were jammed and she needed to stretch her legs. 

We had approximately 20 escorts on the Karakoram Highway from Hunza to Islamabad, with 5-minute stops at every checkpoint. 

Three different physical police officers came into our coaster and rode with us between two checkpoints for different districts throughout the Karakoram Highway.

The first officer’s face was really strict and scary-looking. He was probably someone of a higher ranking. He spoke Urdu to Mr Shabbir and Awais, and his voice was very heavy, coarse, and deep, making it even scarier for me, who sat right within his angle of vision. 

The second one was relatively quiet and a little bit young. The officer didn’t say a word at all, but he had beautiful, lengthy, curly eyelashes. 

The third one is quite older, with a long beard and a huge smile. As he enters the bus, this person somehow exudes a content and peaceful aura. He’s not much of a talker, either. 

They were all in black uniforms: a top, brownish beige pants, black boots, a beret, and, of course, an AK-47. Something I would usually use during a session of Counter-Strike, but this one was a real one. 

And the rest of the escorts were done by the tourist police in their jeep, leading us forward from one city to another city. 

the karakoram highway pakistan 8

We had one toilet stop before reaching Besham City, which was in the middle of nowhere. I forgot the name of the town, but there was definitely a donkey there.

I only remembered it as Donkey Town, where almost everyone went down the coaster rushing to the toilet 😀

It was the first stop after more than 7 hours of journey. 

So, can you imagine how everyone rushed out of the coaster to carry out their business after such a long wait? O.O

I managed to get a shot of the donkey, too, before it ran away from me. A piece of memoirs of the Donkey Town to conclude the long KKH journey.

By the time we reached our hotel, Besham Hilton Hotel, it was already late, and all of us were exhausted from the prolonged travel.

So, Why The Hell Did I Choose This Road?

We could have taken the shorter route through Naran. That would have saved us a lot of time.

Depending on the road conditions at the top of the 13,000-foot mountain, the whole journey to Islamabad will probably take about 4-5 hours. 

the karakoram highway pakistan 9

As the Babusar Top has yet to be opened through the season, the coaster will need to take a longer way back to Islamabad, which is the road that I was on. 

This means the journey itself will take more than 10 hours and involve crossing rocky mountains, unlimited steep slopes and dropoffs, dangerous hairpin bends, and uneven pathways. 

If you are lucky, and the Gods are with you, and nothing significant happens during your journey, then you’ll take about approximately 10 – 12 hours.

In our case, it took us more than 15 hours to get to our hotel in Besham, which was considered pretty good. Previous groups took longer—eek!

No, it’s not all beautiful little tarmac. Dam works were ongoing, meaning that roads were horrible! I don’t know how to describe it, but it was awful. 

But if you ask me, will I do it again? Maybe. 

Simply because it was an eye-opener. That road trip taught me that some things are within our control, and some things are outside our control. 

No matter how much I’d love to complain, I signed up for it, and if I hadn’t, then I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the ups and downs of the Karakoram Highway. 

Highlight Of The Trip

While the journey on the Karakoram Highway was unpleasant most of the time, accompanied by many little panic attacks, I can be proud that I actually survived the long hours of treacherous journey. 

It’s a road trip that I never dreamed of taking, but I am so glad I did it!

None of us had altitude mountain sickness, only back pain and knee pain from sitting too long. 

Despite the weary journey, every time I close my eyes, I remember how breathtaking the views really were. The moment I love the most is when the sun sets, and the allure of the mountains seems ravingly beautiful. 

It was a feast for my eyes, and my heart was whole. 

Every turn was hide-and-seek with the mountains, and every snippet of these mountains carved a smile on my face. It was like falling in love again and again with its beauty.

Of course, we would be able to get that far with the help of our local guide, driver, and local people <3 

the karakoram highway pakistan 12

Traveling in a certain underdeveloped area of the Karakoram Highway may seem ridiculous, but I am glad I did it and that everyone was safe and sound. 

Everyone, including myself, preserved until the end, and that’s a little achievement!  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *