The Karakoram Pass is a mountain pass in the Karakoram Range that links China to India. The pass is located in a saddle or gap between two mountains, has a width of about 45 meters (148 feet), and straddles the border between China and India. More specifically, it connects the Indian-controlled area of Jammu and Kashmir and the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China. The Karakoram Pass is situated at an elevation of 5,540 meters (18,176 feet).
The Karakoram Range
The Karakoram Pass is part of the Karakoram Range, a large and extremely long mountain range that extends across China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. The Karakoram is the world’s second tallest mountain range, with eight peaks more than 7,500 meters tall. The world’s second tallest peak, K2, which has a maximum elevation of 8,611 meters, is included in the range and is the most dangerous for climbers.
Historically, the Karakoram Pass played a significant role in the flourishing Silk Road trade route. It was once one of the world’s highest trade routes, and merchandise, especially silk, was transported from China to Rome along the Silk Road. The Karakoram Pass was a major route of Silk Road and enabled Chinese traders to traverse the otherwise nearly impassable Karakoram Range and enter India, and then travel to other lands. During this period, Leh, which is now part of Jammu and Kashmir, was a busy cosmopolitan commercial town. Traders from faraway places such as China, Tibet, Kabul, Yarkand, and Central Asia would rest in Leh after long journeys through dangerous roads and rugged mountains. The pass was often referred to as the "Trail of Bones," as countless pack animals perished while crossing, due to its high altitude, harsh climate, and lack of fodder.
Climate and Ecology
The Karakoram Pass is completely void of vegetation, as the extreme climate and high altitude of the region prevent the growth of any plants. As a result, animal life in the area is also non-existent. High winds and blizzards often blow through the Karakoram Pass. However, the pass is generally free of snow cover, as the strong winds blow away any snow that accumulates. Therefore, despite its harsh conditions, the Karakoram Pass is relatively easy to traverse and has a relatively gradual ascent on both sides of the pass.
Despite its strategic location, the once busy Karakoram Pass has been closed to all forms of traffic and contains no motorable roads. It is also part of India-Pakistan-China border disputes and is well-guarded on both sides. However, the Karakoram Pass holds great potential, as opening it to the public would allow cross-border tourism and trade to flourish.