KARAKORUM-PAMIR REGION OF CHINA

KARAKORUM-PAMIR REGION OF CHINA

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Karakorum-Pamir, including Tashkurghan National Nature Reserve (N36 10 E76 30) and Pamir Wetlands National Nature Reserve (N75 12 E75 12) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Pamirs are the most famous mountain convergence zone in the world. It is the largest mountain convergence zone that was formed by the convergence of the Tian Shan Mountains, the Kalakunlun Mountains, the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush Mountains and the Jierter-Sulaiman Mountains. It lies in the hinterland of Eurasia and extends across China, Tajikistan and Afghanistan with an area of more than 100,000 square kilometers. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“The nominated area includes the highest peaks of the Karakorum and Pamir Mountains. The Karakorums lie to the southeast of the Pamirs and to the northwest of the Tibetan-Qinghaian Plateau, along the international boundary of China and Pakistan, India and Kashmir. They are the highest mountains in the world except for the Himalayas. They have a length of more than 700 kilometers and a width of more than 100 kilometers. Topographically, the Karakorums are typical very high mountain, with a relative altitudinal difference of 3,000-5,000 meters. The average height of the main ridge is 6,500 meters, and the main peak of the Karakorums is K2, which is the second highest peak in the world with an altitude of 8,611 meters. There are four mountain peaks of more than 8,000 meters and 29 mountain peaks of more than 7,000 meters in this area. The nominated 'Pamir Peaks' area lies on the eastern edge of the Pamirs. It is one of the main concentrations of the world's very high mountains. Of them, Kongur Tagh, the Jiubie Mountains and Mt. Muztag Ata are the highest peaks of the Pamirs, with altitudes of 7,719 meters, 7,530 meters and 7,546 meters respectively. These mountains are famous throughout the world. Mt. Muztag Ata is known as 'the Father of Glaciers' and it is a famous mountaineering base.

“The nominated area is an important area of especially high mountain glaciers in the world's arid regions. There are 2,991 glaciers in the Karakorum Mountains with an area of 6,295.19 square kilometers and 1,530 glaciers in the Pamirs with an area of 2,361.4 square kilometers. This area is a concentrated area of modern glaciers of various types and on a huge scale. There are only 8 glaciers in the world that are more than 50 kilometers in length and 6 of these are in the Karakorums. The nominated area contains the main peaks and is the glaciation centre of the Karakorums and the Pamirs. The areas nominated area contains 36 percent and 48 percent respectively of the area of glaciers of the Karakorums and the Pamirs. Yinsugaiti Glacier is the longest glacier in China, with a length of 42 kilometers and an area of 379.97 square kilometers. The glaciers in the nominated area are both typical and unique mountain glaciers, such as ice cap, ice field as well as extravasation glaciers. For example, Mt. Muztag Ata's glaciers radiate from the mountain while Kongur's glaciers are penniform. Furthermore, small glacial landforms are abundant with well developed ice ridges, seracs, glacial folds, crevasses and so on.

“The biodiversity in the nominated site is obvious. Complex migrations and combinations of biota in this region comprise a unique plateau flora and fauna. The dominant landscapes are desert and steppe. Such high and cold desert and steppe are unique in the world's alpine regions. The nominated site is essential habitat for many endemic and endangered species representative of the plateau fauna of coterminous Himalayas, Karakorums and Pamirs. The nominated site includes Tashkuergan Nature Reserve which is essential habitat for many endemic and endangered species, including rare animals on the IUCN Red List like Uncia uncia, Equus kiang, Canis lupus as well as Ursus arctos. In this area, there are 32 animal species on the 'National Key Protection Wildlife List' of China, including 20 kinds of birds and 12 species of mammals. In this area, there are also 6 species of National Protection Animals Class I, including Uncia uncia, Equus kiang, Ovis ammon, Capra sibirica and Pseudois nayaur. Studies of the changing distribution of fauna and flora form an important part of the understanding of the ongoing ecological processes associated with changing climate.

“There are two lakes formed by glacial erosion within the nominated site i.e. Kalakule and White Sandy lakes. They are at 3,652 meters altitude with an area of about 10 square kilometers. Mud volcanoes occur in the neighboring Muji valley. There are more than 30 mud volcanoes spread over about 2 kilometers of the valley. These mud volcanoes project mud to heights from a meter or two to as much as 50 meters. The heights of the cones are about 1~5 meters with diameters from a few meters to 200 meters. These mud volcanoes show that neo-tectonic processes still occur in the nominated site.

“Compared with Tajikstan Pamir Park, Karakorum-Pamir is the region where the highest Pamir mountains are located. The highest peak is 7,719 meters. In comparison, there is only one peak of over 7,000 meters in the Tajikstan Park i.e. Communism Peak with an altitude of 7,495 meters. Among the five mountain ranges of the Pamirs, three are represented in the nominated area in China.”

Geology of the Karakorum-Pamir Region

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Karakorum-Pamir region “is the most intensively uplifted area engendered by plate collision movement in the last 5 million years. The Pamirs are the area where a corner of the Indian continental plate is subducted beneath the Eurasian continental plate, causing a domino effect. The most drastic collision and prominent mountain uprising is seen between the Tarim plate and Kazakstan. The cluster of extra-high mountain peaks, mud volcanoes and the tectonic junction zone provide good evidences for this. It is one of the best areas for research of the lithosphere, plate movements and associated depositional environments. It is also a place that has attracted much neo-tectonics and geodynamics research.” [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“The Karakorum-Pamir region “is the most typical area for research of the Tethys tectonic zone. The nominated area has gone through tectonic evolution with several phases. It experienced a sequence of open and closed periods as an ocean basin among lands on the southern edge of Eurasia in the Early Paleozoic. The rocks and strata record the spread, subduction and closure of the Paleo-Tethys period in the Late Paleozoic and have recorded the tectonic the history of subduction, collision and closure, and the squeezing and sliding of the new Tethys between the Indian and Eurasian continental plates. The analyses of the sediments and geotectonic evolution pattern demonstrate the matching of the Eurasian and Changtang data, which has global significance for the exploration of the characteristics of the accretion process and research of the Tethys tectonic zone. Thus, it is a key region for the study of the formation and evolution of the Eastern Tethys and the collision mechanism between geologic plates. The nominated area records important information on the constitution and evolution of Eurasia. Moreover, it is the outstanding example of the evolution of crusts and environmental change since the Mesozoic and Cenozoic. As such, it is a natural laboratory for the study of the continental dynamics global change.

The nominated area is the best area for studying very high mountain glaciers. The nominated "Karakorum-Pamir Peaks" include almost half of the world's very high mountain peaks. The areas lie in the hinterland of Eurasia, however, they are the main distribution zone of the world's most typical sub-continental glaciers. Thus, the nominated area has important implications for the understanding of global climate change, glacial landforms, and processes and activities in very high mountains. Furthermore, the nominated area is the best area for the research on Central Asian dust. Ice cores of Mt. Muztag Ata have revealed dust deposits of different periods. The dust size characteristics in the ice cores reflect their material sources and their means of transportation, which have important implications for the understanding of environmental change, atmospheric activity and dust movements in the Central Asian dust source area.”

Pamirs

In Xinjiang, China, the The Karakoram Highway skirts the Pamirs, a 800-kilometer-long range made up of very high rounded mountains between 5,000 and 7,000 meters high that stretch across eastern Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan into western China. Known as “The Roof of the World,” "The Foot of the Gods," and "Midpoint between Heaven and Earth," they occupy one of the least explored and most sparsely populated regions of the world. The Pamirs offer some of the most spectacular Alpine scenery in the world but is difficult to get to.

Pamir means "pasture." In some ways the Pamirs are better described as a high plateau with mountains than a mountain range. There are many flat, broad, treeless valleys that are as high as the low mountains and filled with grass. Winding through the valleys are meandering, sometimes swampy rivers, and occasionally an Alpine lake. Between the peaks are large glaciers, including 72-kilometer-long Fedchenko glacier,the longest glacier in the former Soviet Union.

The Pamirs have been described as a big mountain node The mountains around Pik Kommunizma are called the Pamir Knot. Geologists regard it as a hub, from which the Tien Shan, Hindu Kush, Kunlun and Karakorum mountains branch out. All of these young mountains have been produced by the collision of the Indian subcontinent into the Asian land mass during the past 50 million years, which also pushed up the Himalayas..

There are several high pass through the Pamirs, one of which was used by Marco Polo in 1271. Wildlife in the Pamirs incline Marco Polo sheep and snow leopards. Some yeti stories originated from here. Herders keep sheep, goats and yaks. The winters are long and harsh and the summers are cool. The Mountain-Badakhshan District in the heart of the Pamirs recives only 12.7 centimeters of precipitation a year. The amounts of precipitation decreases as one climbs in elevation not increases as is the case with most mountain ranges in the world.

Pamir Allay is a 500-kilometer-long mountain range that runs across the southern Kyrgyzstan border and extends all the way from Samarkand in Uzbekistan to Xinjiang in western China. The 60-kilometer-long Allay Valley is regarded as the center of hiking in the Pamirs in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is the access point for: Pik Kommunizma, Lenin Peak and Pik Korzhenevskaya as well as a number of lower mountains and treks. Climbers attempting Lenin Peak go to the International Mountaineering Camp in the valley to become acclimatized to the high altitude before trying to climb the mountain. It is best reached by helicopter or treks that originate in Kyrgyzstan.

Mountains, Geology and Geography of the Pamirs

The Pamirs embrace three of the four highest mountains in the former Soviet Union: 7495-meter-high Qullai Ismoili Somoni (formerly known as Pik Kommunizma,or Communism Peak), the highest mountain in the former Soviet Union and Central Asia; 7134-meter-high Pik Lenina, the third highest mountain in the former Soviet Union; and 7105-meter-high Pik Korzhenevskaya, the forth highest. Other landmarks mountains include Revolution Peak and Academy of Sciences Range.

A wide high mountain desert has stretched from the southern slopes of the Zaalay ridge in the north to the banks of the river Pyanj in the south. This area with a severe and long winter, with tenuous and arid atmosphere, cold, rough atmosphere, and clean sky is the Eastern Pamirs. Here at the height from 3500 to 4200 meters above sea level the Eastern-Pamirs valleys and lake kettles like: Alichur, Murghab, Rangkul and etc. are located. After Tibet, this is the second highest plateau in the world. The absolute minimum of temperature in Murghab reaches -47*С, and Karakul -50*С; summers are short and chilly. Average temperature in July is 13-14*С. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Pamir Mountains were created by crustal tectonics. About 60 million to 20 million years ago, the Indian continental plate subducted under the Eurasian plate and, with the effects of extrusion and uplift of the Indian plate, several huge mountains were formed. They spread from the south to the north of the Tibetan-Qinghaian Plateau and converged on the Pamirs. These mountains now radiate from the Pamirs and most of them are more than 4,000 meters in height. Because of this, the Pamir Mountains are known as 'The Roof of the World'. There are suture lines resulting from the collision between the Indian and Eurasian plates, which occurred at the closure of the Paleo-Tethys period. The area is also an important tectonic transition zone and several tectonic boundaries converge in this area. Of these, the Maza-Kangxiwar fault belt is the most important tectonic suture zone. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

Pamiri Tajiks and People in the Pamirs

Around 210,000 people live in the Gorno-Badakhshan region in Tajikistan. About 95 percent of them are Pamiri Tajiks (also known as Pamiris, or Pamirians, or Pamirian Tajiks). There are a few Tajiks, Kyrgyz and Russians. There are also some Pamiri Tajiks in Afghanistan, western China and Pakistan. The Gorno-Badakhshan region embraces most of the Pamirs. It accounts for 45 percent of Tajikistan’s territory but is home to only three percent of its people. The largely Shiite inhabitants of the Pamir mountains speak a number of mutually unintelligible eastern Iranian dialects quite distinct from the Tajik spoken in the rest of the country. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: China, Russia and Eurasia edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company]

Pamir ethnic groups essentially differ from Tajiks. There are several dialects of the Pamir language and almost all Pamir people adhere to the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam. Pamiri people are not strong believers. There are no Islamic radicals among them. The Pamiris have close linguistic, cultural and religious ties with the people in the Badakhshan Province of Afghanistan.

Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer wrote:“The Pamiris have always differed from other Tajiks in important cultural characteristics, such as language, religion and stronger familial affiliation. Their languages and dialects belong to the Eastern Iranian language group as opposed to the Western Iranian Tajik. The majority of Pamiris adhere to the Ismaili sect of Shiism whilst the bulk of valley and mountain Tajiks are Sunnis. All eight Pamiri sub-ethnic groups retain potent self-consciousness and can identify themselves on at least three levels: by their primary cultural name—for example, rykhen, zgamik, khik and so on—when dealing with one another; by their collective name, pomiri (Pamiri), when interacting with other groups in Tajikistan; and, finally, as Tajiks when outside the republic. In the 1980s, the official line of the Tajik leadership denied the Pamiris their cultural uniqueness: ‘the Pamiris are Tajiks by descent and their languages are nothing more than dialects of Tajik.’ [Source: “Tajikistan: Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer, Australia National University, 2013 ><]

The Pamiri Tajiks have developed a distinct culture due to their isolation in the mountains. The dialects they speak vary greatly from valley to valley and are often as different from one another as Spanish is from French. Although related to Tajik the Pamari languages often have more in common with ancient Iranian languages like Sogdian, Bactrian and Saka than they do mordern Tajik. Because the languages and dialects are so different from one another and from Tajik, the Dari language of Afghanistan and the Western Iranian Farsi of India often serve as lingua francas. The Pamiris are united most by belief in the Ismaili sect of Islam — a branch of Shiite Islam — and their hospitality.

Among the Pamiri groups that live in the Gorno-Badakshan groups are Shugnans, Rushans, Bartangs, Orshors, Yazgulems, Ishkashims and Vakhans. The main Pamiri Tajiks groups are 1) the Rushan-Shugnan (numbering around 50,000), who live mainly on the tributaries eat of the Pyandj River and includes the Bartangs near the Bartang River; 2) the Rushans or Rukni (15,000); and 3) Wakhan (9,000), who live in the highest pasture of the Pamirs. Yaghnobis which populate Yagnob and Varzob river valleys live separately.

Marco Polo in the Pamirs

Marco Polo (1254-1324) and his father and uncle passed through the Pamirs, a rugged mountain range with huge glaciers and many peaks over 20,000 feet, to reach Kashgar in China. Marco Polo was the first Westerner to mention the Pamirs, which he said "is the highest place in the world." Today the Pamirs are often called "The Roof of the World." [Sources: Mike Edwards, National Geographic, May 2001, June 2001, July 2001 **]

It is believed the Polos traveled through Wakhan--the long valley in present-day Afghanistan that divides the Pamirs from the Hindu Kush and reaches across to China--and may have entered present-day Tajikistan, where the bulk of the Pamirs are located. The journey through the Pamirs was the most difficult leg of the Polo's journey. It took them nearly two months to traverse 250 miles. On the 15,000 foot passes they traversed, Marco Polo wrote, "Fire is not so bright" and "things are not well cooked." The Polos may have been delayed by blizzards, avalanches and landslides. **

"Wild game of every sort abounds" in the Pamirs, Polo wrote. "There are great quantities of wild sheep of huge size...Their horns grow to as much as six palms in length and are never less than four. From these horns the shepherds make big bowls from which they feed, and also fences to keep in their flocks." The Marco Polo sheep is named after Marco Polo because he was the first to describe it. Known for its wide spreading horns, it and the argali of Mongolia are the largest members of the sheep family. **

Karakoram Mountains

The Karakoram Mountain Range is perhaps the world's mightiest and most impenetrable mountain range, more formidable than even the Himalayas themselves, which lie to the east. Of the fourteen 8000 meter (26,246 foot) peaks in the world four of them occupy an amphitheater at the head of the Baltoro Valley in the Karakorams. Among them is K2 (28,253 feet) the second highest mountain on Earth. Altogether there are 20 peaks over 25,000 feet in the Karakoram range. Karakoram means “Black Mountain.”

The Karakoram range is a dense group of mountains and glaciers 480 kilometers (300 miles) long and 240 kilometers (150 miles) wide. The Himalayas are to the east. On the western and northern side of the Karakoram are the three more great mountain ranges: the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan, the Pamirs in Tajikistan and the Tien Shen in China, all of which have peaks over 20,000 feet.

Most of the mountain range lies in Pakistan but the northern side of K2 as well as many other mountains are situated in China. Sections of the range slip into Afghanistan, India, the former Soviet Union, and the Karakoram acts act as a natural barrier between these five countries. The most traveled pass between the mountain range is the 4,733-meter (15,530-foot) high Khunjerab Pass. Khunjerab Pass. The famed Karakoram Pass between Ladakh and Yarkand is 5,540 meters (18,176 feet) high.

Karakoram and Himalayas

The Karakoram range is sometimes considered to be part of the Himalayas but generally is not. The Indus River Valley is considered the dividing line between the world's two highest mountain ranges. Unlike the Himalayas which stretch out in a long 2,400-kilometers( 1,500 mile) arc with some relatively accessible pass between the major massifs, the Karakoram range is more tightly packed group and difficult to penetrate and pass through.

The Karakoram range is dramatically different from mountains around it. The Himalayas, for example, are more rounded and look like big melted and refrozen ice castles. They gently are built from a foot hills that rise from the plains of India. The Karakoram has big frozen peaks as well put what makes the range so spectacular are it sheer granite rock faces and spikey, shark-tooth pinnacles that rise like monoliths, towering thousands of meters, from the valleys. There are parts of the these mountains were you feel like you are in the jaws of some gigantic primeval beast.

Many of the most spectacular mountains are inaccessible areas that are difficult to reach by vehicle or even on foot. If you get a chance take a plane ride through the Karakoram, which really is the only way you can get into the heart of the range. From the air will see ridges that look like the edges of axe-blades and peaks that are shaped like almost perfect cones of ice.

Karakoram Glaciers

Just as spectacularly as its mighty peaks are the Karakoram's massive glaciers, some of which are the longest in the world outside the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Over 17,870 square kilometers (6,900 square miles) of the range is covered by permanent glaciers, an area almost the size of New Jersey. On the dry north side there aren't many glaciers, but on the southern side, where moisture-laden clouds crash into the peaks, you can find some of the longest valley glaciers in the world. The Batura Glacier is 57 kilometers (35 miles) long. The Sichuan and Hispar Glaciers join together to form an ice corridor 115 kilometers (72 miles) long. The most awesome of them all is the Baltoro Glacier, which sits underneath K2, has 30 tributaries and covers an area of 1,200 square kilometers (471 square miles).

The steepness of the Karakorams causes some of these glaciers to advance with astonishing speed. In 1904, the Hasaababd Glacier surged downhill at a speed of 16 feet an hour, light-year speed for a glacier. In two months it advanced six kilometers (four miles). The Ghongkumdam glacier on occasion extends so far it blocks the Shyok River, creating a huge dam and reservoir. When the ice dam finally bursts, massive torrential floods sweep everything in its path.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Park encompasses the longest glaciers outside the Polar Regions, making up 40% of the park area. This forms the most important and fragile ecosystem of the entire region. Famous glaciers such as Hispar, Biafo, Baltoro and Chogo Lungma form complex glacial systems occupying valleys and in some cases entire watersheds. [Source: Government of Pakistan, Directorate General of Archaeology]

“Almost half of the park comprises glaciers which are famous for the extent of the regular upsurges they undergo. In the last century, 26 surges were detected in the Karakoram Range, rapid advances that involved at least 17 glaciers. In 1955, Kutiah glacier advanced 12 km. in only three months, the fastest glacial surge ever recorded. Glacier tongues enlarge and push forward at a rapid pace, becoming devastating flows of ice and rock, blocking valleys, closing roads and caravan routes and creating lakes.

“This trend in upsurge is part of a complicated phenomenon known as the "Karakoram Anomaly," where glaciers in the Karakoram mountains have overall remained stable and even increased in mass, in contrast to many glaciers nearby and worldwide which have receded during the past 150 years, particularly in recent decades. New studies reveal that the area has a unique weather pattern that keeps the ice cold and dry during the summer months. Unlike the rest of the Himalayas, the Karakoram region is not negatively affected by summer monsoon season, when although the ice melts a little, the melting is offset by heavy snowfall in the extremely cold winters.”

Karakorum Geology

Like the Himalayas the Karakoram was created 65 million years when the Indian subcontinent collided with the Asian plate. The most impressive mountains in the range are composed of crystalline rocks such as granite and gneiss, whiles others are made up of schists and sedimentary rock. Their sharp, spikey shapes are mainly the work of glaciers.

The lower mountains are comprised mostly of row after row of rugged, brown and grey, barren mountains punctuated by some green valleys, forests and towering snowcapped mountains and glaciers. The mountains lie outside the monsoon belt and as a result get much less precipitation than the Himalayas in Nepal and India. The lower elevations of the Karakoram mountains is often arid and lacks forest and vegetation. The valleys can be quite hot in the summer and require irrigation to grow crops.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The park is in a highly active tectonic zone. About 60 million to 20 million years ago, the Indian continental plate subducted under the Eurasian plate and, with the effects of extrusion and uplift of the Indian plate, several immense mountains were formed. Huge tectonic forces stemming from this collision of one plate with another have progressively thrown up the Karakoram Mountains making it one of the most tectonically-active locations in the world. [Source: Government of Pakistan, Directorate General of Archaeology]

“In an area of such intense geomorphological activity, it is not surprising that landslides are a common occurrence. The region of the park has an ambivalent relationship with these events, on the one hand they bring disaster and destruction, but at the same time they reconfigure the landscape, creating new landforms with potential for habitation and agriculture. For example, villages and their fields are often located directly on land resulting from former landslides.

“From a geological and structural point of view, the Central Karakorum National Park is located in an area of very active seismicity, one of the main triggering factors in the occurrence of landslides. To live in such a high risk environment, it is necessary to learn to cohabit with extremely dangerous phenomena and to identify the safest areas for the habitation. In this regard the Central Karkorum has international scientific and geomorphological hazard significance because of the on-going geological processes influencing its stability.”

People of the Karakorum

People of the theater Karakorum that live in the valleys speak a variety of languages. Some claim they are descendants of soldiers from armies of Alexander the Great (known as Iskander). Some groups definitely have lighter skin and more European features than people from the plains yet linguistic evidence and the presence of physical features form China and Central Asia indicate the people are descendant of waves if immigration and invasions. Some have Aryan and Tibetan blood. Islam didn’t arrive until the 12th century and never took hold in some remote valleys.

Some of valleys were independent kingdoms ruled by their own leaders, including the Thums of Hunza, the Mehtars of Chitral and the Rajas of Skardu. At various times large kingdoms such as the Kingdom of Dardistant in the 12th century and Kashmir in the 18th century exerted control over the area. The British arrived in the late 19th century to counteract Russian expansion in the area. Today most of the people are Muslims, divided among the Sunni, Shiite and Ismaeli sects. Pockets of Buddhism and animism remain, . The Karakorum Highway has had a profound influence on these people, opening them up to the outside world in a way that never had occurred before.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: There are 230 settlements of approximately 115,000 people living immediately adjacent to the park, the borders of which have been designed to exclude all villages and pasture lands. However, these communities have traditional rights in the park area to access seasonal pastures for grazing, hunting, collecting firewood, timber and medicinal plants. [Source: Government of Pakistan, Directorate General of Archaeology]

Birds and Animals Along the Karakoram Highway

Abbottabad is 1255 meters high open valley with green surrounding mountains, cultivated fields, orchards and streams. The fauna in this area is oriental and the bird species are replaced by palae-arctic species as one proceeds further along the Karakorum Highway beyond Thakot.. Among the mammals seen in the Karakorums are markhor, shapu, ibex, Marco Polo sheep, marmot, pikas and brown bear.

Among the many birds that are seen are buzzard, golden eagle, steppe eagle, lammergeier, kestrol, snow partridge, seesee partridge, Himalayan snow-cock, Chukor partridge, monal pheasant, snow pigeon, hill pigeon, rufous turtle dove, the cuckoo, great horned owl, the swift, European bee-eater, European roller, scaly-beltied green, woodpecker, short-toed lark, horned lark, grey martin, swallow, golden oriole, brahminy myna, magpie, nutcracker, alpine chough, redbilled chough, rook, rufous tailed flycatcher, booted warbler, orphan warbler, chiffchaff and other phylloscopus species, several other warblers, blue throat and ruby-throat, chats, thrushes, wren, dipper, accentors, tits, tree creeper, wall creeper, pipits, redpols, wagtails, finches and buntings..

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Karakorum Range lies in a transitional zone between the arid Central Asia and the semi-humid tropics of South Asia. Within the Central Karakorum National Park there is a variety of ecosystems, from rock cliffs to juniper shrub land, conifer and broadleaf forests and alpine pastures, home to a very high level of biodiversity. These diverse ecosystems provide a refuge for threatened species of mammals such as arkhor, musk deer, snow leopard, Ladakh urial and Marco Polo sheep, and also for important “flagship” species including the Himalayan Ibex and Lynx, Blue Sheep and Grey Wolf. [Source: Government of Pakistan, Directorate General of Archaeology]

This environmental “hotspot” is also reflected in one of the most diverse avifauna of the mountainous regions of the world, with approximately 90 species of birds in 13 families known to occur in the Central Karakorum National Park. Alpine and moraine lakes are important stopovers on the Indus flyway and are part of one of the largest migratory bird routes in the world.

Central Karakorum National Park in Pakistan

Central Karakorum National Park in Pakistan was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016.. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Central Karakoram in the Gilgit-Balitstan region of Pakistan is an extreme mountain area between Skardu and Gilgit. It was declared as the Central Karakoram National Park (CKNP) in 1993 and today it is the largest protected area in Pakistan, covering over 10,557.73 square kilometers in the Central Karakorum mountain range. The area is part of the Asian high-mountain system of Hindukush- Karakorum-West Himalaya, and is the highest park in the world. [Source: Government of Pakistan, Directorate General of Archaeology]

“The Central Karakorum National Park is a place of superlatives: the highest park in the world, containing within its borders sixty peaks over 7,000 m. and ten of the world’s highest and most famous mountains including four peaks more than 8000 m.a.s.l. and K2, the second highest peak in the world. This density of exceptionally high peaks is an important attribute of the park’s OUV. Location: Gilgit - Baltistan, Coordinates: N36 55 55 E75 5 2

“Central Karakoram National Park is an outstanding example representing major stages of earth’s history, including past and continuing geological processes in the development of the Himalayan massif; the dramatic growth and formative action of some of the world’s most important glaciers; and the continuous cycle of landform change brought about by the dynamic force of landslides. : As a regional priority area for conservation of bird and animal species, Central Karakorum National Park is an outstanding example of significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of mountain ecosystems.

The national park is of more than adequate size to ensure compete representation of these features and natural processes, spanning over 10,557 square kilometers of valleys, mountains, glaciers, forests, meadows and rivers. It represents the great range of geological forms, altitude and climatic conditions that have carved out distinctive ecological zones, from alpine dry steppe to permanent snow fields and cold deserts, with their associated rare and in some case threatened species.

K2

K2 (in the Karakorum range between China and Pakistan) is the second highest mountain in the world after Mt. Everest. It is 8,661 meters (28,251) feet high which is 237 meters (778 feet) less the world's highest peak. The height of these peaks is determined by surveyors who takes measurements from different sides of the mountain and then average the heights together. In 1987 new calculations based on satellite measurements indicated that K2 rose to an elevation of 8,859 meters (29,064 feet) which would make it higher than Everest but the National Geographic Society has not accepted this figure. Similar calculations raise the height of Everest to nearly 30,000 feet.

Sometime called Mount Godwin Austen after the British scientist who surveyed it in the 1860, K2 it is a broad glacier shrouded peak that looks like a pyramid on a plateau. Because of it steep slopes, violent summers storms, and high risk of avalanches many mountaineers consider K2 to be a much more difficult climbing challenge than Everest.

Thousands of people have been to the top of Everest. Only a few dozen have summitted K2. Sometimes called "the Savage Mountain" at one point one out of twenty climbers who tried to reach the summit was killed by either, accident, illness or exposure. In 1995 alone, seven people were killed in brutal storm that raged for nine days. Thirty kilometers away a rock climber froze to death in a hanging tent.

It is a 160 kilometer (100 mile) trek just to get to the base of K2. As of 1980 only three expeditions to the top were successful. An Italian one reached the summit in 1954, only a year after Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tending Norgay reached the top of Everest. A large Japanese group scaled it in 1977.

The first American attempt was in 1953. It like three other expedition ended in failure and took the lives of five climbers. Finally in 1978. AmericansLou Reichardt and Jim Wickwire made it the top. Wickwire was forced to spend the night in a bivouac sack just below the summit and during the effort he said he went temporally insane.

Trekkers generally in Pakistan camp 10 kilometers from K2 at 4541-meter (14,900-foot-high) spot on Godwin Austen Glacier. Most climbing attempts of K2 have been launched from the Pakistan side of the mountain. Few have been launched from Chinese side; only a handful of trekkers have visited the Chinese side of K2.

Chinese Side of K2 and the Gasherbums

The Tashkurgan section of Xinjiang include of K2. The northern slopes of the Karakoram-Tashkurgan mountains are drier and quite different from the southern slopes in Pakistan. David Hamilton of highadventure.org wrote: “Since my first trip to the Chinese side of the Karakoram in 1989 I have visited the area a total of nine times: two private trips (1989, 1990), five climbing expeditions to Muztag Ata (1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007) and two trekking expeditions to the north side of K2 (2002, 2003). In the summer of 2011 I made my tenth visit leading a private trekking trip to the north base camps of K2 and the Gasherbrums.

The trip could have failed before we left the UK. The Xinjiang-Tibet highway was undergoing major reconstruction work and the Chinese authorities announced that it would only be open to traffic for 3 days in every 10 throughout the summer months....Once this issue was resolved the Chinese visa issuing authorities in the UK placed numerous obstacles in our way, despite the fact that we had obtained all the necessary permits and an official invitation from the China Xinjiang Mountaineering Association.

It was with some relief that the five members of the party were united in Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan...Over two days we drove east reaching the Chinese frontier at the 3,752m Torugart Pass before descending to the city of Kashgar. The following day we set off on the two day drive south on the Xinjiang-Tibet highway” to Mazar and finally Yilik. The next morning we loaded our equipment onto ten camels and left the village together with two Kyrgyz camel drivers and our two Chinese Staff (Mr Li and Mr Liu). After five days of air and road travel it was good to start walking. The trail followed a river valley bounded by high walls of unstable conglomerate until we reached a campsite at the junction of two rivers. It took a further four days to reach Sughet Jangal, the site known locally as the 'Chinese Base Camp' for expeditions climbing K2. On average we travelled for 6-7 hours each day, including about an hour of rests and stops. The days were generally warm and sunny, with a build up of cloud and increasing winds in the afternoons....We generally started walking around 09.00 and this enabled us to reach camp in mid afternoon before the strengthening winds whipped up too much sand and dust.

The route was interesting and varied, passing through steep sided river valleys before crossing the open grasslands of the Aghil Pass (4,870m) and descending to the wide stony valley of the Shagskam River. The river meandered across the floor of the wide valley and we were forced to cross it a few times each day. In many places the water was over a meter deep and we had to climb on top of the baggage camel's loads to cross the fast flowing river. On the final day of the trek to Sughet Jangal we took an optional 'high level' shortcut and were rewarded with excellent views of K2 on a day of clear blue skies. The terrain on the north side of the Karakoram is generally dry and dusty with little vegetation, but Sughet Jangal is one of the largest areas of greenery in the region with a variety of bushes and small trees watered by a clear stream. We spent a rest day here preparing for a three day round trip to visit the Advance BC of K2.

The trail to ABC was too difficult for the camels so this had to be a 'lightweight' trip. All the heavy equipment was left behind at Sughet Jangal. The two camel men plus Mr Liu the cook carried basic camping equipment and food for the team on the long hike to ABC. In the course of a 10hr day we trekked from BC at 3,900m to ABC at 4,700m on a small shelf above the North K2 Glacier. The following day started cloudy and although we knew that K2 was close at hand we had only fleeting glimpses of its outline. The clouds cleared later in the day and we had good views of the dramatic north face of K2 as we trekked back from a vantage point in the middle of the boulder covered glacier.

On our return to Sughet Jangal we were reunited with the camels and the bulk of our equipment for the four day trek to Gasherbrum Base Camp. We retraced our journey along the valley of the Shakskam River as far as the foot of the Aghil Pass before continuing east and following the river upstream towards the glaciers that fed the river. The weather became more unsettled as we approached Gasherbrum BC. By the time we arrived at the campsite there was low cloud in the valley and soon after the rain started. We were scheduled to spend three days exploring the area around Gasherbrum BC. For the first two days we were shrouded in mist and the rain continued to fall. It was with some relief that we woke on the morning of our final day at GBC to find clear skies and a magnificent view of the snow covered peaks overlooking camp.

We spent the day exploring the ice pinnacles on the North Gasherbrum Glacier and photographing the high peaks of the Gasherbrum range. Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II were the most easily identifiable features. Scanning the skyline from left to right the ridgeline of the Urdok peaks rose to the summit of Gasherbrum I (8,068m) then fell to the Gasherbrum Pass (6,511m) before rising again to the summit of Gasherbrum II (8,035m). Beyond GII the topography was more complex with several high subsidiary summits making it difficult to identify the summits of Gasherbrum III (7,946m) and Gasherbrum IV (7,932m). A decade ago I spent several summers climbing some of these peaks from the Pakistan side and looking down onto the glaciers and valleys on the Chinese side. It was interesting to be able to look up at these same summits from the north side of the range.

The last “day the trek was shortened considerably by the arrival of our vehicles that came to find us long before we reached Yilik. It still required several hours for the camels to arrive and be unloaded before we could complete the formalities at the Chinese army post and start the long journey northward to Kashgar. The party were anxious to avoid a repeat stay at the rather basic Kun Lun hotel in Kudu where we had stopped on the outward journey. We therefore drove late into the night, through the roadworks, to reach the relative comfort of Yecheng. The next day better roads took us out of the mountains and across a dry and sandy landscape to Kashgar.

Faxian in the Karakoram Region of Northern Pakistan

Between A.D. 399 and 414, the Chinese monk Faxian (Fa-Hsien, Fa Hien) undertook a trip via Central Asia to India to study Buddhism, locate sutras and relics and obtain copies of Buddhist books that were unavailable in China at the time. He traveled from Xian in central China to the west overland on the southern Silk Road into Central Asia and described monasteries, monks and pagodas there. He then crossed over Himalayan passes into India and ventured as far south as Sri Lanka before sailing back to China on a route that took him through present-day Indonesia. His entire journey took 15 years.

According to Faxian’s “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms”: “When the processions of images in the fourth month were over, Sang-shao, by himself alone, followed a Tartar who was an earnest follower of the Law, and proceeded towards Kophene [Kabul region?], Fa-hien and the others went forward to the kingdom of Tsze-hoh [?Tashkurgan, ?Baltistan in northern Pakistan], which it took them twenty-five days to reach. Its king was a strenuous follower of our Law, and had (around him) more than a thousand monks, mostly students of the Mahayana. Here (the travellers) abode fifteen days, and then went south for four days, when they found themselves among the Ts'ung-ling mountains, and reached the country of Yu-hwuy, where they halted and kept their retreat. When this was over, they went on among the hills for twenty-five days, and got to K'eeh-ch'a [Skardu, a town in present-day northern Pakistan, or a town to the east in Ladak], there rejoining Hwuy-king and his two companions. [Source: “A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms” by Fa-Hsien (Faxian) of his Travels in India and Ceylon (A.D. 399-414), Translated James Legge, 1886, gutenberg.org/ */*]

“It happened that the king of the country was then holding the pancha parishad, that is, in Chinese, the great quinquennial assembly. When this is to be held, the king requests the presence of the Sramans from all quarters (of his kingdom). They come (as if) in clouds; and when they are all assembled, their place of session is grandly decorated. Silken streamers and canopies are hung out in, and water-lilies in gold and silver are made and fixed up behind the places where (the chief of them) are to sit. When clean mats have been spread, and they are all seated, the king and his ministers present their offerings according to rule and law. (The assembly takes place), in the first, second, or third month, for the most part in the spring. */*

“After the king has held the assembly, he further exhorts the ministers to make other and special offerings. The doing of this extends over one, two, three, five, or even seven days; and when all is finished, he takes his own riding-horse, saddles, bridles, and waits on him himself, while he makes the noblest and most important minister of the kingdom mount him. Then, taking fine white woollen cloth, all sorts of precious things, and articles which the Sramans require, he distributes them among them, uttering vows at the same time along with all his ministers; and when this distribution has taken place, he again redeems (whatever he wishes) from the monks. */*

“The country, being among the hills and cold, does not produce the other cereals, and only the wheat gets ripe. After the monks have received their annual (portion of this), the mornings suddenly show the hoar-frost, and on this account the king always begs the monks to make the wheat ripen before they receive their portion. There is in the country a spitoon which belonged to Buddha, made of stone, and in colour like his alms-bowl. There is also a tooth of Buddha, for which the people have reared a stupa, connected with which there are more than a thousand monks and their disciples, all students of the hinayana. To the east of these hills the dress of the common people is of coarse materials, as in our country of Ts'in, but here also there were among them the differences of fine woollen cloth and of serge or haircloth. The rules observed by the Sramans are remarkable, and too numerous to be mentioned in detail. The country is in the midst of the Onion range. As you go forward from these mountains, the plants, trees, and fruits are all different from those of the land of Han, excepting only the bamboo, pomegranate, and sugar-cane." */*

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Mongabey.com

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), China.org, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020


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