The Karakoram

The Karakoram mountain range is spread over some 400 kilometres and over 192 kilometres wide. Protected on all sides by other mountain ranges, (Himalayas on south-east, Hindu-Kush on south-west, Kun-Lun chain of China on the north, the Pamirs on the west and high desolate Tibetan Plateau on the east) they form the greatest barrier on earth to the migration of the people. The junction point of the Karakorams and the Himalayas is shrouded by yet another mountain range, known as the Pir Panjal. The mighty Indus river, one of the fifteen longest rivers of the world, forces its way through the Karakorams and the Himalayas. The Karakorams are also known as the highest mountains range of the world since it houses seven peaks over 26,000 feet and thirty others over 25,000 feet. That is on an average the Karakoram tops are 25,000 feet and above. The Karakorams house some of the rare sights and wonders in natural beauty, like the K-2 and Trango Tower. Read on to find out more about these mighty natural giants. And in the immediate vicinity of Gilgit alone there are more than 100 peaks higher than 18,000 feet. A local proverb about the Karakorams: “You go there of your own will – but will return only when allowed by the mountains”. The Karakorams with their deep and steep gorges and vast lush green valleys remained unknown to the world till as late as 1860s when Captain Austen visited the area and surveyed the K-2 region. The Karakorams are not only the highest but the youngest mountains, still rising four centimetres every 10 years. Few wonder that someday K-2 may surpass the highest point on the earth – the Mt Everest. Young geologically, the Karakoram mountains emerged in the Cenozoic Era. Because of their steep slopes and alpine glaciers, the summits are almost inaccessible. The dry, harsh climate supports little vegetation or wildlife, but pastoral Tibetans inhabit the lower elevations. The Karakoram Range has the largest glaciers in the world outside of the polar regions.

Karakoram peaks have nicknames that evoke fear and passion: “Savage Mountain” for K2, “Killer Mountain” for Nanga Parbat (8,125 meters) “Shining Wall” for Gasherbrum IV (7,929 meters) and “Bride’s Peak” for Chogolisa (7,665 meters), which is the feminine analogue for Chogori, K2, its neighbour and wife in local folklore.

The Trango Tower (below left and centre) is the highest rock pinnacle of the world rising to 6,257 meters/ 20,857 feet. Rugged, un-scalable and challenging. Many climbers have returned unsuccessful owing to its almost vertical climb.

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