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The Karakoram is a mountain range spanning the borders of China, India, and Pakistan, with the northwest extremity of the range extending to Afghanistan and Tajikistan; its highest 15 mountains are all based in Pakistan. It begins in the Wakhan Corridor (Afghanistan) in the west, encompasses the majority of Gilgit-Baltistan, and extends into Ladakh (controlled by India) and Aksai Chin (controlled by China).

It is the second highest mountain range in the world and part of the complex of ranges including the Pamir Mountains, the Hindu Kush and the Himalayan Mountains. The Karakoram has eighteen summits over 7,500 m (24,600 ft) height, with four of them exceeding 8,000 m (26,000 ft): K2, the second highest peak in the world at 8,611 m (28,251 ft), Gasherbrum IBroad Peak and Gasherbrum II.

The range is about 500 km (311 mi) in length and is the most heavily glaciated part of the world outside the polar regions. The Siachen Glacier at 76 kilometres (47 mi) and the Biafo Glacier at 63 kilometres (39 mi) rank as the world’s second and third longest glaciers outside the polar regions.

The Karakoram is bounded on the east by the Aksai Chin plateau, on the northeast by the edge of the Tibetan Plateau and on the north by the river valleys of the Yarkand and Karakash rivers beyond which lie the Kunlun Mountains. At the northwest corner are the Pamir Mountains. The southern boundary of the Karakoram is formed, west to east, by the Gilgit, Indus and Shyok rivers, which separate the range from the northwestern end of the Himalaya range proper.

These rivers flow northwest before making an abrupt turn southwestward towards the plains of Pakistan. Roughly in the middle of the Karakoram range is the Karakoram Pass, which was part of a historic trade route between Ladakh and Yarkand that is now inactive.

The Tashkurghan National Nature Reserve and the Pamir Wetlands National Nature Reserve in the Karalorun and Pamir mountains have been nominated for inclusion in UNESCO in 2010 by the National Commission of the People’s Republic of China for UNESCO and has tentatively been added to the list.

Karakoram is a Turkic term meaning black gravel. The Central Asian traders originally applied the name to the Karakoram Pass. Early European travellers, including William Moorcroft and George Hayward, started using the term for the range of mountains west of the pass, although they also used the term Muztagh (meaning, “Ice Mountain”) for the range now known as Karakoram.

Later terminology was influenced by the Survey of India, whose surveyor Thomas Montgomerie in the 1850s gave the labels K1 to K6 (K for Karakoram) to six high mountains visible from his station at Mount Haramukh in Kashmir Valley.

Karakoram Exploration

Due to its altitude and ruggedness, the Karakoram is much less inhabited than parts of the Himalayas further east. European explorers first visited early in the 19th century, followed by British surveyors starting in 1856.

The Muztagh Pass was crossed in 1887 by the expedition of Colonel Francis Younghusband and the valleys above the Hunza River were explored by General Sir George K. Cockerill in 1892. Explorations in the 1910s and 1920s established most of the geography of the region.

The name Karakoram was used in the early 20th century, for example by Kenneth Mason, for the range now known as the Baltoro Muztagh. The term is now used to refer to the entire range from the Batura Muztagh above Hunza in the west to the Saser Muztagh in the bend of the Shyok River in the east.

Hunza Valley in the Gilgit-Baltistan region Pakistan

Floral surveys were carried out in the Shyok River catchment and from Panamik to Turtuk village by Chandra Prakash Kala during 1999 and 2000.

Geology and glaciers

The Karakoram is in one of the world’s most geologically active areas, at the plate boundary between the Indo-Australian plate and the Eurasian plate. A significant part, somewhere between 28 and 50 percent, of the Karakoram Range is glaciated covering an area of more than 15,000 square kilometres or 5,800 square miles,  compared to between 8 and 12 percent of the Himalaya and 2.2 percent of the Alps.

Mountain glaciers may serve as an indicator of climate change, advancing and receding with long-term changes in temperature and precipitation. The Karakoram glaciers are slightly retreating, unlike the Himalayas where glaciers are losing mass at significantly higher rate, many Karakoram glaciers are covered in a layer of rubble which insulates the ice from the warmth of the sun. Where there is no such insulation, the rate of retreat is high.

  • Siachen Glacier
  • Baltoro Glacier
  • Hispar Glacier
  • Batura Glacier
  • Biafo Glacier
  • Chogo Lungma Glacier
  • Yinsugaiti Glacier

Ice Age

In the last ice age, a connected series of glaciers stretched from western Tibet to Nanga Parbat, and from the Tarim basin to the Gilgit District. To the south, the Indus glacier was the main valley glacier, which flowed 120 kilometres (75 mi) down from Nanga Parbat massif to 870 metres (2,850 ft) elevation.

In the north, the Karakoram glaciers joined those from the Kunlun Mountains and flowed down to 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) in the Tarim basin.

While the current valley glaciers in the Karakoram reach a maximum length of 76 kilometres (47 mi), several of the ice-age valley glacier branches and main valley glaciers, had lengths up to 700 kilometres (430 mi). During the Ice Age, the glacier snowline was about 1,300 metres (4,300 ft) lower than today.


Highest peaks

The highest peaks of the Karakoram are:

K28,611 metres (28,251 ft)2K2-
Gasherbrum I8,080 metres (26,510 ft)11K5-
Broad Peak8,051 metres (26,414 ft)12
Gasherbrum II8,034 metres (26,358 ft)13K4-
Gasherbrum III7,952 metres (26,089 ft)15K3a
Gasherbrum IV7,925 metres (26,001 ft)17K3
Distaghil Sar7,885 metres (25,869 ft)19 
Kunyang Chhish7,852 metres (25,761 ft)21 
Masherbrum I7,821 metres (25,659 ft)22K1
Batura I7,795 metres (25,574 ft)25 
Rakaposhi7,788 metres (25,551 ft)26 
Batura II7,762 metres (25,466 ft)  not on world highest list
Kanjut Sar7,760 metres (25,460 ft)28 
Saltoro Kangri I7,742 metres (25,400 ft)31K10-
Batura III7,729 metres (25,358 ft)  not on world highest list
Saser Kangri I7,672 metres (25,171 ft)35K22
Chogolisa7,665 metres (25,148 ft)36 
Shispare Sar7,611 metres (24,970 ft)38 
Trivor Sar7,577 metres (24,859 ft)39 
Skyang Kangri7,545 metres (24,754 ft)43
Mamostong Kangri7,516 metres (24,659 ft)47K35
Saser Kangri II7,513 metres (24,649 ft)48 
Saser Kangri III7,495 metres (24,590 ft)51 
Pumari Chhish7,492 metres (24,580 ft)53 
Passu Sar7,478 metres (24,534 ft)54 
Yukshin Gardan Sar7,469 metres (24,505 ft)55 
Teram Kangri I7,462 metres (24,482 ft)56
Malubiting7,458 metres (24,469 ft)58 
K127,428 metres (24,370 ft)61K12-
Sia Kangri7,422 metres (24,350 ft)63
Momhil Sar7,414 metres (24,324 ft)64 
Skil Brum7,410 metres (24,310 ft)66
Haramosh Peak7,409 metres (24,308 ft)67 
Ghent Kangri7,401 metres (24,281 ft)69
Ultar Peak7,388 metres (24,239 ft)70 
Rimo I7,385 metres (24,229 ft)71 
Sherpi Kangri7,380 metres (24,210 ft)74 
Bojohagur Duanasir7,329 metres (24,045 ft)  not on world highest list
Yazghil Dome South7,324 metres (24,029 ft)  not on world highest list
Baltoro Kangri7,312 metres (23,990 ft)81 
Crown Peak7,295 metres (23,934 ft)83 
Baintha Brakk7,285 metres (23,901 ft)86 
Yutmaru Sar7,283 metres (23,894 ft)87 
Baltistan Peak7,282 metres (23,891 ft)88K6
Muztagh Tower7,273 metres (23,862 ft)90
Diran7,266 metres (23,839 ft)92 
Apsarasas Kangri I7,243 metres (23,763 ft)95
Rimo III7,233 metres (23,730 ft)97 
Gasherbrum V7,147 metres (23,448 ft)  not on world highest list

The majority of the highest peaks are in the Gilgit–Baltistan region administered by Pakistan. Baltistan has more than 100 mountain peaks exceeding 6,100 metres (20,000 ft) height from sea level.



K-numbersInternational nameHeightRemark
K1Masherbrum7,821 metres (25,659 ft) 
K2Chogori8,611 metres (28,251 ft)– at the head of the Godwin-Austen Glacier
K3Gasherbrum IV7,925 metres (26,001 ft) 
K3aGasherbrum III7,952 metres (26,089 ft) 
K4Gasherbrum II8,034 metres (26,358 ft)
K5Gasherbrum I8,080 metres (26,510 ft)
K6Baltistan Peak7,282 metres (23,891 ft) 
K7Gomgma Gangri6,934 metres (22,749 ft) at the head of the Charakusa Valley
K8Skilma Gangri7,422 metres (24,350 ft) on the western flank of the Siachen Glacier
K9Gamba Gangri7,000 metres (23,000 ft) (approx) near Trango Towers
K10Saltoro Kangri I7,742 metres (25,400 ft)
K11Saltoro Kangri II7,705 metres (25,279 ft)
K12Saitang peak7,428 metres (24,370 ft)– subsidiary of Saltoro Kangri
K13Dansam Peak6,666 metres (21,870 ft) south west of Saltoro Kangri
K22Saser Kangri I7,672 metres (25,171 ft) 
K25Pastan Kangri6,523 metres (21,401 ft) south of Saltoro Kangri
K35Mamostong Kangri7,516 metres (24,659 ft) 


The naming and division of the various subranges of the Karakoram is not universally agreed upon. However, the following is a list of the most important subranges, following Jerzy Wala. The ranges are listed roughly west to east.

  • Batura Muztagh
  • Rakaposhi-Haramosh Mountains
  • Spantik-Sosbun Mountains
  • Hispar Muztagh
  • South Ghujerab Mountains
  • Panmah Muztagh
  • Wesm Mountains
  • Masherbrum Mountains
  • Baltoro Muztagh
  • Saltoro Mountains
  • Siachen Muztagh
  • Rimo Muztagh
  • Saser Muztagh


Location of the passes in Karakoram

1:Sia La 2:Bilafond La 3:Gyong La

4:Sasser Pass 5:Burji La 6:Machulo La

7:Naltar Pass 8:Hispar Pass 9:Shimshal Pass

10:Karakoram Pass 11:Turkistan La Pass 12: Windy Gap

13:Mustagh Pass 14:Sarpo Laggo Pass 15:Khunjerab Pass

16:Mutsjliga Pass 17:Mintaka Pass 18:Kilik Pass


Karakoram Passes from west to east are:
  • Dandala Passis the most important and earlier pass. It starts from Ghursay saitang city to Yarqand in China. It is the main trade route between Khaplu, Ladakh, Kharmang to Yarqand, China.
  • Kilik Pass
  • Mintaka Pass
  • Khunjerab Pass(the highest paved international border crossing at 4,693 m (15,397 ft))
  • ShimshalPass
  • Mustagh Pass
  • Karakoram Pass
  • Sasser Pass
  • Naltar Pass or Pakora Pass

The Khunjerab Pass is the only motorable pass across the range. The Shimshal Pass (which does not cross an international border) is the only other pass still in regular use.

Cultural references

The Karakoram mountain range has been referred to in a number of novels and movies. Rudyard Kipling refers to the Karakoram mountain range in his novel Kim, which was first published in 1900. Marcel Ichac made a film titled Karakoram, chronicling a French expedition to the range in 1936. The film won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival of 1937. Greg Mortenson details the Karakoram, and specifically K2 and the Balti, extensively in his book Three Cups of Tea, about his quest to build schools for children in the region.

In the Gatchaman TV series, the Karakoram range houses Galactor’s headquarters. K2 Kahani (The K2 Story) by Mustansar Hussain Tarar describes his experiences at K2 base camp.


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