Sost & Khunjerab Pass Day Trip
Khunjerab Pass is the highest land border between two countries and an exciting and thrilling adventure filled day trip. It is one of the the most strategic paved roads and highest point of the Karakoram Highway. The highway passes through stunning scenery, tall mountains and also hosts some of the rarest animals in the world including blue sheep and snow leopard. A day trip to Khunjerab Pass is not to be missed when in the north of Pakistan.
Fun Fact: Khunjerab is the highest land border crossing of the world. It also has the highest ATM in the world.
Tips and Information
- Bring yourself warm clothes, it is an unexpected place and you can need them any time even in summer.
- There are no shops past Sost so keep some snacks and water with you. I got some dried fruits and loved it.
- The best time to do this trip is late April to early October, I did it at the end of March and it was still too cold to reach the top of Khunjerab Pass, close to China Pakistan border.
- If you want to make it a 2 day trip, also check Gulmit village which has a local museum and a carpet factory.
- You can also arrange special safari trips to see blue sheep and if you’re one in millions you might get to see a snow leopard on top of the mountains. These require special permits and are week long trips.
- I would recommend staying at Atabad Lake for an early start if you want to cover all stops below.
I arrived a day in advance from Hunza and stayed the day at Atabad Lake and left early in the morning to avoid getting stuck in traffic and wasting precious time. From Hunza Atabad Lake took us about 30 minutes.
It had rained the day before so I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it to the top of Khunjerab Pass. It was a nice day and I could see the sun shining on Passu peaks, the beautiful perky peaks visible from Atabad Lake.
I left around 8 am from Atabad Lake. The plan was to head directly to Khunjerab Pass and then make a few stops on the way back to avoid wasting best part of the day and getting to Khunjerab too late.
A few minutes after the journey started I could see the Passu peaks. These conical peaks are absolutely gorgeous. They are a beautiful colour of brown and looks stunning in sunlight with snow on top.
We arrived at Sost which is the last city before The national park starts and the last town on Pakistani side. It is a small town with a small market of n the main road with tons of Chinese products.
We had to get a 4×4 because it was snowing in the top. Off season you cannot go without a 4×4, it is not only dangerous but also not allowed. There were a few stood there so the haggling and bargaining started. I got a Prado for PKR 9000 for the entire 5 hours trip. The vehicles go year round but during winter things can get hairy any time so there is no guarantee you will be allowed to go past Sost.
We couldn’t go further because of permission issues at the national park entrance.
I wandered around the market aimlessly when I spotted a tiny cafe.
Ashuri Fast Food Point
This tiny cafe called Ashuri Fast Food Point bhad only 2 things on offer; a local soup made with noodles and vegetables called Daodo and a broth made with Yak meat. I tried both. The soup was served with a bit of Yak meat. It was tangy which turned out to be due to dried yogurt. The broth was great and warmed me up for the incoming trip.
After an hour, we finally got the permission and we headed to the entrance of Khunjerab National Park.
Khunjerab National Park
The way was already stunning until we got to the entrance of park gate. I had to register myself and pay the fee.
Entrance – Local PKR 100 , Foreigners it is $10.
Khunjerab National Park is the third largest national park in the country and home to some amazing animals like snow leopards, ibex and those amazing Marco Polo sheep. It is really beautiful throughout with vegetation interspersed with largely rugged, snow covered mountains.
The stones from yesterday were already on the road and soon after leaving, snow started to appear in small patches. The way passes through narrow valleys with giants of Karakoram surrounding our tiny vehicle on all sides. A small river flew in our right hand side quite high up until everything froze.
The road went up and down and scene changed with each mountain. I felt like I was being watched over by moody giants. One thing they didn’t like and I was buried under tons if rock. They seemed to like me that day, lucky me.
The first sign of life was spotting of Markhor on a hill top but they were slightly far. This gorgeous animal is the national animal of Pakistan.
More turns and twists, more valleys, more mountains and increasingly more snow. We were all cautious because of the accident the day before.
As if to mock us we spotted some Yaks standing on top of a cliff right next yo the road. They were big bulls and really majestic.
We eventually got to a point where everything was covered in white, one could barely make the outline of anything let alone the road. Tiny snow drops came rushing towards me when we stopped to assess and I got out of the car.
I could barely open my eyes. It was cold despite multiple layers. We could go no further, reminded me of the ‘You shall not pass’ from Lord of the Rings movie.
I was barely 5 km from the border, so close and yet so far. I decided to do it in summer to cross into China one day.
The Return Journey
We turned back and the journey started again to head back, we still had quite a lot to do on the way back. We spotted more Markhor quite close this time, they are really cute.
A little bit further more Yaks sat lazily by the river and close to the exit we saw the ibex literally next to us near the road, I was a happy person, honestly.
We arrived in Sost and headed back straight away, I had places to be and see.
The first stop was at the Baturah Glacier which we couldn’t see. It takes a day if you want to trek there. On the way int he morning I could see a bit of it from distance.
My guide told me about a cafe on the way that sold great apricot cake, we stopped there on the way which turned out to be a great idea for a few reasons.
Glacier Breeze Cafe
The stairs up were totally worth it. The cake was moist, delicious and warm, everything I was craving after a cold day. The local mountain tea made things even better. Locals mostly drink mountain tea (Tumuru) with salt which was a new thing for me especially with the yummy apricot cake.
Passu Glacier & Passu Cones
The view from the cafe was incredibly insane. On the back was Passu Glacier in grey with the sun shining behind the clouds, towards the front were Passu Peaks or Passu cones.
Tea and cake with that view was an unforgettable experience, the owner of the cafe was a friendly local who also makes great local food.
I just couldn’t help stop getting fixated on the beautiful cones that rise from the ground with a river flowing by, they almost looked like shards of glass or spikes at the back of a dragon. It was golden hour and the cones looked magical with the golden light of the sun just touching the top of the peaks, utterly mesmerising!
I had two more places to be and light was fading fast. I finished my cake and headed out with my guide to head to our next stop.
The lake is off road and the road is quite tough with sharp turns, it took us 15-20 minutes until we arrived at the lake. It is completely different from Atabad lake, it is emerald green surrounded by mountains but none of them are imposing. They all seem distant and the valley was pleasing and serene.
A few birds played in the water as I watched. There was no one there except the surrounding mountains and birds. I suddenly realised I was going to miss the wonders of Hunz and all this beauty and how I missed coming here for so long despite it being in my backyard.
The last stop was the suspension bridge in Hussaini village. We parked the car and headed through the village, it took about 10 minutes walk and I paid PKR 100 to enter the trail.
The suspension bridge is a wonder of Hunza, it connects two sides from Hussaini village to Zarabad over Hunza River. It is one of the many bridges in the north of similar danger level but it has become famous for being so close to the road.
It is called the most dangerous bridge in the world for good reason. The metal ropes are rusty and wooden planks far apart, it is also lopsided but it was fun to walk over it. The view of Passu cones from here is also amazing with the river in front of the cones in the valley.
It was a short stop before I headed back to the car to beat the fading light. The drive back to Hunza was quiet but serene.
Despite not getting to the border, it was a tiring but amazing day. It was perhaps for the best because i have a reason to go from Pakistan to China through Khunjerab Pass.