By Noor Pamiri
The Karakoram Highway is one of the highest paved roads of the world. Construction of this road, from 1968 to 1979, costed hundreds of Pakistani and Chinese lives, as workers either fell to their death, or where hit by landslides and rockfall. Hundreds of more live are lost every year due to road accidents caused by a multitude of reasons, including rockfalls, landslides and flashfloods. Human error or laxity also contributes a great deal to the high death toll of the Karakoram Highway.
One of the most vulnerable spots of KKH in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, without a doubt, is the “Taata Pani” area, named so due to the presence of hot springs in the area. “Taatu” is a Shina word for “Hot”, while Paani is “Water” in Urdu. Therefore, Taata Pani, essentially, means hot water. Travelers can see hot steam bellowing off the hot springs right next to the KKH.
This area can arguably be called one of the bottlenecks of the Karakoram Highway because it is highly prone to natural hazards. Even during a light shower, landslides , mudslides and floods are common in this area hindering traffic every now and then. In the past, during major landslides or floods, the area has remained blocked for days disconnecting GB from the rest of Pakistan. During prolonged blockades, edibles and petroleum products almost always become short in supplies in the region’s markets, as was the case recently.
Ironically, right to the opposite of TaatuPaani area is a relatively plain and safer piece of barren land that could be used to realign the Karakoram Highway and save lives, properties, and time of all the residents of GB, as well as of the millions of tourists who are likely to visit the region in the years ahead.
Recently, after yet another series of blockades caused by torrential rainfalls, the GB government wrote a letter to the National Highway Authority requesting removal of the bottleneck, by realigning this relatively small part of the KKH.
Tens of millions of rupees being spent on repairing of this small patch of the road every year could be saved by constructing a couple of bridges and a few kilometers of roads.