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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 km2 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Karakorum Range lies in a transitional zone between the arid Central Asia and the semi-humid tropics of South Asia. Within the CKNP 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.
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 CKNP. 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.
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.
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.
From a geological and structural point of view, the CKNP 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.
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.
Criterion (viii): 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.
Criterion (ix): As a regional priority area for conservation of bird and animal species, CKNP is an outstanding example of significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of mountain ecosystems.
CKNP includes within its boundary all the key interrelated and interdependent elements necessary to express its Outstanding Universal Value. The national park is of more than adequate size to ensure compete representation of these features and natural processes, spanning over 10,333.3 km2 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.
It comprises a Core Zone area protecting the major geological, glacial and environmental elements, surrounded by a Buffer Zone which is discontinuous, delineated only in those areas where its function is necessary. The property has been delineated to exclude nearby permanent human settlements while allowing sustainable traditional uses and a fundamental role for local communities in the management and protection of the park. The CKNP does not suffer from adverse effects of development and/or neglect; it is essentially pristine and an integrated park management plan has been developed to provide continuing care and protection.
The World Heritage List includes properties which share some of the values expressed in the Central Karakorum National Park: The first of these, Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Park in India highlights biodiversity of its alpine meadows and peaks. The OUV of Tajik National Park (Mountains of the Pamirs) lies in its exceptional beauty, and two main habitat types of Continental Cold Winter Deserts and Vavilov Centers which are important gene pools of wild relatives of cultivated plants. Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area in India is a compact area for conserving habitat and biological diversity which offers the best chance for survival of numerous temperate and subalpine species. The OUV of Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal, in the eastern Himalayas, is based solely on its superlative and exceptional natural beauty embedded in the dramatic mountains, glaciers, deep valleys and majestic peaks.
There are three comparative properties on the World Heritage Tentative List. The OUV of Kangchendzonga National Park, India.is a mixed nomination, based on cultural and natural criteria (iii), (vii) and (x). It is the highest of the countries high altitude parks with a wide variety of ecological conditions. However, the emphasis for nomination is placed on the deep Buddhist cultural associations that set the property apart. Similarly, the Cold Desert Landscape of India, between the Greater Himalayas of India and the main Tibetan Plateau, is a cultural landscape with exceptional intangible Buddhist cultural resources ranging from performing arts, crafts, literary works, customs, myths and beliefs.
The Karakorum - Pamir in China includes the most important tectonic suture lines of the Pamirs, which are unique to the Pamirs and a drier and quite different environment from the southern slopes than that included in the proposed site in Pakistan.
None of these properties carries OUV based on the same combination of attributes seen in Central Karakorum National Park: the density of exceptional peaks and dramatic range of elevations and ecosystems of global value, concentration of dynamic geological forces, active seismicity and exceptional glacier growth and movement.