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The Karakoram Pass (5,540 m or 18,175 ft) is the highest pass on the ancient caravan route between Leh in Ladakh and Yarkand in the Tarim Basin. 'Karakoram' literally means 'Black Gravel' in Turkic.

The high altitude and lack of fodder was responsible for the deaths of innumerable pack animals, and the route across the Pass was notorious for the trail of bones strewn along the way. There is an almost total absence of vegetation on the approaches to the pass.

To the south was the barren and feared three days' march across the Depsang Plains at about 5,300 m. (17,400 ft). To the north, the country was somewhat less desolate before one had to cross the relatively easy and lower Suget Dawan (or Suget Pass) before reaching the lush grazing grounds around Shahidullah or Xaidulla in the upper valley of the Karakash River.

This pass, falling precisely on the boundary of territory controlled by India (Jammu and Kashmir region) and China (Xinjiang Autonomous Region), plays a major geographic role in the dispute between Pakistan and India over control of the Siachen Glacier area immediately to the west.

It is in a saddle between two mountains and about 45 metres wide. There is no vegetation or icecap and it is generally free of snow due to the winds. However, the winds are often very high accompanied by low temperatures and there are frequent blizzards. In spite of all this, the Karakoram Pass was considered a relatively easy pass due to the gradual ascent on both sides, and lack of summer snow and ice much of the year, although the extreme altitude took its toll. Because of this it was open throughout most of the year.. The pass currently remains closed to vehicular traffic.