It may be an unlikely place for a cash machine, but the Khunjerab Pass ATM has been serving the small number of residents and border staff, as well as adventurous tourists since 2016!
This is the highest-altitude cash machine in the world, located at the Khunjerab Pass border between China and Pakistan, at an elevation of 4,693 meters.
Over the past few decades, the ATM has become one of the world’s most present pieces of technology, but you wouldn’t expect to see one while trekking through the snow-covered mountains of Pakistan, right?
And yet, the Khunjerab Pass border pass in northern Gilgit-Baltistan province is home to the world’s highest fully-functional ATM, a title certified by Guinness World Records.
Installed by the National Bank of Pakistan, NBP, in 2016, the solar- and wind-powered cash machine is a truly unusual sight to behold in such an isolated place as Khunjerab Pass, the highest paved border crossing in the world, and getting there is one of the planet’s most dramatic drives. Craggy snow-capped Karakoram mountain peaks fence in sparse hinterlands, and Khunjerab National Park, home to snow leopards and markhor, Pakistan’s national animal, and sprawl as far as the eye can see.
Its installation was quite a complex endeavor that took the National Bank of Pakistan about four months to complete.
And, of course, providing maintenance and refilling the machine with cash on a regular basis is also a rather painstaking affair, as the nearest bank is 82 kilometers away.
Zahid Hussain, branch manager of the Sost NBP branch, the nearest to the machine, regularly drives up to it, braving extreme winds, storms, frequent landslides, as well as treacherous mountain passes to make sure it is in working order.
As you can imagine, being located at 4,693 meters above sea level in the middle of nowhere means that the world’s highest ATM isn’t exactly the busiest.
It mostly serves the border guards who pick their monthly salaries from it, a handful of locals, and the few people who cross the border through the pass.
Thus around 4 to 5 million rupees ($18,350 – $23,000) is withdrawn from the machine every couple of weeks.
A National Bank of Pakistan spokesperson told that it usually takes a person between two and two and a half hours to reach the world’s highest ATM when it needs emergency repairs.
That is actually not bad at all, considering its extreme location.
Despite its low volume in transactions, the bank takes this machine seriously because of the people who rely on it.
“They might be insignificant in numbers, but they often reside in the huge park itself and don’t have any other medium to transfer their salaries to loved ones and family,” Zahid Hussain said.
Either way adventurous travellers reach it taking pictures while making a transaction that brings new meaning to the phrase “cold, hard cash”…..
Images from web – Google Research