The Shangri-La of Pakistan

Written by Donovan September 17, 2017 Category: Asia, Pakistan Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Comments
Camping in the mountains

Embracing many of the planet’s highest peaks, Pakistan is the incredible confluence of four great mountain ranges: the Himalayas, Karakoam, Hindukush and Pamir mountains. For adventure-loving tourists, there are few places in the world that can compare to northern Pakistan for unspoiled natural beauty.

Visiting Skardu is like a trip to Narnia land, where the magical wardrobe door opens up to an enchanted land. Akin to the magical land, the city of Skardu mesmerises visitors with its breathtaking sights that engulf the town.

The snowcapped peaks

Towering snow-peaked mountains, crystal clear rivers, high altitude lakes, natural springs, lush green plains and treasure trove of historical sites make Skardu a must-visit place at any time of the year. It is best avoided to visit in winter because the roads leading up to Skardu would be blocked by snowfall or landslides. During my trip to Skardu, I had to ensure a 17 hour ride up the mountains from Islamabad, but the views were worth the journey.

Never bored of this beauty

Located in the northern part of Pakistan, Skardu valley is about 10km along Shigar River and Indus River, surrounded by the majestic mountains of the Karakoam range. Skardu district is located at the confluence of the Indus River and the Shyok River, making it the base camp for leading tourist destinations in Gilgit-Baltistan region include K-2, the second highest mountain in the world and also purportedly the most difficult to climb.

The junction of rivers and great civilisation
Independence monument in Skardu

Like the rest of mountainous areas, Skardu is almost engulfed in a white veil throughout the year, with a respite between April and September. This is the ideal season to relish the beauty of the areas adorned with long summer hours that allow you to explore the forests, wild flowers and re-emergence of wildlife. The glaciers also melt into splashing rivers at this time.

Places to visit

K2 museum

K2 museum

This unique tent-shaped museum showcases the multitude of local culture and expedition maps. The museum is sponsored by the Italian government, located in the grounds of PDTC K2 Motel near the bank of the Indus River. Enjoy the numerous historical photos documenting the arduous expeditions of K-2.

Skardu Fort

Kharphocho fort

Popular as the King of Forts or also known as “Kharphocho Fort”, it is perched above the junction of rivers. Built by King Ali Sher dating back to the 16th century, the half-hour hike to the top of the fort unveils stunning views of the valley below.

Satpara Lake

Satpara Lake

Located 20km from Skardu, it is accessible by jeep. Boating is available to enjoy the crystal-clear waters which mirror the icy mountains that surround the lake.

Deosai plains

Deosai Plains

Deosai is popularly known as ‘Land of the Giants’. The real beauty of the high plateau lies in its remarkable biodiversity and varied trekking routes to suit all kinds of hikers. There are several springs in Deosai, brimming with trout fish serving as food for locals and bears alike. The Skardu Desert of Pakistan is one of the most unique places on the globe, and one of the very few deserts in the world where you can play cricket without breaking a sweat!

Shangri-La resort 

Lake at Shangri-La Skardu

Located at a height of 2500 meters, this area is more commonly known as “The Roof of the World”. The resort is set in a peaceful area at the foot of the mountain ranges.

After exploring the Skardu area, it is time to head over to the other side of the mountain range towards Gilgit. The journey by bus between Skardu and Gilgit took 7 hours even though we were already in the mountains. This is in part due to the uneven and windy mountain roads. The conditions only improved after we hit the Karakoam highway (KKH) at the intersection of N35 and S1.

Gilgit is another beautiful area to explore, with the Hunza valley, turquoise lakes and the KKH that leads all the way to the Chinese border. Gilgit is the largest town along the Karakoram Highway, with a bustling city that makes it a transport hub for vehicles arriving from Islamabad, Skardu or other parts of Northern Pakistan. Located along the Gilgit river, the town has a sizeable population and also serves as a base to explore the surrounding valley.

Places to see

Chalt- collision of two continental plates 

Collision of continental plates

60km from Gilgit you will pass the point at Chalt where two continental plates collide! The Indian Subcontinent plate collides with the Asian Plate. Due to this continental collision raise of Karakuram and Himalayas took place, which are highest as well as youngest mountain ranges in the world. So geography!

Rakaposhi Glacier

Rakaposhi glacier in the distance

Global warming is real as seen from the rapid melting of the glaciers. A tourist spot in the town of Ghulmat (located in the Nagar Valley) called “Zero Point of Rakaposhi” is the closest convenient view point of the mountain. Since we did not have time, we only managed to hike a small portion of it, not even reaching the start of the glacier. Many tourists en route to Hunza will stop by at Ghulmat to take photos.

Hunza Valley

Baltit fort

My favourite has to be Hunza valley, with Karimabad being the main city. Be transformed back 700 years and explore the royal seat of the ruler of Hunza – the Tibetan influenced UNESCO World Heritage Site – Baltit Fort. Walk the cobbled streets of the old settlement of Baltit.

Another fort nearby is the Altit Fort and its surrounding settlement of Altit Khun, the very first fort and birthplace of the Hunza Kingdom.

Attabad Lake

Attabad Lake, also known as Gojal Lake, is another sight to behold. It is a lake in the Gojal Valley of northern Pakistan that was created in January 2010 by a landslide dam, destroying several villages and forcing people to be displaced. Today Attabad Lake is a popular attraction for fishing or taking a leisurely boat ride across the lake.

Standing on the Karakoam Highway
Another alpine lake at sunset

Besides Nepal, I think no other country in the world has such varied landscapes in the mountains nor such a dense concentration of mountains in the area. It was saddening when I had to bid goodbye to Gilgit-Baltistan, I know I will be back again someday, to scale one of those mountains. This trip up the mountains was more like an appetiser to what the mountains have got to offer.

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