Skardu, If a mix of scenic beauty and adventure is what you are looking forward to on your tour to Pakistan, Skardu, capital of Baltistan, perched at 2,438 metres above sea-level in the backdrop of the great peaks of ‘The Karakoram Mountain Range, is the place to travel. Baltistan also known as “Little Tibet” for its resemblance in geographic features with Tibet nestles world’s greatest concentration of lofty peaks. A 100 km thick wall of majestic mountains separates it from China in the north. To the south is the mysterious Deosai Plateau lying between Kashmir and Baltistan. In the East lies Laddakh and in the west is Gilgit and Hunza. Within an area of 26,000 sq. km lie 60 mountain peaks of above 7000m. Five of these are above 8000m including K-2 (8611m), the second highest peak on earth. These mountain peaks tower over the greatest concentration of glaciers outside the polar regions.
Skardu, is located in an oval shaped desert basin. Balti peoples language, physical features and architecture resemble those of Tibet. This region remained under the influence of Buddhism until the 15th century, when Islam arrived. It is a land of many splendors and contrasts, offering the best of trekking and mountaineering opportunities to enthusiastic adventure lovers. Riding from the airfield into town gives you little time to adjust to the awesome landscape into which you have flown. Your head swivels, eyeing strata of violet, red, grey, ochre, and brown in the 10,000-foot-high-hills surrounding the sandy plain on either side of the Indus River. There are five main valleys in the district Baltistan, Shigar, Khaplu, Rondu, Skardu and Kharmang. All of these valleys produce apricots, peaches, pears, grapes, mulberries, and apples in such profusion that this region is known as the land of apricots and apples. From tourism standpoint, there is no region close to equaling Baltistan for its natural and cultural heritage. Baltistan presents unrivaled natural beauty and culture. Its ancient rural settlements, grand forts and palaces, intricate wooden carving, Buddhist relics, shimmering valleys, civilized and peace-loving communities, idyllic lakes and high altitude wildlife laden plateaus such as Deosai make it a a world top notch tourist and heritage site.
Skardu is a great base for exploring the region. Excellent trips can be made to surrounding valleys, or even all the way to the Komeri, Domail, with an overnight stop. Hikes and treks in the region are superb.
Nangsok Skardu is the gateway to explore balti culture and mountainous range of Karakoram. You can visit first organic village in Baltistan, inaugurated by Prince Charles. Some of the wonderful places to see and tour in Skardu are the Buddhist Rock, which is the only rock with Buddhist carvings on a tall rock with a vertical, beige-colored northern face. Carved here circa A.D 900 is a lovely image of a meditating Maitreya Buddha framed by Bodhisattvas. It is located at Manthal a sideway along Satpara road.
Skardu Fort or Karpachu Fort is a fort in Skardu city in Northern Areas of Pakistan that dates from the tenth century CE. An ancient mosque is also present inside the fort. The fort and its mosque are located on the eastern face of the Khardong hill 40 ft above Skardu city. A view from these monuments brings into vision the entire valley, the Indus River and the settlement below. It was constructed by Ali Sher Khan Anchan, who ruled from Ladakh to Chitral till the end of the 16th century. It resembled the Ladakh fort of Leh which is 9 storey tall. The Potala of Lhasa Tibet, Leh fort and Skardu fort are all built on same designs. The name Kharpochhe means the great fort. Khar in Tibetan means castle or fort and Chhe means great.
Khar, (means palace in local balti language) was built by Gul Khatoon or Mindoq Gialmo on the hill where now stands the Kharfocho fort only. The palace was named after the queen as ‘Mindoq Khar’ meaning the ‘Flower Palace’. The Palace was destroyed by the troops of the Sikh ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Gulab Singh, when he invaded Skardu in 1840 AD.
Hilal Bagh and Chahar Bagh
Just below the Mindoq Khar or Flower Palace, there was a terraced garden with fountains built in marble. This royal garden covered the areas from Mindoq Khan to the present bazaar at Skardu where the newly constructed road crosses the channel. A palace built in marble with towers also stood in the middle of the garden, above the Polo Ground which is called Ghudi Changra. The palace was destroyed during the great floods in the area after the death of Ali Sher Khan Anchan and a marble Baradari was later constructed at this palace. This royal garden was named Hilal Bagh (Crescent Garden). Another garden was also laid which was named Chhar Bagh on the site where a Girls College stands now. The said garden was laid on the orders of the Queen while her husband was away to Gilgit and then to Chitral. As the mother tongue of the Queen was Persian, she gave Persian name to these gardens.
Kachura Lake (Shangrilla Lak) and Upper Kachura About 32 kms (20 miles) from Skardu, 2 hours by jeep, lie the shimmering waters of the Kachura Lakes. In the springtime its banks are adorned by a multitude of colorful flowers, while the trees are laden with peach, apricot and apple blossoms. These lakes provide wonderful opportunities for boating and fishing.
Satpara Lake About a mile south of Skardu on the west bank of the Satpura Nala. Some of the beautiful lakes that you can tour are Sadpara Lake and many more unexplored lakes in Deosai pleatue.
Deosai is one and half drive from Skarduto reach Deosai top. Located in the Great Himalayan Range, conveniently placed between the western massif of the Himalayas and the central Karakoram. It’s stunning scenic views of the snow-clad mountains and streams, natural beauty and impressive grandeur have made it world famous. Spread over an area of 3,000 square kilometres, at an altitude of 13,500 feet above sea level, the plains are home to unique species of plant and animal life, of which the Himalayan Brown Bears are the most famous. In the words of Aleister Crowley, “In front of us lay the Deosai, an absolutely treeless wilderness of comparatively level country framed by minor peaks. It gives a unique impression of desolation. I have never seen its equal in this respect elsewhere.” To the south of and visible from both the Burji and Satpara approaching areas is a 700-foot hill, on top of which is a 500 foot-high-rock cairn. This unnamed hilltop in the northern deosai region produces a clear panorama of the Himalayan Kangri Range and sections of the Karakoram. As you ascend its gentle, grass covered slopes, Nanga Parbat will come into view far to the west of you. In ‘Gypsy Davy’s’ words, “It was such an expanse of immensity as I have hardly imagined…It seems you cannot talk in a matter-of-fact way in a place like that…I thought the Sierras were large, but here, where we could see three or four score miles north, south, east and west, and see only mountains, and most of them above twenty thousand feet, the Sierras seem like sand dunes”. Shaucer lake (3-4 hours from Skardu), Shatong nala (2 hours) , Bara Pani (two and half hours) and Kala Pani (3 to 3-30 hours) are the most visited spots in Deosai. Deosai is one of the best trout fishing spot in the North.
The Karakoram Highway (KKH) connects Islamabad to Skardu. The journey from Islamabad to Gilgit takes approximately 14-15 hours.
Skardu is about 241 kilometers from Gilgit. It takes about 5-6 hours to reach Skardu from Gilgit.
Pakistan International Airlines used to fly a Boeing 737 daily between Skardu and Islamabad International Airport. The flying time is approximately 50 minutes and the flight is one of the most scenic flights of the world as its route passes over Nanga Parbat and the mountain’s peak is higher than the aircraft’s cruising altitude.These flights, however, are subject to the clearance of weather and in winters, flights are often delayed by several days.