In the northeast of Pakistan lies Skardu, known for its vast mountainous landscape and rugged mountains. Its height lends Skardu a special status in Pakistan’s northern region due to the multitude of mountain ranges found here. Divided by the mighty Indus, the valley is home to the world’s second-highest mountain K-2, and other peaks suitable for trekking.
Skardu’s resemblance with Tibetan landscapes has resulted in its fame as Little Tibet. The spinning sand dunes and barren mountains are characteristic of this incredible terrain. This scenery when contrasted with irrigated oases, lends the region a beauty that inspires awe.
Skardu can be accessed by road, and by air. The road to Skardu is arduous with a constant fear of landslides, and heavy traffic during the season. Pakistan International Airlines flights are scheduled from Islamabad to Skardu quite frequently. However, they are subject to delays and cancellations depending on the weather. Upon reaching, Skardu airport offers taxi services to take travelers to the main Skardu market. Although known for its temperate weather, Skardu is in full bloom from mid-June to mid-September, marked by heavy tourism. A better time to visit Skardu could be in March/April or September/October. The weather during Spring and Fall is relatively cooler but provides an opportunity to explore a quieter Skardu.
To help you get the most out of your trip, we have curated a list of the 10 most beautiful places in Skardu, that carry the soul of Baltistan.
Skardu fort, also variously known as Karpocho Fort, Askandria, or Mindoq Khar was established around the year 1500. The fortress has had an important place in Skardu’s history due to its history and geographical location. During the rise of Buddhism in the region, a monastery preceded the fort. During the time of Mughal interference, the fort was beautified by a Mughal princess. To observe the full scope of the area, a climb up the ramp is recommended. This will give you a peek into the royal graveyard which was once surrounded by a Mughal Garden.
The village of Manthal is home to an enormous boulder. The boulder and surrounding rocks are the remains of Buddhist influence on the area. Buddha’s engravings and other artifacts provide us with an insight into the area’s past. During the 9th century, Buddhism had a stronghold in the upper Indus Valley including the areas of Tibet, Kashgar, and Gilgit-Baltistan. The majority of Skardu’s population at this point in time was known to be Buddhist.
Skardu’s biggest lake, Satpara is a mere 20-minute drive away. Alternatively, walking along the central irrigation channel provides a much more pleasant experience. The lake is known for its calm waters suitable for trout fishing and boat rides. If you can’t get enough of the area’s history, a walk along the Satpara road will lead you to the Satpara Buddha. The meditating Buddha is surrounded by Bodhisattvas and is carved on the Northern face of a large yellow rock. This carving predates the Manthal Buddha by about 2 centuries.
Deosai National Park and Brown Bear Project
Moving further towards the South of Skardu, another tourist attraction is the Deosai National Park. The park is located in the Deosai plateau, serving as a conservatory for the wildlife found here. One such project for conservation is known as the Bear project. Although endangered, the area provides great insights into the Himalayan Brown Bears’ habitat. The park itself hosts beautiful and lush green landscapes in the summer. With green fields and a blanket of flowers, the sight is unmatched in its glory. A bicycle ride or walk around the park is a great way to explore the 400 species of flowers found in the terrain. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a bear, red fox, or a Himalayan Ibex.
The upper Kachura lake is a beautiful lake isolated at the foot of the Himalayas. On your way to the lake, you will be greeted by tall Himalayan conifers that signal the changes of seasons. The lake itself is of a beautiful sapphire color and one can enjoy a calm boat ride there. The area has a history influenced by Buddhism as well.
The lake’s name comes from a Tibetan word; Shangri-la, which means heaven on Earth. Also known as Lower Kachura lake, it is located at about 15 minute drive from upper Kachura lake. This lake has been specially developed as a tourist spot. Shangrila resort accompanies the Shangrila lake. The lake was established as a tourist location in the 1980s with the formation of the resort. The area ensures utility for travelers, with rooms, and dining facilities.
The palace also known as Raja Mahal used to be the ruler’s abode in warmer months. Its symbolic facade, little windows, and balconies are iconic features of the region. The fort displays characteristics of Tibetan architecture. It was restored by the Agha Khan Trust for Culture and taken over by Serena hotels. The beauty of the place has been restored and complemented by Serena’s hospitality. The place offers rooms, suites, a tour of the property, other guided activities, and a dining room.
The Chaqchan mosque stands as the oldest mosque in Gigligt-Baltistan. It lies at a short distance from the Khaplu fort. The Buddhist influence on the infrastructure is quite imminent.
Shigar valley’s suitability for agriculture is showcased by sloppy terraces of plum, wheat, maize, and other indigenous crops. The area is known for its abundance of mosques. Built by Kashmiri craftsmen, the Shigar fort has its own beauty. Once the home of rulers, the fort has been renovated and now serves as a luxury hotel. On the drive out you can stop to view the Katpana desert, a cold desert, and a rarity found in the region.
The waterfall is located in Kharmang valley, at a height of 180ft. The view is as serene and beautiful as it gets. After a 2-hour drive from downtown Skardu, you may rest a while or fish for some trout in the water. The area has an established reputation among tourists. In recent years, a few hotels have propped up in the region. These mostly include treehouses that can be a great option if you plan on staying the night.
The valley lies at an altitude of 4964m, where the Basho river flows from Kachura to River Indus. In the summers, the region is covered by fruit trees and is garlanded with grapevines, providing a serene atmosphere for camping.
Written by: Sharmeen Sajjad