Gilgit & Kargah

by Ucman Scher
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Gilgit

Gilgit

Gilgit is the largest city and provincial capital of the Gilgit-Baltistan province, lovingly called GB. It is the gateway to the north of Pakistan. It is a big city and quite chaotic but any traveller to north must pass through here. 

Like all cities in the north it is surrounded by beautiful mountains and Gilgit river flowing through the valley.

Himalayas, Hindu Kush and Karakoram in a single photo!

Check my Pakistan travel guide for more information about the country.

Getting To Gilgit

From Islamabad

Gilgit is the easiest place to get to from Islamabad. There is an almost daily flight that comes from Islamabad. The airport and runway are small so they use ATR planes for these flights and these flights are subject to weather.

By road you can come by car with a driver or take the public transport. The buses leave from Pir Wadhai are on the outskirts of Islamabad from NATCO bus station or you can use Faisal Movers . By road it take 14-16 hours but could take longer depending on the weather and season.

Kohistan, on the way to Gilgit


In summer season, there is a shorter route from Islamabad to Gilgit via Babusar top and Kaghan, Naran valleys which is really picturesque.

The first route that goes through Kohistan is not the best and road is rough but really beautiful still. On the way back from Gilgit my flight got cancelled and I had to take this road.

From Skardu

If you are coming from Skardu like I did, the road is rough and long and it takes 6-8 hours. You will get stopped if the rocks are being blasted to expand the road. It took us 26 hours after a landslide and I ended up spending the night in car.

Money

Gilgit is the last stop for proper money exchange, after this there are no official exchanges and you will get a really bad exchange rate. There are still ATM’s though.

Bab e Gilgit

The gate to Gilgit

Where To Stay In Gilgit?

I stayed in Serena Gilgit which is the best hotel in the city. It is located is a great spot with stunning views of Rakaposhi from every room. I loved waking up to that! The second morning when I woke up I just sat in bed admiring the view. The balcony was also amazing to see the sunset and shadows covering the valley.

The staff was really hospitable and friendly and made my stay really comfortable. I loved the decor, it was very tasteful, I didn’t feel like I was in a lifeless building which is exactly what you want in a beautiful place like Gilgit.

I woke up the next morning to an interesting spectacle. There are very few flights that arrive and leave from Gilgit Airport and I could see a plane landing and then leaving by the time I finished getting ready. Loved it!

The hotel also has beautiful gardens which are perfect to enjoy the view of mountains on all sides. A tea in the gardens is a must.

Food in Gilgit

Gilgit food is quite similar to the food from north but a unique thing is to find food from Xinjiang here. I didn’t stay long enough to hunt more spots and the food at Hotel was so good, I didn’t feel the need to venture out. Here are my two recommendations:

Dumani Restaurant

Located in Serena Gilgit, it is a restaurant with great view and amazing food. It is named Dumani after the old name of Rakaposhi mountain which you can see form the restaurant.

A local dinner with a modern serving

The variety of food was amazing especially the evening buffet that came with local live music. I requested the chef to prepare some locals and dishes for me and he happily obliged.

Don’t forget to try the amazing local fresh water trout made with walnut sauce.

They even had live BBQ as well, I loved that!

The breakfast was equally delicious and it is impressive that they have a honey house on property and also make their own sauces, preserves etc. In season they also have fruits from their orchards, sadly I was a bit early for that. Highly recommended!

A tiny breakfast for little me

Gilgit Food Yard

This local restaurant is located next to the river Hunza not far from Danyor bridge. They have seating next to the river which was a pleasant experience. The real reason for coming here was the Chinese food from Xinjiang and specifically from Kashghar.

I tried Mamtu which are meat filled steamed dumplings, Lughman which are boiled noodles with meat and veg on top and Suman which are noodles chopped by hand and then friend with veg and meat. All three dishes were delicious and quite different from typical Chinese food you’d find.

Best Time To Visit Gilgit

The best time to visit Gilgit is late spring or summer. March – April and then September – October. Summers are really busy season and traffic is also quite crazy so avoid visiting during the peak season. I visited in early April and weather was just perfect for a great experience with mild temperature. In summer, the heat also reaches its peak.

How Many Days For Gilgit

A single day is enough to see pretty much everything in Gilgit. If you want to see Fairy Meadows (highly recommended!) 3 days are enough. It is a good stop at the end of your trip to the north of Pakistan. I visited it as my last stop and really need a day or two off to just sit and relax instead of running around seeing stunning places all day.

listening to some good music with food makes food better

Things To Do In Gilgit

There’s not a lot to do in Gilgit and you can easily most of it in a day. Here are the top things to do in Gilgit:

Kargah Buddha

Entrance – PKR 50 (local) 500 (foreigner)

Kargah is located on a drive of 30-40 minutes from the city and the drive is quite scenic with trees lining the road and mountains surrounding the valley. Google had wrong location for it so where it ended, we went even further and eventually the road led me to a gated area. This was the Buddha of Kargah.

A local man is running the place along with its cafeteria.

The carving of Buddha is located higher up. I started climbing the stairs and got to the top, I was the only person there other than my guide. It was a little scary to stand on the top but I forgot it all when I looked at the view.

I turned around and there I’ve was, Buddha in all his glory blessing the entire valley. The carving is on an impossible spot and it must have taken the carvers a lot of guts to do this in 4th century A.D.

Following his eyes, if you look forward you will see Kargah Nala or Kargah stream. This side of the stream is in Hindu Kich range and the other side is Karakoram mountain range. Back in the day when people entered The Valley from Chitral, this si the first thing they would see. How spectacular.

Tip: If you are a Buddhist there are two more stupas further but you will need to freak 45-60 minutes to get there.

It is a peaceful place with running water, serenity and a chance to meditate under the feet of Buddha, definitely worth a visit!

The Hanging Bridge of Danyor

It is an old wooden suspension on top of the Gilgit river and provides a good view of the surrounding mountains. It is also great to enjoy the crystal clear blue water of Gilgit River. It is a busy spot and I didn’t spend much time here because I spotted another fun place on the way to Gilgit from Hunza.

Danyor Bridge

Broken China Bridge

The bridge is slightly outside the city but it is a wonderful place to get amazing views. It is really quirky and you can see the broken piece of the bridge in the river. You can also see it’s replacement, the New China Bridge from here too. I really enjoyed the brief visit.

The locals were amused that I was so interested in a broken bridge but this is the only one I have ever seen with unrestricted access.

The Junction Point

One of the most amazing places on the entire planet. This is the junction point between three mighty mountain ranges; The Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindu Kush. There is a sculpture pointing in three directions pointing to each mountain range. Gilgit river adds extra drama to the scenery with its beautiful blue water.

Even a massive vehicle bridge looks like a small toy in front of these mountains. It took me 45 minutes from Gilgit city. I stopped for an hour on the way to Fairy Meadows. You can also see it if you are coming by road to Gilgit, it is on the way. There is a small set up where I sat and enjoyed the view of all direction.

You CANNOT miss this point if you are coming to the north of Pakistan. Absolutely loved it!

Fairy Meadows

The ninth tallest mountain, the killer mountains, the sleeping beauty, call it what you will, Nanga Parbat has a presence and Fairy meadows is the best way to experience the might of this stunner.

It takes at least 2 days to do this trip, although you can spend more. It is a proper adventure though and needs some planning, check my Fairy Meadows article for more details.

Nanga Parbat and Fairy Meadows

Nanga Parbat and Fairy Meadows

It is an epic adventure, one I promise you, you won’t find else where on the planet. Don’t miss it (unless you’re scared of heights).

I hope this guide helps you in planning your Gilgit trip and find some interesting and amazing things to do. If you have more questions please reach out.

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