Khaplu

by Ucman Scher
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Khaplu

Khaplu is located deep in Karakoram mountain range. It is a dreamy place with a very unique culture which is a mix of Tibetan and Pakistani. Getting here is no easy task but when you do, I promise a unique and truly astounding experience.

Khaplu is located in the very North of Pakistan close to Laddakh in the Ghanche district. It is a small district that’s really unique and very different from an average Pakistani place even for the northern areas of the country. It has almost zero crime rate, wonderfully healthy people, organic fresh food and a chance to be with nature. If you are lucky you might come across one of the rarest cats not he plant; snow leopard along with ibex and other beautiful mountain animals.

Fun Fact: The name Ghanche translates into area of 6 lakes due to the 6 lakes that stand atop the city of Khaplu in the mountains.

Check my ultimate Pakistan travel guide for complete details to plan a perfect trip.

Getting to Khaplu

By Air

The nearest airport to Khaplu is the Skardu Airport. You can check here how to get from Islamabad to Skardu by air or by road in my Skardu post. It is quite an experience on its own. Once you get to Skardu (best flight of my life I swear) Khaplu is a 3 hours drive from there.

By Public Transport

There are a few shared mini vans that leave Skardu in the evening, you can catch them from the bus terminal near Jail Guard. The same mini vans leave in the morning from Khaplu. The vans aren’t very frequent and don’t run all day but they are the cheapest way to travel from Skardu to Khaplu.

 

By Car

 I would recommend getting your own car to be able to make a few stops on the way because the scenery is truly astounding. It is a big part of Khaplu experience is the way to and from. It is stunning beyond belief. Luckily the road is pretty good and even in winters it is open.

We left after breakfast, the day was perfect with the sun shining all through the way. We were accompanied by the mighty river Indus all through the way to Khaplu.

It goes from turquoise to shades of orange and brown when mud mixes with the water. There are wide expanses of white sand deserts spread across wide valleys. The snow hadn’t melted completely yet and the contrast of rugged mountains, turquoise waters of Indus and white snow was breathtaking. Each turn was a new reason to reach out for the camera or look around like you have just landed on this planet.

An hour from Skardu started Gol and then mid way between Skardu and Khaplu came the Choomdo bridge.

Important: you will need to register yourself at the tourist police registration desk. If you’re Pakistani you will need your ID nard and for foreigners you will be asked for your passport and Visa.

Passing through blooming blossoms and leafless tree as, we finally arrived at Khaplu after an amazing 3 hours drive. I finally understood what it meant to wild in wilderness.

Note: if you are staying in Serena Khaplu, they can arrange a pick up from the airport for you and they are also helpful in keeping tabs on flight status, which is subject to weather.

Where To Stay In Khaplu?

Honestly, there’s only one place to stay in Khaplu; Serena Khaplu Royal Palace which is part of Serena Hotels. It is a very much in demand during season and I had to make my reservation a couple of months in advance. It was well worth the wait though.

I felt like royalty for a night and day that I spent there, partly because of the gorgeous place and the amazing room I stayed in and partly because of the hospitality of staff. From the moment I stepped foot in, every one was on an active mission to make me feel welcomed and make my stay as comfortable as possible.

I got the Royal Rani Suite, it was just perfect, I wasn’t expecting it to be that stunning. It used to be the room of the queen and has been beautifully restored. The bed and pillows were just ready to hug me in for the night after a relaxing shower.

Local dress

The entire palace is beautifully restored with rugs and artefacts hanging on the walls, balconies and communal rooms. The living quarter were really cosy. My favourite part was my private balcony that gave me beautiful views of the valley in the morning.

The orchard in the hotel is another favourite of mine. It not only is the most instagrammable part of the property, it is also used by the staff to grow vegetables and fruit and use them in season. It is the perfect place for evening tea with all the peace and quiet.

The place makes you feel beautiful…

A few other points I really loved:

  • Another advantage of staying here is that you can cut the time and see one of the top attractions of Khaplu during your stay. 
  • I also loved that they are not just a hotel but rather have a mission to preserve local culture. They employ local people as staff and train them to take senior positions. The kitchen is entirely made to preserve local food and centuries old recipes and they use local produce from their own orchard in season. 
  • During my stay I also found they have an all-local staff policy and it is being run as a community project along as well as a hotel. Stay local support local!
  • Serena is also an inclusive brand and offer non discriminatory services, I really loved it!

Note: It is a seasonal hotel and usually fully booked well in advance. Make sure you make your reservation well in advance.

Best Time to Visit Khaplu

Khaplu is stunning all year but I’d recommend coming here in April – May and September – October time. During peak summer it gets really busy and in winter it is bitterly cold. I visited at the beginning of April nd got amazing weather with plenty of sunshine and a view of snow clad mountains, my favourite time!

How Many Days For Khaplu

Khaplu can be explored in a  day when it comes to the city but if you want to hike to the top and see the lakes, it requires a few days. You can turn it into a 4 day trip but you will need to come in summer if you want to see the 6 lakes.

Getting Around In Khaplu

It is a small city but you will need a car to go around, there is no public transport, I would highly recommend getting a guide who can drive you around, a local would be perfect. Check the guide section for more details.  It is also quite hilly with sharp turns and driving here isn’t easy.

Guide For Khaplu

I found a local guy online by the name of Imran who is a local of the area. He was very knowledgeable and helped me plan my trip as well. I believe in supporting locals and loved going around with him. He knew small eateries in places which made life so much easier for me. You can contact him on WhatsApp, his number is +92 341 890 7516, Facebook or Instagram.

Sim Card For Khaplu & North of Pakistan

While there is Telenor coverage, there is no internet coverage in Khaplu and north of Pakistan except S Com. You will need to purchase a sim card from the north as S com doesn’t work beyond Islamabad and internet coverage of S Com ends in Chilas. Internet is generally pretty slow but I wasn’t there to use internet. It was enough to use WhatsApp and keep in touch with people.

Must Bring

Warm clothes, Sunscreen, Sun glasses, Chapstick.

Fun Fact: With so many mountains around, it is difficult to name them all so only mountains taller than 6000 ft are named.

Food in Khaplu

Sarfa Khar Restaurant

Food in Khaplu is also quite unique and a mix of Pakistani and Tibetan cuisines. Before arriving I requested the hotel to prepare some local food for me. I was expecting some good food which was somewhat close to food in Skardu, boy was I wrong!

I am not a fan of speaking to chefs but I had to request a meeting to thank him for food that surpassed all expectations. The setting, the view and most of all food was incredibly impressive.

I would highly recommended a meal here even if you’re coming to Khaplu for a day trip. The trout was the most delicious fish I have ever had. The mutton dish as well as chicken Fasenjoon were really flavoursome. The best part was the local pasta/dumplings that I had never tried before. They had a unique taste and went well with the filling and sauce. It is called Prapoo.

Too busy eating to care

If you come in summer season (June July), this is apricot season, don’t forget to try these juicy fruits. If you come out of season do try the wonderful apricot oil, apricot stew and apricot juice. Off season there is a lot of apricot in everything from juices to curries and obviously desert.

To finish this delicious meal I had some Tumuru which is tea made with a mountain herb that has hints of Camomile. It is drank with salt which is quite unique and delicious. The orchard was just perfect to rest and digest.

tea in Khaplu palace orchard

my best friend, my tea!

In the evening I had some local soup called Balay with some more fish to keep things simple. Equally delicious and amazing! I even dreamt about it a bit, the fat child in me was very happy that day.

Best Things To Do In Khaplu

Khaplu Royal Palace

Entrance – PKR 500

I already said plenty about how fabulous my stay was and how amazing the place is to stay so I won’t bore you with that. This is more about this history of this beautiful building. It is locally known as Yagbo Khar.

Khaplu Palace

The beautiful Khaplu Palace

It was built in 1852 for the Royal family of Khaplu, before this they would live high up in the mountains but as things became more peaceful they decided to move further down and built this place. As is the tradition here, a huge part of the palace was built with wood.

The most interesting story was about how the location for palace was chosen. A large stone was rolled down from the mountain and the palace was built where it landed.

The locals used to live in the palace with the Raja of Khaplu. With time it fell into disrepair and was picked up in 2005 for renovation. It was restored with the help of locals and modern technology and today it stands as an amazing cultural heritage site. Even if you don’t stay here, it is the best place to visit in Khaplu and provides income to local communities who also act as guides.

Chaqchen Mosque

Before the advent of islam in the region, people usually followed Buddhism. They built their temples in Tibetan style with a lot of colours. When the local population converted to Islam, they paid homage to their new religion and built a mosque in the same style. It is the only mosque made of wood in the entire world and it is a kliedoscope of colours. The view of the valley and Shook River when I looked outside and the coloured wood inside totally left me confused. It was such a beautiful kaleidoscope.

chaqchan mosque

The main hall

It was built in 1370 in and still stands proudly in the middle of the city. The locals are very friendly and take great care of this architectural gem and masterpiece. Regardless of its religious significance it is a unique piece of work showcasing local tradition and craftsmanship. The architecture is a mix of Tibetan, Mughal, Persian and Kashmiri and works really beautifully. 

If it is prayer time, you will need to wait outside. It even said non Muslims aren’t allowed but there is no one to enforce this and locals are too finely unless you are not dressed modestly.

Khanqah e Mullah

Khanqah is the mausoleum of a saint. I couldn’t find much information about it anywhere, on site or online. It is a small structure but a must visit. Sadly it isn’t in the best of conditions but it still impresses. It is entirely made of wood which is carved in detail. It wasn’t open but generally for mausoleums in Pakistan, exteriors usually get all the attention so they are build to impress.

Khanqah KhpaluI went down the stairs to a place entirely deserted. A massive mosque is being built next door which was also a mix of wood and concrete. A few children were watching this weird guy talking to himself on the phone and taking photos. They slowly joined me and perhaps the first time they paid attention to this wooden structure. Khanqah and these tiny local residents both got a ton of love from me.

Watch A Polo Match

If you are coming in summer months, Khaplu has a polo ground, you can watch polo matches and on special festivals there as well as Yak polo. It was too early for that and when I passed by on the way to the hotel, children were happily playing football. I was happy to see them happy, better than any polo match <3.

Thoksikhar

Thoksikhar lies on top of Khaplu and offers panoramic views of the entire city. It is a bit of a hike though and requires a couple of hours. I was lazy enough to let my drone do the hard work for me while sitting in my balcony. If you are spending more time, you can also explore that.

Fish Farm

There is a small fish farm some 15 km from Khaplu. I honestly didn’t think much about the fish farm or fish after that delicious trout in Serena but the scenery was pretty amazing as is the case generally. If you get a chance, this is an optional extra for Khaplu.

Hike to the 6 Lakes

This is a proper hiking and camping trip that will take a few days. The lakes are relatively unexplored and offer great experience. You will need to hire a local guide and go with them because it is pretty easy to get lost here. Check with the guide information above, he will be able to provide complete information. The most famous is the Ghanche Lake and the entire trek takes 4-6 days.

Skardu & Shigar

If you are in the area, you definitely do not want to miss on these two stunning cities. Located very close to Khaplu both offer tons to do and see from beautiful lakes to landscapes you won’t find elsewhere on the planet.

Katpana desert and lake Skardu

Katpana desert and lake Skardu

You can check my Skardu travel guide and Shigar travel guide for complete information on how to get there and what to do as well.

Khaplu is a truly unique experience, it is far from the limelight and life is really simple, children still play on the streets and people live simple lives with fresh, organic food. I really hope it stays this way. It will always remain a well cherished memory for me.

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