Shigar

by Ucman Scher
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shigar

Shigar

Shigar is a really beautiful city located in the dramatic Shigar valley accompanied by the beautiful opal blue Shigar river. Shigar has a lot to offer when ti comes to visiting from architecture and heritage to natural beauty and amazing, delicious food. My visit to Shigar was absolutely mind blowing. I had no idea, this remote city had such incredible views. To make things better I stayed in a Royal Fort which and Amy stay really special.

Fun Fact: Shigar is also the last town before K2 and all expeditions to the second tallest mountain int he world leave from here.

Check my ultimate Pakistan travel guide for more information on how to plan this perfect trip.

Getting to Shigar

Shigar is located in a remote corner of Pakistan. The closest airport is Skardu. It is honestly the most amazing flight ever! You can read more about it in Skardu article. From Skardu, it is only an hour away by car with stunning views and a cold desert when getting to Shigar.

I took the flight to Skardu and then arrived by car but the flights are subject to weather and you might benefit from using the road. It is not an easy or quick ride though. The drive to Skardu from Islamabad is 12 hours long and could have issue due to land sliding.

By Road

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 Shigar.

On the way to Shigar

There are some local vans that run from Skardu for Shigar but they are not regular. The local vans leave from Shigar in the morning and then return from Skardu to Shigar in the evening.

Note: if you are staying in Serena Shigar, 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.

There was talk of a new road being built which would pass through the valley next to the blind lake. This would cut the travel time from Skardu to 20 minutes. the locals didn’t seem too thrilled as it would ruin the natural beauty of the valley. I hope it doesn’t go ahead because the road between Shigar and Skardu was pretty good as-is.

Getting Around In Shigar

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. The roads in the city are really bad and streets narrow, driving here would require exceptional skills.

Important: There are no petrol pumps in Shigar and if you are looking for petrol you will need to go to a local shop.

Guide For Shigar

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 Shigar & 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.

Where To Stay In Shigar

The best and most amazing spot to stay in Shigar is the Serena Shigar Fort. It is an amazing of building which has been renovated with amazing comfort. I spent 2 nights here and loved it. The rooms are beautiful and come with great views.

View from my window

I got to stay in the old part of the fort, it was a different feeling waking up in a four and a half centuries old room. The service and staff were absolutely amazing and made sure I was looked after. I was treated like royalty which was very dangerous because I briefly thought about staying here for the rest of my life.

The hotel has a beautiful orchard, a pavilion and best of all a stream that runs right opposite the road. In the silence of night, it felt so relaxing, perfect for meditation.

Part of staying in the suite was getting the most amazing terrace to myself with stunning views, evening tea made even better. It also had the added advantage of ticking off a thing from your to do list in Shigar.

King on his terrace

Serena is an inclusive brand and offer non discriminatory services, loved it! 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!

If you’re looking for a low budget option, you can stay with a local family in their small guest house called Ammacha Guest House. You can contact them via WhatsApp on +92 322 344 7475 or Facebook.

ATM’s in Shigar

There are only local banks in Shigar or banks that don’t support international payments. You must bring cash with you.

Food in Shigar

I tried food in two different places and loved them both. This isn’t a mainstream tourist city and eating out is very limited.

The must try items are:

Balay – meat soup with noodles

Marzan – dumpling with apricot oil

Keseer – savoury pancake

Prapoo – Pasta

Furfur – Noodles and rice mixture

Balti Handi – made in a stone pot

Chabkur – sweat bread with apricot and honey syrup

Skeerkhur – sourdough bread

Starga -Walnut Chutney

Tumuru– green tea with hint of camomile

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.

My two favourites were:

Baltistan Restaurant

The food was excellent! I was expecting mainstream Pakistani food but the place defied all expectations. They have hired local chefs to preserve the local recipes and so much amazing food is on offer. The breakfast with a view is an expression that this place perfects.

The breakfast, lunch and dinner everything was perfection. The garden next to the stream is my favourite place to enjoy a nice meal with the view of blossoms and the sound of stream. Such a zen experience!

the dinner outside after a long day of exploring with stars and utter quiet of the stream highlighting the sound of water, that was my last dinner in Shigar at the restaurants. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

Food With Haseena

My guide arranged a visit to a local family. I met Haseena with her big smile at her home where she had prepared so much food, I couldn’t eat in a week for a single meal. More about that later. The food was spectacular!

To arrange the visit you can contact her son Zeeshan  via WhatsApp on +92 322 344 7475 or Facebook.

Things To Do In Shigar

Shigar Fort

Entrance – PKR 500

The fort is a beautiful piece of local architecture. This four and a half centuries building was restored and handed over to Serena to run as a community project. It also has a museum which you can visit and explore the fort.

The original name of the fort is Fong Khar which mean ‘Palace On The Rock’. It was built atop a rock and a part of the rock is still protruding out of a side.

It is a small complex of buildings with a restaurant and gallery in the front, the right hand side has a garden with a pavilion. The fort is at the back with my favourite balcony of the entire building. The interior is fitting and I did get the feeling I was still in old times (minus the lights and perfectly running shower and toilet of course). The building also has a cute small mosque and multiple terraces.

The building was under the use of Raja (Prince) of Shigar who later donated it as a place of local interest, it was restored to original specs. The fort also comes with beautiful orchards that offer serene and calm with great tea. The orchard at the back offers the view of my favourite balcony from the pavilion. 

The local Raja still has an intimate association with the building and museum.

Another reason to visit is to support local community who act as guides to the beautiful fort.

Amburiq Mosque

This mosque is located a little on the outskirts of the city. The road was really narrow with a small population around, children playing around and women doing chores. A man was selling vegetables on a cart, the real feel of Shigar.

It is one of the oldest mosques in the region and also made of wood. It was a beautiful evening and the cherry and apricot blossoms around made everything spot on.

The mosque was built by first Muslims in the area which merged the Kashmiri woodwork with Persian style. It is quite small and come with a beautiful backdrop. The interior is very simple in contrast with the other mosques. It barely took me 30 minutes but something about the place was really soothing so I stayed for longer.

Khilingrong Mosque

Located next to the fort, it is a small structure with the backdrop of a mountain giant and a few blossoms on the side.

It is more than 400 years old and the double storey wooden structure is delicately carved throughout. It is small enough to offer the beauty of entire structure in a single glance.

The mosque is small but special. It is made of wood and has a very distinct local feel. The woodwork is a mixture of Persian and Kashmiri style. I also met some local goats where we’re chilling just outside the building, they were very friendly spectators.

The interior is also colourful, the prayer mats especially are beautifully laid, organised chaos!

Blind lake – Jerba cho

A lot in Shigar revolves around the landscapes and this lake is no different. The road to the lake is pretty rough and it took me 45 minutes from the city to get there, first by car and then on foot. On the way to and from Shigar, you can see it from a distance. It looks like a small pond from that distance.

The entire valley around is vast with tall mountains surrounding the flow of river. The boulders that looked like pebbles from a distance turned out to be so huge I looked like a pebble next to them. The lake is tucked in a corner next to a mountain.

Boulders on one side, mountain on the other and a small beautiful in the lake middle for sunset! You have to be there to experience what it felt like. A moment of stillness, I felt like I was the Tom Thumb in the valley of giants. The road was rough so I had to head back, I would have loved to camp there.

Sarfaranga – Cold desert

The cold desert of Sarfaranga is on the way to Shigar from Skardu. It is a vast expanse of cold desert with light coloured sand. The road passes through the desert.

The landscape here is very different even though these same mountains create a different one next to the river. I stopped for a bit and tried to walk but the more I walked the farther the mountains ran.

What looked like a small place is massive, it just looks small in comparison to the giants that stand around it. Even my drone gave up because it went far enough without the landscape changing a lot. Another beautiful spot not to miss on the way or back from Shigar.

Kai Hong Bridge Riverview

The bridge is located right outside the city. It is an old wooden bridge not in use anymore. What makes it so amazing is the view of the entire valley from here.

On either side mighty mountains stood with vast patches of sand and a river? flowing right underneath me. It was the perfect place to feel insignificant and small. It reminded of the steppe in Patagonia from El Calafate to Torres del Paine. The landscape was different but feeling was the same. It is a great place to spend an hour or so especially after lunch when the sun is dipping behind the mountains.

Meal With A Local Family

The best way to understand the culture and tradition is to visit a local family. I got super lucky because my guide arranged a visit for me to meet a local family  and have lunch with them.

The lady of the house, Haseena, had prepared so much food for me I was lost for words. The table was full and I was given a small tour of the family orchard where they grow everything themselves during summers.

From the start to the end everything was so good that I ate like a pig. I didn’t even need dinner after that, that night.

The local soup Balay to start with, local dumplings, a stew made in a pot made of stone, few types of bread. I ate Marzan which was a specialty for festive occasions with apricot oil and at the end a massive portion of sweet bread in a syrup made with sugar in apricot oil along with the mountain tea. The food was delicious beyond believe but that made this experience so amazing was the hospitality of the hosts. The lady also runs a small guest house. If you’re interested in the same experience you can contact them by WhatsApp or Facebook.

Shigar has so much to offer, for a people that live in such cold, harsh climate, they are incredibly warm and hospitable. If nothing else I’d love to come back to meet them again.

To arrange the visit you can contact her son Zeeshan  via WhatsApp on +92 322 344 7475 or Facebook.

Chutroon Hot Springs

As if there isn’t enough to do, there are a few hot springs in the area you can visit. The best according to my guide is the Chutroon hot spring also called Cho turn hot spring. It is a day trip from Shigar and it takes roughly 3 and a half hour drive each way. It is not just a boring drive, it comes with signature amazing scenery and a great adventure.

Skardu & Khaplu

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.

Shangrila Skardu

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

Khaplu

Shigar is truly a stunning place which has so much to offer both in terms of things to do as well as culture. I hope this guide helps you plan your trip but if you feel like some information is missing do reach out and I’ll try my best to help you.

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