Skardu

by Ucman Scher
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Skardu

Skardu is located in the north of Pakistan within the mighty mountain ranges of Himalayas and Karakoram. It is also the closed point to the second tallest mountain in the world K2 (Karakoram 2).

It is a really beautiful place, truly breathtaking, if you love nature this place is definitely going to blow your mind up.

I got the chance to spend 4 days in Skardu, Khaplu and Shigar. All three places are close and yet so far from each other when it comes to natural beauty and culture.

Check my Pakistan travel guide as well as Pakistan itinerary posts for complete details for planning your visit.

Getting to Skardu

By Air

Skardu is located far up north and getting here isn’t the easiest task. The easiest and riskiest way is to arrive by plane. Skardu has a domestic airport and flights operate from Islamabad International Airport. It is a 45 minutes flight but it is subject to weather and can get cancelled last minute. That makes it the riskiest option. If you do get the flight though, you’re in for a ride. It was the best flight of my life!

It was an early morning start and I was a little sleepy but as we got closer to Skardu and I looked out of the plane window, all the drowsiness was gone. I luckily got the window seat on the right hand side and got a great view of Nanga Parbat mountain, the killer mountain. It was good to say hello before going to visit it with Fairy Meadows later.

If you get a seat on the left, you will see the view of Rakaposhi mountain. The plane passes through some scenery I just haven’t seen before. Truly magnificent!

By Road

If you want to go by road, it is an interesting full day journey through winding roads that take 12-14 hours on a good day from Islamabad. In case fo rain or landslides it could take considerably longer. To start  head to PIR Wadhai Bus Station on the outskirts of Islamabad, you will find the bus to Skardu directly.

Kohistan, on the way to Gilgit

On the way back from Skardu to Gilgit, we had 3 road stops and a journey that should have taken us 6 hours took 16 hours. Leave some room for such situations, a tightly planned schedule is a no go here.

In summer the road comes to Deosai is a much better option, it is much more beautiful and easy route and roads don’t get blocked.

Important: if you’re a foreign tourist you must register yourself at Skardu Foreigners Registration Desk.

Best Time To Visit Skardu

The best time to visit Skardu is April – May and September – October. During peak season it gets really busy and in winter ti is bitter cold up here with very limited options in terms of food and where to stay. Most people from Skardu also leave the area in winter to go further south.

Where to Stay In Skardu

I didn’t stay in Skardu instead I spent my time between Khaplu and Shigar. I stayed in Serena Khaplu and Serena Shigar. Both are old forts that have been painstakingly restored, I loved, loved, loved both the places.

Serena Khaplu

What I really loved was how it’s not just another Commercial venture rather it is built on sustainable tourism that includes the locals, their traditions, culture and cuisine. The forts were restored to their former glory based on history. They also employ local people. This also includes the food, both forts have their own orchards and grow their own produce. More about that later!

How Many Days For Skardu?

It really depends on the weather and what you want to do as well as the time of year. I visited at the end of March and spent four days between Skardu, Shigar & Khaplu. If you want to go further to Deosai, you need another day or 2. 4 days is the absolute minimum to explore these stunning valleys.

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

Getting Around In Skardu

Public transport is sparse and difficult to manage. If you arrive at the airport you will get plenty of people offering their services with cars, you can get one there or arrange something in advance. I personally like to plan a bit in advance. I asked Imran, my guide to arrange a car. It made life so much easier and didn’t cost much. For a day it was roughly $30 with driver.

If you are staying in Serena Khaplu or Serena Shigar, you can get a shuttle directly, I did get offered the service but I had a driver and guide already.

Guide For Skardu

I found a local guy online by the name of Imran who is a local of Skardu. 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 Skardu & 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.

Skardu Airport runway

Skardu Airport runway

Food In Skardu

Being so close to Chiba, Skardu has some interesting local food. They drink savoury tea and also some other herbal teas. Their breakfast has a thick bread, cheese and honey. I got to try a few things.   

Marhaba Zaiqa House

6-8pm only

I found a really small cafe type place where you get one one thing; Mamtu. Steamed meat dumplings. The guy has been making these for 20 years. I ate three plates honestly. It was just so simple and delicious. It is not on google though and you must ask a local to get to this place.

The hotel arranged for local breakfast which was bare bone but better than nothing eh1

Azuq – fried bread

Qaseer – savoury pancakes

Tumuru Tea – Mountain tea made with herbs and drank with salt instead of sugar.

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.

If you get some time visit the organic village which is perfect to try local food. You can arrange the visit with the guide and requires half a day trip because the village has no access by car.

Things To Do In Skardu

There is quite a lot to do in Skardu and despite not staying here I managed to do it on the way to Khaplu and on the way back from Shigar.

Skardu City

The city is quite small and there isn’t much to see here. I stopped for an hour to walk around though and the best spot for a stop is the Municipal Library. It has recently been fitted with the ‘I love Skardu’ sign.

The best part of the view from here.  In front of the library is the memorial to the martyrs of Baltistan province, which Skardu is part of. The library is a modest building and has the local football and polo ground. Right behind the library is the Kharpocho fort perched on top of a mountain overlooking a vast valley.

skardu library and yadgar shuhada On the opposite side, the blue dome and minarets of Jamia Mosque of Skardu stand next to the old market on the road that passes right in the centre of city. This is the oldest part of the city.

Kharpocho fort

Sadpara Lake

The lake is located some 30-40 minutes out of Skardu and falls on the same route as Deosai. The road to the lake is really beautiful. There are mountains in front and at the back. Once we left the city and the road got rough, a stream started to flow right by the road. We got to the lake in went out, a gust of cold wind hit me with a reminder not to forget the jacket.

The guy told me the lake was pretty badly destroyed by a landslide in 2015 and then in 2017 again. It killed a few people and the island in the middle of the lake went from a beauty spot do a pile of rubble in the middle of a lake.

I sat there watching the entire value around me. The Sun was at an angle and the peaks of the mountains shimmered in the golden light. There is no boating fishing or swimming allowed or even to go close to the lake. There wasn’t much else I could do except sit and admire the majestic beauty of this place. It was my rumbling stomach That forced me to head back to Skardu.

Manthal Buddha Rock

This Buddha relief has stood here since the ninth century. It is located on the same road that goes to Deosai. There is a small board on the main road pointing in the direction.

Buddha is my spiritual master and every time I see him, the road to him has always been beautiful. Why would this be an exception, here, in the mighty mountains. We parked the car and walked on a small bridge with the most surreal view of glacial waters and the glistening golden peak of a mountain in the background.

A small gate lead me to the yellow relief, Buddha in the middle with his beautiful smile sitting on a lotus flower and his 20 buddhvistas all around him. The outer layer covered with 20 stupas.

Tip: if you are taking photos anywhere with a Buddha statue, you mustn’t turn your back towards Buddha. It is considered incredibly rude and disrespectful.

The sun was sinking behind the mountains and it was time to head to the hotel for the day. It was a privilege to meet Buddha here, made my journey ever more beautiful.

Shangrila Resort & Lower Kachura Lake

Shangri-la as it originally were is a fictional place of incredible riches. It was located somewhere in the Himalayas. A lot of people took to finding it taking the treasure as literal but like Atlantis, it wasn’t meant to be!

This was until an Orient Airways Skyliner crashed and someone purchased its debris, set it up within the mountains in Lower Kachura region and started living in it. A man made lake was dug next to it. This was in 1950’s. In 1980’s it was turned into a resort in the picturesque settings.

It was a dreamland until people discovered it. Now it is a small lake surrounded by a pagoda with a restaurant and buildings all around it. It has basically been ruined.

The drive from the airport took 20 minutes to the gate. The entrance is PKR 500 each. I was super hungry by now and ordered some food. The food was quite average, expensive and view sadly ruined. It was perhaps the most disappointing part of the Skardu visit. Just not worth it anymore.

I would suggest heading to Upper Kachura instead and on the road you will get the view of lake and Pagoda any way. Save yourself some time and money.

Upper Kachura Lake

A further 10 minutes drive up lead me to Upper Kachura lake. It is the most beautiful region in Skardu. We parked the car and headed on foot through some streets to a view of a perfect valley with a stunning crystal clear lake in the middle. I honestly couldn’t stop staring for quite a bit, I had just landed and this was not what I’d expected so soon. The disappointment of Lower Kachura and Shangrila had set the bar low as well.

on the way to the lake

The lake is surrounded by tall stunning mountains and some snow still covering the peaks. The view was just unreal. I slowly headed down noticing the leafless tree trunks covered with cloth. I was wondering if it was something interesting but it was to save the tree trunks from goats and cattle.

Upper Kachura Lake

Upper Kachura Lake

Up close the lake is even more stunning and there was a chance to go motor boating or paddle boating but I somehow just wanted to absorb the view in rather than disturbing the water.

I spent a couple of hours on the lake, even if you don’t do anything else in Skardu, this is definitely not a spot to miss.

Deosai

Deosai National Park is second highest plateau  in the world and a high altitude alpine plain. It is ridiculously beautiful and a drive through is just breathtaking. It is sadly only open during peak summer season after May till September. I couldn’t visit but you will need a day or two to explore this beautiful national park.

Katpana, The White Desert

Located some 15 minutes from the city is the cold desert of Katpana. It isn’t exactly white especially in the snow but it is a great spot to get a great 360 view of the Karakoram range.

There is a small cafe type place which was closed but I met two amazing friends, a local dog and the friendliest cat in the world. Both were amazing company. The cat followed me everywhere. Best boyfriend ever!

Don’t we just make the best couple?

The spot makes up a great place to spend an hour or 2.

Marsur Rock/ The Hanging Rock of Hussainabad 

There is no need to head to Trolltunga in Norway, you can get the same experience in Skardu at Marsur Rock. The drive to Hussainabad valley takes about 20 minutes from Skardu followed by a further 20 minutes drive to Hussainabad Broq followed by a three hours hike.The village is also quite nice and this is a full day activity.

Organic Village / Nangsoq

The first organic village in Pakistan, Nangsoq is located as a day trip. There is no car access to the village and you will need to go trekking. The villagers offer lunch options as well as a tour of the village. You can arrange it with the guide as a day or half day trip.

Basho Meadows & Forest

Basho valley is located close to Skardu. The drive takes an hour and a half followed by a nice trek to the Basho meadows. If you wish to see the forest as well, this is a 2 day trip with an overnight stay. There are a couple of resorts for the overnight stay.

The valley has beautiful picturesque meadows, streams gushing along and snow clad mountain even at the peak of summer.

Shigar & 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.

Khaplu Palace

The beautiful Khaplu Palace

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

Skardu is an amazing place, even a month here is not enough to appreciate the beauty of this stunning city. there is so much to see and do. I definitely need to come back to explore more. I hope this guide give you some idea on how to explore Skardu. If you have more questions please feel free to reach out to me.

 

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