I pack my bags in anticipation of the trip that lies ahead. A much awaited journey to Skardu, located in the central valley of Gilgit-Baltistan, at an altitude of 2,500 meters. The town is the capital of Skardu District. It is nestled between grayish brown mountains, which curtain some of the spectacular Eight-thousanders of the Karakorm range. Skardu sits at the convergence of Indus and Shigar river.
The name of this placid town itself is enveloped in an air of mystery and wonder, “Skardu” is derived from a Balti word which translates to “star stone/ meteorite”.
I depart from Islamabad for the flight to Skardu. The inspiring views of valleys and magnificent mountains such as the monstrous Nanga Parbat (8,126m) are an unforgettable sight. After a brief 40 minutes of blissful soaring, the plane touches down at Skardu Airport and I lay eyes on the quaint town that has been unanimously declared as one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
I am staying at the Shangrila resort, rightly named, as it does appear to be a piece of heaven on earth. It is located on the brim of the picturesque Lower Kachura Lake or Shangrila Lake as it is more popularly known. The lush grounds of the resort are laden with scrumptious apples and an array of brightly colored flowers and fragrant roses.
Each angle offers a picture perfect moment. The hospitable staff and delicious food has made my stay all the more enjoyable. I would highly recommend the trout from the menu, which is from the resort’s own trout farm, prepared perfectly by the chef.
Shangrila offers an immersive experience with nature, disconnected from technology and the regular humdrum of daily life, allowing you to submerge in what appears to be a fairy-tale getaway. The cottage style accommodations bode well with the surroundings and have become quite iconic themselves.
The aircraft café at the resort is one of the unique features. In 1950, Orient Airlines’ DC-3 plane crashed minutes after takeoff, the incident, thankfully did not result in any casualties. The plane was bought for 150 Rupees and arduously hauled to the present site where it offers a cozy setting where you can have cup of tea or coffee.
I spend hours strolling along the paths that wind through the rock gardens towards the Shangrila zoo, here you will see pheasants, pigeons and glamorous peafowl.
Skardu is the staging post for mountain expeditions and trekking to K2, Gasherbrum, Trango Towers, Broad Peak and some of the worlds longest glaciers like Siachin, Biafo and Baltoro, to name a few. This town not only attracts leisure tourist but also a large flow of adventure tourists, trekkers and mountaineers from the world over.
The climate conditions in winter are quite extreme, with temperatures dropping to -10°C during December to January. Summertime is pleasant with slightly chilly evenings and therefore the peak tourist season is from April to October. Because of conditions in winter, the town resorts close down, their seasonal nature has resulted in high prices during peak holiday period.
Tourist staying in Skardu have the opportunity to visit some popular excursion sights:
- Upper Kachura Lake is located a short distance away from Shangrila resort. A four wheel drive can escort you to the sight of the clear vast lake with depths of up to 230ft. A rest-house by the name “Upper Kachura Lake Hotel” will take you on a boat ride across the lake for a reasonable price.
- Satpara Lake is located approximately 9km from Skardu and provides water for drinking and agricultural purposes. It is the town’s main lake.
- Skardu Fort lies on the eastern side of Mindoq Khar hill 40 feet above Skardu town. It dates back to the 8th century CE. Local legend has it that it was built by a ghost servant of the Rmakpon dynasty ruler.
- Shigar Fort, also known as Fong-Khar is a 400 year old palace complex and is located on the route to K2.
- The beautiful Deosai Plains, one of the highest plateaus in the world are accessible via Skardu, located at a distance of 30 km from the city and takes approximately an hour to reach. It is the shortest route.
On my last night in Skardu at Shangrila Resort, I am somewhat saddened to be leaving such a heavenly abode. It was an enriching experience and thanks to the welcoming town’s people I have priceless memories to bring back home with me.
-Words and photographs by Maria Saif