Skardu is home to some spectacularly beautiful landscapes, valleys, freshwater springs, lakes, lush green patches and blossoming flowers. Surrounded by the Indus and Shigar rivers, Skardu is undoubtedly one of the serenest places in the world.
The city is located in the Skardu Valley at an altitude of over 7000 feet. This central valley of Gilgit-Baltistan includes paths to some of the world’s highest mountains such as K2 and K3. Skardu is surrounded by mountains, which hide the nearby Karakoram Range peaks as high as 8000 feet. The town is also known for its interesting history, delicious fruits and the hospitality of its people.
HISTORY OF SKARDU
Founded around the year 1500, the spectacular city of Skardu is rich in its culture and has a uniquely diverse history. It used to be the cultural hub of Buddhist Tibet in the mid of 7th century. After that, it came under the Maqpon Dynasty. The famous Skardu fort was also built during the Maqpon period.
Skardu later went through a Mughal period till Zorawar Singh’s invasion in 1839. Later on, it also got involved in the Kashmir war in 1947-48. Finally, the city became a danger-free zone after Pakistan’s independence from India and has been attracting tourists from all over the world ever since.
SIGHTSEEING IN SKARDU
Skardu has a number of fascinating experiences to offer to its visitors.
Among these is the Manthal Buddha Rock, commonly known as the Skardu rock. The 9th-century rock is about 9 miles long and 1000 feet high. It is one of the most famous tourist spots in Skardu and has a picture of Buddha engraved on it.
Close to the Skardu rock lies the Narsok village. It is famous for its large, pure spring flowing from the base of the huge Manthal Buddha Rock.
Another major tourist attraction in Skardu is its massive sand dunes located near the Indus river. At such a high altitude and overall cold weather, Sand dunes or cold deserts come as a surprising part of Skardu. They cover the two main deserts of Skardu called the Katpana and Shigar deserts.
Deosai Plains, the second-highest in the world, is another favourite of adventurous tourists. They cover an area of over 3000 km and provide habitat for Tibetan brown bears, snow leopards, ibex and other wild animals.
PLACES TO VISIT IN SKARDU
Skardu is home to a number of historical forts and beautiful lakes. Kharpocho Fort (King of Forts) is an ancient fort located on a hill that overlooks the city of Skardu and is also commonly known as the Skardu fort. It was built by Ali Sher Khan Anchan in the late 16th century. The entire city of Skardu can be seen from the top of Kharpocho.
Shigar Fort is situated on the route to K2, the world’s second-highest mountain. It was built in the 17th century and has now been restored as a museum and luxury hotel.
Kachura Lakes comprise an upper Kachura lake and a lower, more well-known lake called the Shangrila Lake. It gets its name from Shangrila Resort, within which the lake is located. Kachura lake is famous for its deep blue waters and brown trout.
Skardu’s main lake is Satpara Lake. The lake provides fresh water to the residents and is known for row boating and trout fishing. The lake is famous for its breathtaking beauty and has a fairy-tale mesmerising island in its centre.
The Shigar Valley of Skardu is home to a wooden mosque built by Kashmiris hundreds of years ago. It serves as the gateway to K2 and other high Karakoram peaks.
Khaplu Valley is 103 km from Skardu and is a base for trekking towards the Hushe Valley which leads to famous mountains like K6 and Masherbrum.
Fruit of Skardu
Skardu is known all over Pakistan for its variety of juicy and aromatic fruits. Luscious apricots, cherries, figs, apples, pomegranates, peaches, grapes and pears are mostly available from June to October while dry fruits like walnuts and almonds are found from October to March.
Adventure Sports and Activities in Skardu
Skardu is known as “A Climber’s Paradise” because it is ideal for mountaineering, trekking and hiking. Skardu boasts of soaring mountain peaks of over 8000 ft. K2 climbers also start their journeys from Skardu. Moreover, the region’s abundant freshwater lakes are perfect for trout fishing. Skardu provides thrilling tracks for bikers as well.
Weather in Skardu and the Best times to visit Skardu
There are 3 different seasons to visit Skardu and each has its own experiences to offer. The autumn season is usually considered to be the most charming for Skardu as there are multicoloured trees and a moderate climate.
The summer and spring seasons are abundant in fruits and give tourists an enchanting view of snow-capped mountains. The best months to visit Skardu if you want a perfect climate are April to October.
The overall weather in Skardu is not very warm, with June, July and August being the hottest months. The months of November to January are usually the chilliest. Although it is advisable not to visit Skardu during this period, tourists still go in these months to experience the winters of Skardu.
Moreover, mid-March is the best time to visit Skardu if you want fresh snow for skiing. Keep in mind that accommodation costs more in peak months and lesser when there are not as many tourists.
Where to Stay in Skardu
Being a major tourist attraction for adventurers all around the world, Skardu is home to some of the finest resorts and hotels. There are various places to choose from for your stay in Skardu. Some are expensive and luxurious while others are light on your pocket but not as luxurious. Some of the most commonly used hotels by travellers are Hargeisa Hut, Skardu Villas, Shigar Fort Residence, Baltistan Continental Hotel Skardu, Hotel Dewan e Khas Skardu and the Shangrila Resort. All these places offer magnificent views of the beauty of Skardu and also over tour guides and plan to their customers.
Skardu is definitely a great tourist destination both if you travel alone or with your family. Its mesmerising natural beauty of lakes, forts and valleys is a source of enjoyment for families. Whereas Skardu’s mountain trekking, hiking and fishing experiences are thrilling to experience for lone travellers. Skardu has something for everyone, which is why it is known as a traveller’s paradise.
Trip Note from 5-Day Trip to Skardu Undertaken by Ibextrails Team in April 2019
In late April 2019, I decided to explore the Skardu area with a few friends. The weather is still cold in the North as the month of March marks the beginning of spring. The snow on the mountain tops thaw and feed little brooks and rivulets which join the major rivers in the region. Early spring is a great time to explore this region, as the tourist season has not started and you find only commercial traffic on the roads. Most roadside hotels offer off-season rates and you get great services at the cafes and restaurants.
We start our road trip around 1 pm and reached Skardu by 11 pm at night as there was a roadblock due to road widening carried out by Frontier Works Organization(FWO). The road is generally in great condition and some maintenance activities are being carried out in different locations.
We spent the night in the Tibet Hotel, which is located close to Lower Kachura Lake and commands amazing views of Kachura Lake.
The next day we decided to explore the Upper Kachura lake which is located a 10-minute drive from the hotel. This location is a must-visit if you are exploring Skardu, as the views are breathtaking and the atmosphere is almost magical with clear blue waters and reflection of sun over the snow on the mountains. We enjoyed a nice cup of tea while enjoying the serene surrounding.
Around 10 am, we drove to Skardu to pick up a friend and headed towards Manthal Buddha Rock which is located 3km from Skardu. This rock dates back to the 8th century and is probably the most important Buddhist relic in Skardu Region. This amazing location provided an insight into the interesting history of the area before Islam where Buddhism was the main religion practiced in this area.
The next stopover on the way is Satpara Lake which is approximately 8km from Skardu. The driving time is approximately 20 minutes. Skardu Market area has plenty of dry fruit shops which is the main source of income in the area. The cultural shops display local wares, handicrafts, and hand-woven garments worn by local people.
We checked into the Summit Hotel in Skardu. It was almost midday and time for lunch. We made our way to Concordia Hotel which is famous for a local soup called Drung Balay and Maskut Mutton Karahi. The food is cooked in the local style and definitely should be on your list if you are a meat lover. Late afternoon is spent visiting apricot, cherry, and almond orchards owned by one of our friends and host. Skardu is famous for many variables of unique food which is preserved and supplied all over the country.
Karpocho Fort sits high up on the peaks overlooking the Skardu Valley. It takes around 30 minutes to reach this location. On a clear day, the views are breathtaking.
During a meeting with local officials, we were invited to attend the Skardu Baltistan Tourism Conference. I decided to extend my stay and checked into “Baltistan Resort”, which is a great location for a family stay. The tourism conference was a very informative session and our team learned a lot about current initiatives taken by the Government of Baltistan to encourage and promote tourism in the region.
The highlight of the visit was meeting “Little Kareem” the famous mountaineer who hails from this region. Kareem is a great guy and very keen to share his adventures and trekking experiences in the region.
The fifth day was dedicated to exploring a new area called Basho Valley. This is definitely a magic find of this trip offering a serene atmosphere, and calm streams flowing through the valley over multi-colored stone, probably due to high mineral content. This is a relatively unknown location and not visited by many people.
This whole atmosphere is unique and must be one on your list during the visit to Skardu. This area has two local hotels and rooms must be a book in advance if you plan to stay in Basho Valley.
The next day we drove back to Gilgit to catch a flight to Islamabad. A five to six-night stay in Skardu is enough time to explore local attractions. Make sure you book your hotels and tours in advance to avoid the last-minute hassle.