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.
Upper Kachura Lake and Basho Valley
Most businesses in the region are getting ready for the peak tourist season this year as traffic is projected to pick up substantially in June after the holy month of Ramzan.
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 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 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 practised 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 local style and definitely should be on your list or 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 to 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 learnt 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-coloured 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.