By: Munaza Kazmi
Welcome to the new episode of Discovering Pakistan. Today I will be taking you to a magical land of gigantic mountains that surely remind you of your grandma’s bedtime fairy tales.
In the north of Pakistan, Skardu the capital of Gilgit Baltistan, is an epitome of beauty, magnificence, serenity and wilderness. It is path to the some of the world’s glorious and dangerous mountains including K2, K3 and Gasherbrum and home of Himalaya’s beautiful creatures.
After landing on Skardu Airport; a beautiful flowery piece of land surrounded by huge snowcapped mountains, stock up on dried apricots, walnuts and almonds for the long journey by road. I would advise you to request the front seat of the car for the best photo opportunities – you won’t regret it as you enter the mountain ranges in the North!
A two hours’ drive from Skardu and you will arrive at Serena Shigar Fort, known as Fong-Khar which in the local language means the “Palace on the Rock”, it is one of Northern Pakistan’s most beautiful hotels. There you almost feel as if you have stepped in to a movie set because it is so picturesque. The settlement itself is also great to walk around during the day amidst the hustle and bustle or you can take a bicycle for a more relaxed afternoon to stretch the legs after your long plane and bus journey.
For reaching Deosai, you have to get up early in the morning, since a whole day would not be enough to witness the mystic. Deosai National Park, home to the Himalayan Brown Bear, Himalayan Ibex, Tibetan wolf, Golden marmots, Tibetan red fox and a land of lovely wild flowers. Also, it is called as land of fairies and djinns by the natives…maybe you would be lucky to get along with one.
Next day, fill yourself with a healthy breakfast and get ready for another full day adventure, starting from Satpara Lake, there you can relax by watching the epic landscape with a cup of tea from the nearby jungle café and boat ride.
Next treat your eyes with a spectacular heart shaped Lake next to a Japanese style hotel; a beautiful place to dine for lunch.
In the meanwhile, you can see the world’s highest desert known as Sarfaranga Desert or the Cold Desert Sakrdu that is located at the height of 7,500 feet. One can have a breathtaking view of the sunset at the top of sand dunes with chilly winds.
Mantoka waterfall is approx 180 feet high from ground and located almost 80 kilometers away from downtown Skardu. This is the place from where Indus river enters into Pakistan. Manthoka Waterfall is one of the well-known tourist attractions of Kharmang valley. Ending the day with a warm cup of tea with waterfall in the background makes the day more memorable.
Next day there comes a long journey awaiting to the scenic Khaplu valley. For accommodation Serena Hotels are as luxurious as it gets, and you will find them all over the country my favorite was Serena Khaplu Palace in Gilgit-Baltistan, a Tibetan Palace, restored by Agha Khan Foundation.
If you can time your luck, there may be a local polo match taking place nearby. Ask your guide for updated information – this is a popular sport in the Gilgit-Baltistan region and known popular as “Game of the Kings”.
If you are feeling more active and adventurous, there is a great panoramic view to be had at Thoqsikhar, a two-hour hike from the palace. Ask the hotel to pack a picnic lunch or start your journey early in the morning with the sun and return to the palace for a relaxed lunch in the gardens.
Next day, if you have time the day you are checking out, consider stopping at Bara, a small town just 20 minutes from Khaplu. Here you will find a wool spinning and weave center that trains and supports local women. This is also a great place to purchase a local Baltistani topi.
Never forget a to drive to Muchilu Bowari Rocks, they are as mighty as you can imagine, the spellbinding, magnificent, by seeing them I wondered, if these rocks are that gigantic and big, what about the Creator of them.