The Skardu Valley is located in Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan, on the Indus River which separates the Karakoram range from the Himalayas. Surrounded by the peaks of the Karakoram, the Skardu Valley is a gateway for travellers hiking into the mountain range. Three mountain ranges meet in the Gilgit-Baltistan region—the Karakoram, the Himalayas, and the Hindu Kush—and is treasured by mountaineering enthusiasts, high-altitude trekkers, and tourists for the majestic views and hiking trails.
Gilgit-Baltistan is part of the contested greater Kashmir region. Immediately following the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, it became clear that the wealth and resources of British India went to the now sovereign state of India. India and Pakistan went to war over Kashmir, a conflict made complicated by the mass migration of Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims across the new borders that led to violence and death on a large scale. In 1970, the territory of present-day Gilgit-Baltistan was carved away as the “Northern Areas”, a separate territory administered by Pakistan. It borders Azad Kashmir to the south, a sector of the Kashmir region also administered by Pakistan.
The Gilgit-Baltistan region is located near the Pakistani border with China, near the province of Xinjiang and the Kashmir region administered by India. Its central valley, Skardu Valley, shares similarities in culture, lifestyle, and architecture with Tibet, having been part of the Tibetan Empire that existed from the 7th to the 9th centuries. Balti, an ancient form of Tibetan, is still spoken in the Baltistan region. The region is also dubbed “Little Tibet”.
Skardu, a city located in the valley, is a popular base for travellers on a Pakistan tour. The city’s airport is perched more than 2,000 kilometres above sea level. It is surrounded by glaciers and the most incredible peaks in the world, such as K2, the world’s second highest mountain after Mt Everest.
Mountain flights to and from Skardu offers a view of the majestic Indus and the surrounding peaks, but is highly dependent on the weather. If your flight gets cancelled, you can also travel by road. Skardu can be reached by bus from the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad, itself located at the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range. This drive via the Karakoram Highway unveils great peaks such as the Nanga Parbat (26,660 feet [8,126 metres] high), one of the world’s tallest mountains situated in the western Himalayas. A tour operator may help in handling transportation to, from, and within Gilgit-Baltistan.
The Skardu Valley is a place of natural beauty. Between Gilgit and Baltistan is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Central Karakorum National Park, the largest protected area in Pakistan. Another tourist attraction is Katpana Desert, also known as Cold Desert as its sand dunes sometimes gets covered in snowfall due to its high altitude (2,226 metres above sea level), and lovely Lower Kachura Lake, also known as Shangri-La Lake.
In the extreme north is the Hunza Valley, famous also for its mountain peaks and ancient watch towers, such as the Baltit and Altit Fort.
While the desert areas and lowlands of Pakistan can burn with high temperatures, the mountain ranges moderate the climate in Skardu. In its warmest month, July, average temperatures range from 10 to 23 degrees Celsius. Winter can be severe; the coldest month is January and can go as low as -12 degrees Celsius.
Odyssey Traveller ventures north to this beautiful tourist attraction on a 22-day tour, in addition to the Pakistani highlights such as the Mughal monuments of Shah Jahan, and the city of Peshawar (pesh awar, “frontier town”) was once the capital of the ancient Buddhist kingdom of Gandhara.