There’s something about Skardu that makes you want to come to visit it again and again. I’ve been to many places, traversed paths less travelled and ventured to destinations most people may not have heard of but there is something special about Skardu. I’ve travelled there many times yet I intentionally leave some places unvisited — as an excuse to return.
Dubbed ‘Little Tibet’ in European literature — the Frenchman François Bernier was the first to describe Skardu in these terms — there are certainly similarities between the two places. Both are elusive, remote and remarkably beautiful.
Steeped in nature, Skardu’s landscape is rich and diverse — over there you’ll find forests, rivers, deserts and mountains. And there’s much to see such as the Deosai Plains, Shangrila, and the Kharpocho or Skardu Fort. The name Kharpochhe means the great fort, Khar in Tibetan means castle or fort and Chhe means great. After four years and on my third trip, I finally opted to go see it and scrutinised every corner of the fort.
If there’s one place to visit many times, it’s Skardu
There are many other tourist spots to see such as Shangrila and Sadpara Lake and on a recent visit there, I finally visited them. A 20-minute drive from Skardu city, Shangrila is an iconic tourist resort bordering the Lower Kachura Lake and is surrounded by towering mountains. Shangri-la means ‘heaven on earth’ in Tibetan and the place certainly lives up to its name.
The area is breathtakingly beautiful: one is enveloped in nature as one walks around; the heart-shaped lake is serene and forms the centre of the resort; and apricots hang from trees in front of Swiss cottages. On the grounds, there is a unique restaurant built on the fuselage of an aircraft that had crashed nearby many years ago. For a brief period, I just stood still and silently inhaled fresh air into my lungs.
The next day I headed to Sadpara Lake which was once a pristine lake but not any more because of a dam that has been constructed there. Sadpara’s stream originates from the Deosai Plains and joins the Indus River downstream. A road adjacent to Sadpara goes to the Deosai plains which I plan to visit in the near future to see the crystal clear water of Sheosar Lake and a sanctuary of brown bears located there. Deosai is one of the highest plateaus of the world, and has also been declared a national park to protect its flora and fauna. It is said that K-2 can be seen from the top of Deosai if the weather is clear.
Shangri-la means ‘heaven on earth’ in Tibetan and the place certainly lives up to its name. The area is breathtakingly beautiful: one is enveloped in nature as one walks around.
A 45-minute drive brought me to Sadpara Lake. The driver who took me there told me about Manthal Rock, situated nearby. It’s a big stone that bears sacred Buddhist inscriptions and a square hole on top of the rock. According to local myth, if someone succeeds in throwing a stone at the hole and it stays there he will be blessed with a baby boy, and if it doesn’t stay there, then a baby girl. If the stone doesn’t hit the hole at all, the family won’t be blessed with a child.
In the middle of Sadpara Lake, almost submerged in the water was an old building that used to be a restaurant. Since the water level rose due to the construction of the dam, the restaurant’s deserted walls have nearly disappeared.
Hushe and Shigar are both neighbouring valleys where the lifestyle of the inhabitants and scenic beauty is still somewhat preserved. However, since Shigar is partly on the route of foreign tourists, climbers and domestic trekkers heading to Karakoram Mountains, it has developed more over the years. The long road to Shigar gives the illusion of disappearing into the Karakoram, creating an elusive vista.
Skardu takes on different hues in different seasons. In winter, the snow makes everything marble white, summers brings serenity of green, spring means flowers sprout everywhere and in autumn, the entire valley looks as if it is bathed in yellow. Every season provides a separate reason to go there.
Although I still have not been there in winter, nor seen Manthoka waterfall, Katpana sand dunes and much more, love for nature is the biggest reason that takes me there, in addition to the hospitality and the vibrant cultures you find there. I think I will never run out of reasons to visit Skardu.