Eastern Side of Gilgit-Baltistan
Skardu, located on the eastern side of Gilgit-Baltistan, is an outpost unlike any other. Raw, dusty, constantly-expanding, and with some of the most bizarre landscapes you’ve ever seen.
If Gilgit and Hunza in Pakistan are where first-time visitors go, then Skardu and Baltistan are where seasoned travelers go.
Trekking Capital of the North
Skardu can be difficult to reach, and figuring out what to do there can also be difficult. Despite being known as the “Trekking Capital of the North,” the region lacks a great deal of visitor infrastructure.
This guide provides an overview of the greatest things to do in Skardu and its environs. Under the dust-covered surface of this city are some genuinely incredible gems, and I’m going to show you all of them right now.
1. See Marsur Rock
The Marsur Rock is a hike that has recently caught the city by storm. On the majority of posters, this perilously positioned rock overlooking Skardu and the valley is depicted. It is currently regarded as one of the top day treks in Skardu.
The journey up to Marsur Rock should take experienced hikers around a half-day. The gain in elevation is approximately 600 meters. As the trail offers no shade and the valley can become extremely warm, it is imperative that you begin your hike early in the morning. Bring plenty of water, snacks, and sturdy footwear.
Be sure to inquire beforehand about the trail’s condition. If the “new” trail is broken, you will have to travel the considerably longer “old” trail, which is primarily used by shepherds.
Once you arrive at Marsur Rock, you will realize why it is frequently compared to Norway’s Trolltunga. Replace the fjords with sand dunes, and it’s an exact replica of the Nordic symbol, albeit slightly smaller.
It is also possible to sleep at Marsur Rock. Many people choose to spend the night here rather than return the same day. However, you must bring your own tent or hire a porter.
2. Go sandboarding in the Safaranga Desert
Katpana and Safaranga are two significant deserts located in close proximity to Skardu. Both are renowned for being among the world’s highest deserts, so high that they receive snow in the winter. Consequently, their unofficial moniker is the Cold Deserts.
The Katpana Desert is located near the airport in Skardu. Although it attracts more visitors than the other, I think it to be slightly less impressive. Choose the Katpana if you’re short on time and searching for convenience.
Alternatively, if you want a “real” desert experience, you should visit Safaranga. Here, the dunes are taller, the landscape is more beautiful, and the silence is more pronounced.
Although it may be difficult to locate a board, the dunes are the ideal form for sandboarding! If you are unable to acquire a real surfboard, you could try your luck with an inflatable floaty from the Skardu bazaar.
It is feasible to go off-road to the dunes, but you’ll need a Jeep capable of handling the sandbank!
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3. Relax in the Organic Forest
On the opposite side of the massive rock that supports Kharpocho Fort is a calm patch of woods that residents have begun to refer to as The Organic Forest. This location is so tranquil in compared to the always noisy Skardu that you will forget the city even exists.
The trail to the Organic Forest begins at the base of the fort’s ascent. Instead of ascending, simply follow the trail around the mountain. You will walk along the edge of a cliff for around 15 to 20 minutes before reaching a sandy, wooded region on the banks of the Indus. The Organic Forest is around 15 to 20 minutes away.
Once you see the enormous sign atop the Organic Forest, you will know you’ve arrived. Feel free to stroll about and take in the tranquility. Several locations along the manmade canals provide for excellent halting areas. Consider bringing some food so that you can have a picnic once you arrive.
To return to Skardu, simply retrace your steps. You could theoretically continue going and circumnavigate the entire rock, but it would take an additional hour or two.
4. Climb up to Kharpocho Fort
Due to its central location, importance, and panoramic vistas, Kharpocho Fort is undoubtedly the most popular tourist attraction in Skardu. The fort is visible from practically every vantage point in the city center, so it’s simple to understand why so many people want to visit it.
The hike up to Kharpocho is rather simple. Simply descend the alley adjacent to the Bank Alfalah in the center of the market and continue straight ahead. Eventually, you will reach the mountain itself, at which point the trail will begin to switch back. There is a 15-20 minute ascent from there.
You will experience unparalleled views of the surrounding mountains and Indus River Valley from the fort. The original builders utilized this fort as a watchtower and a defense against attackers, both of which make perfect sense once you arrive. This is one of Skardu’s finest vistas, so take pleasure in it.
5. Visit the K2 Museum
The Italian K2 Museum is located next to the bazaar for aspiring climbers interested in learning more about “The Savage Mountain.”
The museum, which resembles a vast pyramidal tent, is filled with images and maps documenting the first missions to K2. In 1954, a group of Italian climbers scaled K2 for the first time, and the tale behind their ascent is actually pretty spicy. Drama aside, a portion of this museum is dedicated to them.
The museum is technically located on the grounds of the PTDC Motel, approximately 5 to 10 minutes’ walk from Skardu’s downtown. There is no cost to enter.