The junction point of three mountain ranges is situated near Jaglot on the Karakoram Highway (KKH), only 40 km southeast of Gilgit, Pakistan. It is here that the world’s three famous mountain ranges – the Karakoram (the black gravel), the Himalaya (home of snow), and the Hindukush (the killer of Hindus) – make a knot popularly known as the “Junction Point of the world’s three mountain ranges”. This exclusive site also serves as the junction of Gilgit and Indus Rivers and the Skardu road branches out from the KKH near this place.
The junction point is a venue of interest due to its unique geographic significance, not only in Pakistan but in the entire world. Pakistan is the only country where the world’s three renowned mountain ranges meet with their respective highest peaks recorded top of the list in their respective range and famous in the entire world as Nanga Parbat, K-2, and Terich Mir. These three major mountain ranges are the sub-ranges of the great Himalayas known as trans-Himalayas.
While standing at the junction point, it is easy to outline the direction of these mountain ranges. The Himalayan range is located to the south and east of Indus River. The Karakorum range stretches towards the northeast of Gilgit River. To the west of Gilgit / Indus River is the Hindu-Kush range.
Unique in many aspects, the Karakoram Range with a length of about 500km covers the borders between Pakistan, India, and China, in the regions of Gilgit-Baltistan (Pakistan), Ladakh (India), and Xinjiang region, (China). It is home to the highest concentration of peaks in just a radius of 160 km which are higher than 5,500 m and more than 100 in numbers including the second highest peak in the world, K-2(at 8,611m). The Karakoram Range is the most heavily glaciated part of the world outside the Polar Regions including some of the longest glaciers in the world such as Siachen, Batura, Baltoro, Biafo, Hisper, Gondogoro, Chogolisa etc.
Likewise, the Himalayan range is home to the 2nd highest peak in Pakistan- Nanga Parbat (8,126m), notoriously known as the killer mountain. Pakistan makes up the western anchor of the Great Himalayas and covers the Astor District dominated by Nanga Parbat massif and parts of Kashmir. The Great Himalayan Range spreads over 2400 km across Pakistan, Nepal, and India. Mount Everest (8,848 m), the world’s highest mountain peak, is in Nepal.
The Hindu Kush Range covers nearly 9600km long looming with its own wonders. It is mostly hosting smaller peaks most of them less than 7,500 m high. This range encompasses the peaks of Ghizer, Yasin and Ishkoman valleys of Pakistan and reaches the Queen of Chitral, Terich Mir, at 7,708 meters in the district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The range further stretches from the Pamirs to Iran.
A brief stopover at this point is mandatory to get educated about this exclusive site. This unique venue also offers a magnificent panorama of the entire zone from the confluence of Gilgit & Indus Rivers to the stretch of the mountain ranges bowing here to make a junction.
There is local folklore attached to the junction point which is discussed even today that this site used to be the abode of Jinns and fairies. It was said that at the confluence of the rivers the water was used by these supernatural creatures for drinking and taking bath.
An elevated prominent platform accessible by stairs has been erected on the edge of the Karakoram Highway that gives a 360-degree view of the entire region and pictorial information on the coordinates of the mountain. There is enough parking space created for vehicles and informative signboards have been displayed providing important details on the venue.
Unfortunately, not so many – both from within the country and from abroad – seem aware about the significance of this fascinating piece of land. Many tourists (mostly domestic or those travelling by public transport or even those who pass this place in the odd hours/in darkness) just pass by without noticing it and miss the opportunity to see it. However, many international tourists make it a vital part of their itinerary well before getting to the venue.
Best Time to Visit
The Karakoram Highway remains opened year-round and one can visit or pass by this site any time of the year. However, the best time to visit Gilgit-Baltistan is from March till November as winters are quite freezing and hard to bear in the region.
Rakaposhi is a famous mountain peak in the Karakoram mountain range of Pakistan, to be exact, standing arrogantly in the Nagar valley of Gilgit-Baltistan with Bagrot and Danyore in the background. It is the 27th highest and most amazing mountain in the world and ranked as 12th highest in Pakistan. Rakaposhi means “Snow Covered” and is locally called Bilchhar Dumani (“Mother of Mist” or “Mother of Clouds”).
The first and most fabulous glimpse of Rakaposhi, while travelling from Gilgit to Hunza, is from the Karakoram Highway (KKH) opposite to Kino Kutto (“Black Knee” in local Shina language to denote the shape of the rocky mountain located between Chalt and Khizr Abad). This site is also called the view point of Rakaposhi but the major and famous view point is located in Ghulmet. The broader view of Rakaposhi, however, at this particular spot with Jaffarabad village in the backdrop is stunning and serves as a threshold to Hunza.
The scenic views of Rakaposhi from this point ahead along the whole course of KKH all the way to the Hunza valley are diverse. However, if travelling from the opposite side of the Hunza River, along with the valleys of lower Hunza or Shinaki (Khizr Abad, Hussainabad, Mayun, and Khanabad), one can have stunning faces of Rakaposhi in sight. From Khanabad, it is possible to make it again to the KKH in Ghulmet, almost 5 km short of the viewpoint. The view point in Ghulmet village is about 75 km from Gilgit and is a famous vacationer spot.
Rakaposhi is notable for its exceptional rise over a local terrain of 5900m in only 11.2 km horizontal distance from the Hunza-Nagar River. It is the only mountain peak in the world rises directly from the scenic cultivated fields. Rakaposhi is more prevalent for its excellence than its rank.
Rakaposhi was first ascended by Mike Banks and Tom Patey via the Southwest Spur/Ridge route in 1958. Both endured minor frostbite amid the climb. Another climber slipped and fell on the drop and died amid the night.
The people of Nagar have dedicated the Rakaposhi extend mountain region as a national park and was inaugurated by Minister for Northern Areas. The Rakaposhi mountain extend is the home of endangered species including Marco Polo sheep, Snow Leopard, wolves and several other different species.
Rakaposhi View Point or “the Zero Point of Rakaposhi” is a prominent viewpoint offering the closest view of Rakaposhi and the natural beauty lies in its scenery. This remarkable viewpoint is located right on the Karakoram Highway (KKH) in Ghulmet village of Nagar Valley.
The Karakoram Highway is not merely an asphalt line connecting Pakistan and China at the Khunjerab Pass; it is rather a highway crowned with a series of tourist attractions. These attractions include natural beauty, archaeological sites, cultural heritage and architectural wonders that lure tourists to make short stopovers and overnight stays to further explore these attractions. Rakaposhi View Point is one of such places bearing utmost natural beauty.
While travelling between Gilgit and Hunza, tourists make a must stopover at the Rakaposhi View Point, to relax and to enjoy the natural scenery in the shadow of Rakaposhi – the world’s 27th highest peak at 7,788 m. Small terraces along the water flowing down from the glacier have been created for tourists to sit, eat, and enjoy. During summers tourists enjoy sitting by, dipping feet in cold glacier water, and taking pictures of scenic views.
The Rakaposhi View Point was developed dramatically over the course of several years. The gradual rise in tourist influx lead to a steady increase in its prominence that further spurred development of infrastructure at the site. Major natural attractions at the site include the mountain itself, the glacier surrounded by greenery and the melting stream flowing down the site permitting the visitors to enjoy the scenery and breeze.
In the beginning, the Rakaposhi viewpoint was nothing more than a gift shop and a local food outlet to serve mostly local travellers. Steadily, the development of local businesses including gift shops, handicraft shops, tuck shops, restaurants, campsite and now tourist class accommodation has turned this place a full-fledged tourist attraction. A new road has been constructed giving close access to the glacier coming down from Rakaposhi and development of other tourist attractions is underway. There are chances that this site will turn to be a major tourist destination.
For tourists travelling between Gilgit and Hunza, this place is a great choice to stop by for a late and lavish breakfast or for an open-air lunch with great views. Chap-shuro, a kind of local pizza is the speciality of this place. One can order any kind of fresh local food at an affordable price. You will always get delicious food with personalized services.
The thrilling Shandur Polo Festival takes place at the Shandur polo ground located at 3734 m high altitude on the sharing border between Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Ghizer district of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan. The festival takes place every year from 7-9 July between the teams of Gilgit and Chitral attracting thousands of enthusiastic spectators to witness the game of kings and the king of games – the traditional freestyle Polo competition.
The version of Polo played here between the two arch-rivals is the form of Polo unique to this region and is never experienced elsewhere in the world. During the 3-day mega festival, domestic and international tourists, fervent supporters from Gilgit and Chitral, organizers, vendors, performers, Polo players, and their horses gather to create a makeshift village. There can be no battleground as spectacular as the lush ground of the Shandur Pass during the festival.
The Shandur Polo ground is ranked as the world’s highest Polo ground surrounded by mountain peaks and annexes a beautiful lake in the background which adds to the overall beauty and creates exciting activities for the tourists. The Polo ground is positioned in the midst of the pass measuring 200 m by 56 m (with 60 cm high stone wall running the length) as compared to conventional Polo field measuring 270 m by 150 m. Comparatively smaller in size, the field usually seems crowded for 12 players at a time. However, this limits the horses from long gallops on the high altitude.
With its history dating back to 6th century BC, Polo, an equestrian sport in Central Asia, used to be a training game for cavalry units of the king’s guards and other elite troops in Persia. Originally, Polo was played with as many as 100 players to a side, featuring a mini-battle. In the 6th century AD, it became the Persian national game and gradually spread to Arabia, Tibet, and China. In the year 910, the death of a favorite relative in a game in China incited Emperor Apao Chi ordered beheading of all players.
In South Asia, Polo was introduced in the 13th century by Muslim conquerors. Over the centuries, it adopted a more traditional version from that of a wild. The kind of Polo played today has six players to each side but still with no firm rules. That is why it is famously narrated “the rule is that there is no rule”. However, at Shandur, the only exception made was that six players to each side will play a one-hour thrilling match with only a 10-minute break because of the high altitude. The break is revived with a traditional dance performance. The maximum goal securer within the stipulated amount of time is declared the winning team.
The first Polo match at Shandur was played back in 1936. It originated dramatically when the British political agent of the area, Major Cobb, who was fond of playing Polo under the full moon, ordered Niat Qabool Hayat Kakakhel (a prominent figure, assistant to the governor, and politician from Ghizer district) to construct a Polo Ground in Shandur. The Polo Ground was given the name as “Mas Junali” derived from two Khuwar languages (the native language of people of Chitral and Ghizer) words meaning “Moony Polo Ground”. Cobb was so impressed by the efforts of Kakakhel and wanted to give a reward for his services. However, Kakakhel declined and demanded Cobb to stock the trout in the local streams instead. Cobb accepted this demand and ordered live trout from England which was later dropped into the River of Ghizer. His vision helped in the establishment of the Directorate of Fisheries and creation of job opportunities in the region. Today Gilgit-Baltistan is also the hub of Trout fishing.
The players and horses from both sides make it to Shandur weeks before the real battle takes place in order to get acclimatized for the final encounter. However, to be selected for the final teams, several preliminary matches are played both in Chitral and Gilgit. Best horses and players are chosen for the final games by the local judges during test matches on home grounds.
During the festival, no safety measures are followed in this wild game. Rarely wearing helmets, players dressed colorful, holding strapless mallets, chasing the ball wildly on their own rides even without bandages on at least to keep the horses from severe injuries. Winning the year-long awaited trophy is always worth a pride for both teams to take home which always makes the headlines of the major national news. Most supporters and tourists begin to make their presence at the venue immediately after the rival teams and their horses appear at the venue.
Both, Gilgit and Chitral, districts are accessible by air and by road from the capital city of Islamabad. From Gilgit, Shandur is about 211 kilometers to the west via Gilgit-Chitral road and from Chitral, about 168 kilometers to the northeast along the Shandur-Gilgit road. The journey from Gilgit to Shandur is decked with the scenic view of the valleys, lakes, fruit orchards, traditional houses, terraced fields, gushing river, and silent springs. Likewise, while driving via Chitral, one can observe the lush natural beauty of Mastuj and Surlasp valleys, the alluring culture of welcoming residents and traditional houses set amidst natural landscapes. The roads on both sides are suitable for 4WD vehicles and remain closed during winters.
The thrilling Polo contest at Shandur is coupled with some supplementary activities for the visitors to engage themselves and feast their eyes with the natural and cultural beauty of the region. The journey either through Chitral or via Gilgit is both adventurous and fascinating not only for the new visitors but also for the residents and for frequent travelers.
For adventure enthusiasts, there are opportunities to explore the surroundings of Shandur, fishing at the streams and at the lake, hiking, and much more. The event, besides the warm-up matches and the final battle, offers a fascinating insight into the lifestyle and cultural aspects of the people of Gilgit and Chitral. The nights are filled with musical performances and fireworks while paragliding and traditional dances of Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan are performed in the day. The indigenous customs and natural beauty are a delight to behold for the visitors.
Travel enthusiasts can explore the parts of Chitral Valley and Gilgit Baltistan before and after the event. It is possible to organize a week-long tour program by adjusting days before and after the final Shandur polo contest. Prior planning can help make your tour a rewarding experience.
To all visitors, it is advisable to
- Make it to the venue at least a day before the final contest in order to enjoy all the offerings of the festival.
- Make accommodation, food, and transportation arrangements through a local tour operator if you are new to the destination.
- Carry comfortable (hiking) shoes, warm layers of clothing, cap, sunglasses, sunburn cream, umbrella/raincoat, water bottle, cell phone, and charger, etc.
The Manthal Buddha Rock in Skardu is a 9th century Buddha relief on the natural flat surface of a large granite rock. Resting on the edge of Manthal village, overlooking the town of Skardu, it is a significant relic of Buddhism at Skardu town in Gilgit-Baltistan province of Pakistan. The Buddha Rock is a famous tourist attraction and an iconic archaeological heritage representing the “rich glory of the past”. The Manthal Buddha Rock was not known to the world until Jane E. Duncan, a British traveller, documented it in the early 20th century. There are several other interesting and unique petroglyphs present in the region yet to be unveiled to the world.
Prior to the arrival of Buddhism in the 4th century, Baltistan was the land of Shamanism. The monks from northern India came and built monasteries during the Palolashahi kingdom that ruled the area. Buddhism continued to flourish after the Tibetan conquest of the region in the second quarter of the 8thCentury. The era between 8th and 10th centuries, therefore, is believed to be the “Golden Era of Buddhism” in the Upper Indus Valley.
Buddhism was the major religion of the time and Buddha was engraved on several rock pieces found so far in Gilgit-Baltistan. Historically, the migration of Buddhist people of Gandhara through the mountain kingdom of Gilgit-Baltistan allowed them to settle in different areas. During their stay, they engraved different images including drawings of Stupas, images of Buddha, expression of their experiences, and at some rocks imprinted texts in Kharoshti language.
Several Buddha carvings including Manthal Buddha rock in Skardu, carvings of stupas and Buddhist reliefs in Shigar and Khaplu in Baltistan; Karga Buddha and the Hanzal Stupa in Gilgit, rock carvings in the premises of KIU (Karakoram International University) in Gilgit; Rock carvings on the main KKH (Karakoram Highway) near Hunza (Haldikish); and hundreds of petroglyphs scattered along the KKH are the imprints left by the Buddhist caravans during the time of Buddhist height in the region.
It was the time the region was the epicentre of Buddhism and Islam was still not known to the people of the area. However, almost centuries passed ever since Buddhists have disappeared from the region, but Buddhism is still alive in the form of rock carvings and petroglyphs. Yet, sadly, the rich heritage is ignored and almost forgotten.
The arrival of Ali Hamadani and his followers from Iran in the 14th century changed the dynamics of the region forever. Buddhism gradually vanished, and the places of worship fell into despair. Locals embraced Islam and by the 15th century, the region became purely a Muslim state.
Art on the Manthal Buddha Rock
The Manthal Buddha Rock that stands gracefully even today has in the past been a place of ultimate significance. Bearing testimony to a tradition that has already disappeared, the Manthal Buddha still has the makings of a heritage site.
The triangular shaped rock measuring 20-foot wide and 30-foot high is decked with significant sculptures and inscriptions carved during the period of Buddhist sovereignty in the region. The front face has a dexterous carving of a huge sculpture of a meditating Buddha surrounded by 20 Bodhisattvas and two vicegerents (future Buddhas) standing on either side. According to Buddhist tradition, the convention of all Buddhas, from past to future, as represented on the Manthal Rock, is called ‘Mandal’ from which the name of the village Manthal is derived.
The apex of the Buddha rock is coloured black. The hole right over the head of the meditating Buddha, measuring four-inch-high and wide, was used as a fireplace and the surrounding of the fireplace is therefore coloured black. According to a myth, visitors try to throw pebbles inside the hollow box believing that success would mean a wish come true. The Tibetan script on the rock, being incomplete and not easily decipherable, could not be translated clearly even by experts.
It was also believed that there was a platform to perform religious practices on the eastern side of the rock. Likewise, the area right behind the rock was spared to provide medical facilities by the Lamas. However, the actual platform does not exist anymore, and it was all believed to have washed.
Location and Access
Manthal Buddha is located about 3 kilometres from Satpara (also known as Sadpara) Road that leads to Satpara Lake in Skardu. The town of Skardu has an airport and PIA operates flights on daily basis yet subject to weather condition. By road, Skardu is accessible from Islamabad in almost 24 hours along the KKH. One can also fly to Gilgit and travel to Skardu by road. Currently, the Gilgit-Skardu road is under construction; once it is completed may take around 3 to 4 hours as compared to more than 7 hours now.
The Phander Valley is a scenic valley well-known for its ultimate grandeur and sheer beauty. The valley is famous particularly for its manifestation of diverse natural colors in four distinct seasons. The calmly flowing deep blue rivulet making way through the center of the valley makes the entire vista extremely striking. Nature has blessed the valley so uniquely that its landscape simply displays a panorama of a dreamland.
Phander is situated in the Gupis valley of Ghizer district in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. Ghizer is one of the 10 districts of Gilgit-Baltistan bordering Gilgit District to the east, Hunza-Nagar to the northeast, Diamer to the south, and Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the west.
The entire gorge making up the Ghizer District, all the way to the Shandur Pass, is dotted with tiny valleys mostly nestled by the bank of Gilgit River. The landscape of Ghizer district is diverse; contracting and stretching from Gilgit to Lunger near Shandur. Each stretch before Lunger is adorned with a settlement of traditional houses surrounded by gardens, fruit orchards, and terraced fields.
There are numerous attractions on the way to the Phander Valley making the trip so enjoyable without causing a feeling of fatigue throughout the journey. The lush green fields, fruit orchards and gardens, beautiful lakes including the Khalti Lake and Phander Lake, gushing blue river running along the bases of valleys connected by suspension bridges, clear glacial waters, and numerous channels of natural springs along the way feast the eyes of travelers with a unique experience.
Like the diversity in landscape, there is also an absolute variation in cultures in the entire district which makes it even more alluring. People speak different languages including Shina, Khuwar, Burushaski, and Wakhi in different regions and practicing slightly diverse cultures. People are friendly and welcoming, living a simple lifestyle, eating rich food with agriculture as a source of living for most of the residents.
Although the entire district is scenic with striking beauty; the Phander valley, in particular, is heavenly blessed. The section of the gorge making Phander a bowl-shaped valley is because of the barricade at the eastern end crest perching the PTDC Motel and holding the Phander Lake. The government rest house built on a ridge poking in and separating the valley from the Phander lake provides a gorgeous view of both sides – the valley and the lake.
The valley poses a unique natural setting nowhere can be observed. Beautiful lush plain fields make up the entire base of the bowl-shaped valley separated by the deep quiet blue water flowing downstream. The water is full of trout fish which is an important source of food of the region and a great local dish every tourist would love to enjoy.
Access and Location
Phander is majestically located about 173 km west of Gilgit town. The access to the valley is easy, usually takes about 5 hours to reach yet depending on the speed. Most of the road section is asphalted while some sections are still under the process of construction. However, generally, the road condition is fine and recommended for all kinds of vehicles. Phander is also accessible from Chitral via the Shandur Pass.
Pakistan is a unique and blessed state made up of Asia’s most remarkable landscapes. It has diverse geography blended with rich cultures and a long tradition of hospitality mirrored by the people of its country. There is no other country in the world presenting more prospects to trace roots of modern-day humans than Pakistan.
The territory that constitutes today’s Pakistan has for centuries been a cradle of ancient civilizations and home to ancient cultures and dynasties. Tracing its history back from the 9000 years old Neolithic Mehergarh civilization followed by the 5000 years old bronze age Indus Valley Civilization, the 3000 years old Buddhist Gandhara Civilization, the 16th century Mughal Era, the brief Sikh rule, and the 200 years British occupation, until independence in 1947, Pakistan has seen unprecedented events that no other independent sovereign state might have gone through.
Officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is the world’s 6th most populous country in South Asia housing more than 212,742,631 people (as per 2017 census). It is the 33rd-largest country encompassing 881,913 square kilometres (340,509 square miles). The country has four provinces – Sindh, Baluchistan, Punjab, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – and three territories – FATA, Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan – surrounding a well-planned modern capital city, Islamabad, located in the heart of the state.
Pakistan is strategically placed on the crossroads of Asia and divided into three major geographic areas – the northern highlands, the Indus River plains, and the Balochistan Plateau. The country is bordered by the 1046 km coastline of the Arabian Sea in the south, India to the east, China to the northeast, Afghanistan to the northwest, and Iran to the southeast. From the mighty glaciated mountain ranges in the north (Gilgit-Baltistan) to the coastal areas of the south the diverse landscape of Pakistan is rich in alluvial fertile planes, vast deserts, dense forests, plateaus, jungles, flora and fauna, rivers, and lakes.
Pakistan is abundant in tourist attractions.
The northern mountainous part of the country constitutes some parts of KPK (Chitral, Swat, and the Kaghan Valley), Azad Jammu & Kashmir, and the entire Gilgit-Baltistan (formerly northern areas) – making up the westernmost edge of the great Himalayas – a unique playground for adventure lovers. The region is ideal for adventure sports and is known as a haven for nature and adventure lovers.
Gilgit-Baltistan has the honour of hosting world’s highest mountains and longest glaciers located outside the polar region famous for trekking, mountaineering, climbing, white water rafting, mountain & desert jeep safaris, and paragliding. The junction point of three mighty mountain ranges – the Karakoram, the Hindukush, and the Himalaya – and the Pamir mountain range exist in Gilgit-Baltistan. The region has been the melting pot of Buddhism and remained one of the several trade routes of ancient Silk Route – currently the Karakoram Highway connecting Pakistan and China Pakistan and China at Khunjerab Pass as a trade and tourism artery embellished by more than 100,000 petroglyphs and rock carvings testifying the Buddhist rule, towering mountains with tiny valleys and terraced fields in the backdrop, ancient forts featuring architectural dexterity, and hundreds of years old rich history of the natives.
The central territories of the country feature mostly, dense forests, vast deserts, and fertile lands so abundant in history and culture housing unique landmarks. Its archaeological heritage making up ancient sites such as Moenjo-Daro & Harappa of Indus Valley Civilization as well as Taxila & Takht-i-Bahi of Gandhara Civilization are the spotlights drawing domestic and international visitors in volumes. In addition to these sites, Pakistan boasts a wealth of architecturally significant landmarks, many dating from the Islamic era, Moghul Empire, Sikh rule, and from the British era, located in Lahore, Multan, Bahawalpur, Karachi & Peshawar.
Its southern region constituting Sindh and Baluchistan make up archaeological sites, religious landmarks, architectural heritage, lakes, and some of the world’s best golden beaches stretching along the coastal line. The Makran Coastal Highway from Karachi to Gwadar and Jiwani is a unique highway in the world crowned with exclusive tourist attractions. Pakistan hosts six of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and several dozens of sites still lined up to be declared the World Heritage.
The country’s major cities reflect historic and modern influences. The people of different colors and creeds having diverse cultural backgrounds living in different parts of these cities belonging to diverse ethnic groups, practicing their own faiths, wearing colorful costumes speaking some of the world’s distinct languages, consuming rich diet, maintaining and harmonious society are known as the most hospitable people present a true image of the country.
Pakistan is accessible by road from China via Khunjerab border, from Afghanistan via Khyber Pass (currently closed), From Iran via Taftan border and from India via the Wahga border. By air, Pakistan is accessible from several countries directly and indirectly. A number of international flag carriers fly to the major airports of Pakistan including Islamabad, Lahore, Multan, Peshawar, Sialkot, and Karachi.
The region’s four distinct seasons, its countless landmarks including the highest mountain ranges and longest glaciers outside polar region, crystal blue lakes, gushing rivers, longest highways, trekking routes, terraced fields, monuments, cuisines, and cultural diversity are what make it a distinguished region and draw tourists in volumes.
The Deosai National Park is the second largest alpine plateau in the world covering an area of 3626 sq. km. The region is one of the few areas of the world to hold a vast natural expanse of exceptional natural scenery and wealth of wildlife. Deosai Park can be reached from Skardu directly and from Gilgit via Astore through a scenic road.
The park is located at an elevation of 13600 feet above the sea level, at the junction of 04 major mountain ranges – The Karakoram, Ladakh range (Trans-Himalaya), Zanskar range (Trans-Himalaya), and Himalaya in the rugged Northern region – between Skardu and Astore districts in Gilgit-Baltistan territory of Pakistan. The national park also serves as a major tourist attraction in Gilgit-Baltistan drawing hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.
Deosai, basically a combination of two words, Deo and Sai, literally means Land of Giants and also referred to as Roof of the Earth. For decades a myth prevailed that the region was haunted by giants and the name “Land of Giants” thus came into being. Local people of Baltistan, however, call this place ‘Ghbiarsa’ referring to ‘summer’s Place’ because it is only accessible in summer.
The park is a protected area and divided into several zones some of which are restricted. The core zone is a specially protected area for the Brown Bear. Tourists can only visit certain zones. Deosai being a prime tourist attraction visited by a massive amount of domestic and international tourists each year.
The park is abundant in natural beauty with its vast expanses covered by wildflowers. There are multiple streams and lakes teaming with trout fish and major spots to stay for overnight. some of the major attractions include:
Sheosar Lake is the mole on the cheek of Deosai Plains and the entire lake is surrounded by hills crowned with snow and its immediate surroundings have green patches covered with wildflowers.
Kala Pani or the black water is a major campsite by a stream called Kala Pani while driving from Sheosar lake towards Skardu. This water stream is called Kala ( Black ) Pani (water) because it looks almost black from a fair distance. However, the water is actually crystal clear and freezing. The campsite is located at a low altitude, surrounded by small green hills, ideal for camping by avoiding the chilly nighttime winds.
Bara Pani is a local name to indicate the Larger Water stream flowing from the top of icy mountains of Deosai. Bara Pani is located between Kala Pani and Ali Malik Mar Pass ( Deosai Top ). Bara Pani is an ideal campsite surrounded by a vast stretch of the park and snow-crowned mountains.
Ali Malik Mar Pass (Deosai Top) is about 30km uphill drive from Skardu town and is part of an adventurous half day excursion. While driving from Astore side, it is the end of Deosai plains before descending to Skardu.
Shatoung Nala is an uphill gorge leading up to Deosai from Skardu surrounded by snow-covered mountains. The freshwater stream flowing all the way is the primary source of water of the Sadpara Lake in Skardu.
There are a number of trails to explore but the best one is to walk along the jeep track and around the Sheosar Lake to explore the vast expanse of the park.
One can go fishing by acquiring a valid license. Nights are special when the sky is clear to observe Milky Way galaxy in a deafening silence.
Those who wish to spend a night at Deosai must carry tents and food unless there is confirmed arrangements for accommodation and food. Heavy rains sometimes make movement difficult and to be on the safe side careful planning and necessary arrangements must be made in advance.
Flora and Fauna
The Deosai National Park was established in December 1993 by the government of Gilgit-Baltistan with the prime objective to conserve the rare wildlife. The park makes up one of the last frontiers of natural habitat for the Himalayan brown bear – a rare species once roamed the mountains freely. The park currently has about 20-28 Brown bears. The population of the Brown Bear is growing since strict conservation measures were taken.
The national park is home to a variety of significant species of wildlife. Himalayan Ibex, Snow Leopard, Tibetan Red Fox, wolf, the Ladakh urial, the snow leopard and Golden Marmot are among the 18 different mammals exist. There are three types of fresh-water fishes and 209 bird Species (both resident and migratory) including Honred lard, Citrine Wagtail, Mountain Finch, Eastern Swift, and Craig Martin.
Deosai Plateau is poised between sub-alpine and glacial fields where only the shrubs and forbs are found and no tree can be sited at all. The park is also famous for its variety of medicinal and aromatic plant species. There are 342 species of plants belonging to 142 genera and 36 families. Notable plant species include Artemisia, Aconitum, Jurinea, Rheum, Mentha, Swertia, Valeriana, Verbascum, Viola, Potentilla, Ephedra, Thymus, Saussurea, and Bunium.
The park remains snowbound throughout most of the year and is only accessible for about four to five to six months from June to November. Its environment is characterized by extreme cold coupled with low atmospheric pressure and low oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. One must be cautious about aridity and intense and rapid solar ultraviolet radiation. The Deosai plain receives higher rainfall than adjoining northern and northeastern valleys of Baltistan due to its geographical location facing the monsoon affected outer Himalayas. The weather during the months of July and August remains pleasant. However, most times it is unpredictable as it even snows in July and August sometimes. Annual precipitation varies from 350 to 550 mm., mostly received during winter as snow. Average daily temperature ranges from -20C in winters and 12 C in July and August.
Deosai National Park is accessible both from Skardu district in the north and Astor valley in the west. It is about 9 to 10 hrs journey from Gilgit to Skardu via Astore and Deosai or vice versa unless there is an overnight stay plan either in Astor or anywhere at the National Park. While visiting Deosai tourists usually spend a night in Astore valley to visit Rama valley and Rama Lake. Others prefer to spend an additional night in Deosai, preferably at Sheosar Lake or other designated campsites. A 4WD is the recommended conveyance because of the altitude and road condition.
Nestled in the lap of mountains, at an elevation of about 15000 ft., the scenic Naltar valley near Gilgit town in Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan is a striking pine pasture and a prominent tourist destination. The highland is a perfect summer retreat and a world-famous winter ski resort in Pakistan drawing national and international skiers every year for ski competitions. The lush green valley is heavily wooded with pine, spruces, birch, rowan, and juniper, the entire valley is guarded by green hills and snow-topped mountains. It is home to the local Gujjar tribe who grow potatoes famous for their taste and size.
Geography and access
The hill station is located about 19 km uphill barren gorge from Nomal Valley which serves as a base and located at the mouth of the gorge. The Nomal valley itself is located at 20 km from Gilgit via the west bank of the Hunza River and about 70 km from Hunza valley along the Karakoram Highway across Rahimabad and accessible by a concrete bridge over the Hunza River.
From Nomal Lower Naltar (Naltar Payeen or Khirini Naltar in local Shina Language) is about 7 km and then it is another 6 km to Upper Naltar (Naltar Bala or Ajeeni Naltar in local Shina language). Altogether, from Gilgit, it takes about 2.5 hrs while from Hunza it takes about 4 hrs to drive to upper Naltar.
The Naltar valley is highly recommended for a day excursion from Gilgit for anyone looking to spend a day out of hustle and bustle or to enjoy the absolute serenity. One can also plan an overnight stay or two. There are accommodation facilities in the valley and one can go camping. Major attractions in the valley are:
Naltar has now established itself as a prime winter sports destination and now international ski competitions held here. Being at a fair elevation, Naltar receives a good spell of snow every year. There are ski lifts operational under the ‘Ski Federation of Pakistan’. The annual ski competition draws national and international sportsmen every year in February.
The valley also serves as a base for two medium category beautiful treks; one across the Naltar Pass (about 4,600 meters) eastward to Ishkoman valley and the other across the Daintar Pass (4,636 meters) westward to Chalt. Naltar is a two-hour drive and about 47 kilometers from Gilgit via the west bank of the Hunza River to Nomal Village.
From Upper Naltar to the Lakes is about 13 km jeep-able road. However, it also serves as a beautiful walking trail particularly when the road is blocked or washed away. By foot, it takes 2-3 hours while the downhill walk is less than 2 hrs. The rough jeep track runs along the rivulet all the way to the lakes. The colorful lakes are named as Bashkiri Lake – I, Bashkiri Lake – II, and Bashkiri Lake – III, located fairly close to each other at the end of the gorge. Naltar Lakes are also locally known as “Chimo Bari (fish Lake)”, ” Chakar Bari (Multi Ends Lake)’ & “Bodolok Bari (Turbid Lake)
The lakes are surrounded by dense pine forests. Winters are harsh and the lakes are hard to reach because of the snow that usually piles up to 10 to 15 feet. Summers attract a huge number of local and international tourists and trekkers.
The glacial waters originating from the end bordering the Wakhan Corridor collect to make a rivulet which flows through the center of the gorge till it meets the Hunza River. Camping, cooking, and other fun activities along the water is an added beauty for the visitors.
Camping and outdoor activities
There are plenty of camping sites and one can plan overnight/weekend camping. The valley is safe and one can find fresh veggies at a reasonable price. There are hiking trails leading to scenic points. The valley is well known for its flora and fauna and splendid medium range mountains.
Weather in Naltar Valley
The weather in Naltar is always romantic. Even during peak summers, the Lakeside at Naltar receives light spells of rain several times a day. The fluctuating romantic weather and scenery in the surrounding make the trip worth of it.
Light refreshment (tea and cookies) for tourists can be had at the Lakeside, however, tourists willing to spend the whole day at Naltar are recommended to make personal arrangements.
Naltar valley is only accessible by 4WD Jeeps being the road nonmetallic, narrow, rough and tough. Transport can be arranged from Gilgit. There is a camping facility and one can stay overnight in tents.
The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is the highest paved international road and a major trade artery linking China and Pakistan at the Khunjerab Pass at an elevation of 4,733 meters. The highway is also a legendary tourist attraction encompassing a rich blend of historic landmarks, cultural diversity, and natural beauty – a thrill for adventure lovers.
Starting from Hasanabdal in Punjab province of Pakistan, the Pakistani section of the highway culminates at the Pak-China border at Khunjerab Pass. The entire highway passes through the rugged terrain of KPK, twisting northeast along the bank of River Indus, and glides through the Karakoram and Pamir Mountains until it meets the Chinese section at Khunjerab Pass. The Chinese section of the highway continues further along the Pamir Mountains to Kashghar. The Karakoram Highway is called the Friendship Highway in China. Yet, due to its rugged terrain, high elevation, and hard conditions in which it was forced through, it is sometimes referred to as Eighths Wonder of the World.
The total length of the KKH is approximately 1300 (810 mi) km, with 887 km in Pakistan and 413 km in China Though the new route does not follow exactly the old silk route but the track follows mostly the same region so it can be said as revive of the old Silk Route. It is estimated that each kilometer constructed cost a labor, both Pakistani and Chinese. The Chinese workers who died during the construction are buried in the Chinese cemetery or China Yadgar in Danyore near Gilgit.
Historically the Karakoram Highway was a caravan trail – one of the several branches of the ancient Silk Route that has hosted traders, pilgrims, warriors, and common men for several centuries whose movement along the route brought about tremendous changes in social, cultural and economic aspects of the lives of residents.
Construction of the Highway
Long before the Karakoram Highway or the KKH was constructed the northern areas (now Gilgit-Baltistan) were attracted by the Russians, Chinese, and the British merely due to its strategic importance yet the access to the region was a sheer challenge. The British being in power during the 1800s decided to sustain their authority by building an all-weather communication infrastructure along the Indus. Materializing the idea was not an easy task though. The British simply improved an old Srinagar foot track into a mule track at the initial phase and later another seasonal passage was devised through Chilas over the Babusar Pass to connect to the Kaghan valley which hardly remained open for 3 months a year during summers.
Following the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, the Srinagar road was blocked permanently. It was the time when the northern areas were divided into several states functioning under the local rulers. In the year 1958, to build an all-weather road link between Swat and Gilgit, Indus Valley Road (IVR) was conceived. Its construction was started as a joint venture of the two governments in 1959. In 1966, under a Sino-Pak agreement, the government decided to develop the IVR into the Karakoram Highway. Near the completion phase, the construction work was discontinued due to financial constraints when the war broke out between Pakistan and India in 1971 but the valuable assistance from China made it possible to carry on.
At the initial stage, the KKH was to construct from Thakot to the Khunjerab Pass and then to be linked to the highway on the Chinese side. But later the entrance was shifted from Thakot to Hasan Abdal and the project was completed in 1979. The highway was opened to the general public in 1986. During the course of construction, about 800 Pakistanis and 200 Chinese workers lost their lives, mostly in landslides, yet the unofficial toll is believed to be much higher.
Reconstruction of the Karakoram Highway
In June 2006, a MoU was signed between Pakistan’s NHA and China’s CRBC to upgrade the KKH with overall width expansion from 10 to 30 meters to accommodate heavy-duty vehicles even in extreme weather conditions. However, the construction was carried out but the width remained almost the same as the original.
During the course of construction, the Attabad incident took place on 4 January 2010 when a section of the highway was damaged by a massive landslide in the Attabad valley of Hunza, about 19 kilometers upstream from Hunza’s capital of Karimabad,. The landslide shaped the 23 km long Attabad Lake, interrupted the flow of Hunza River and general travel along the Karakoram Highway. Construction of the tunnels through a revised 24 km long route began in July 2012 and was completed in September 2015. The realigned route through newly constructed 5 tunnels and a bridge restored the road link between Pakistan and China.
Socio-Economic Significance of the Highway
The entire region being mountainous the highway slashes through the collision zone between the Eurasian and Indian plates where China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan come within 250 kilometers (160 mi) radius. Essentially because of the enormously complex Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan, KKH has strategic and military significance to these nations, particularly Pakistan and China. The construction of Karakoram Highway has not only enriched trade and tourism between Pakistan and China but has contributed significantly to the improvement in living standards of the local population. CPEC is expected to bring enormous economic gains to the region but China and Pakistan are planning to link the Karakoram Highway to the southern port of Gwadar in Balochistan through the Chinese-aided Gwadar-Dalbandin railway, which extends to Rawalpindi.
Tourism Potential along the Karakoram Highway (KKH)
The Karakoram Highway has sought to receive international recognition and is now ranked as a niche adventure tourism destination. From Hassan Abdal (about 50kms from Rawalpindi city) the dual carriage asphalt ribbon leaves dusty plains of Punjab and enters through the lower Himalayas of Hazara district while heading north winding through several interesting natural and historic sites until the Pakistan section of the road meets the Chinese part at Khunjerab border in upper Hunza valley.
The Pakistani section of the highway is connected through more than 90 small and large bridges while making the way through the junction point of three mighty mountain ranges – the Karakorams, the Hindukush, and the Himalayas – and also the high Pamirs in Gilgit-Baltistan. From Hasan Abdal the highway winds through many beautiful spots up to Thakot where it meets the Indus River. The highway further traverses parallel to the Indus River for almost 300 km to the junction point and joined by the Gilgit River. The highway then passes through Gilgit after almost 40 km, the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan, where Gilgit River is joined by the Hunza River and continues through the valleys of Nagar and Hunza for another 280 km before it climbed to Khunjerab border.
The entire 887 km section of the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan from the plains of Punjab to the culmination at the Khujerab border, the land is extremely diverse and rich in tourist attractions – from the272 BC edicts of Ashoka in Mansehra to the world’s highest metal border at Khunjerab Pass encompassing a blend of attractions including rocky and snow-crowned mountain peaks, glaciers and rivers, tiny mountain valleys and terraced fields, fruit laden orchards and serene pastures, hiking trails and challenging treks, the junction point of three mountain ranges in the world and the collision point of Eurasian and Indian plate, people with diverse cultural background speaking different languages and dialects, and the four distinct seasons manifesting a diverse range of natural colors. The Karakoram highway is a paradise for cyclists and bikers to explore thoroughly.
Major Attraction along the Karakoram Highway (KKH)
To begin with, the historic 4-yard thick and 16 yards high fortress in Haripur (Now serving as police station); then Major James Abbott’s historic city – Abbottabad; the 272 BC edicts of Ashoka of Maurya dynasty inscribed on three large boulders in Mansehra; more than 20,000 pieces of rock art and petroglyphs dating back to between 5000 and 1000 BC concentrated at ten major sites between Shaital and Hunza; access to Fairy Meadows and Nanga Parbat BC, stunning views of Nanga Parbat (The Killer mountain and 2nd highest in Pakistan 8,126m high); Junction point of three mountain ranges; Kargah Buddha and Henzal Stupa near Gilgit town; attractions in Gilgit city; Chinese Graveyard and ancient rock carvings in Danyore; Monument in Rahimabad; Collision point of Eurasian and Indian Plate near Chalt; Sections of ancient silk rote along the highway; Rakaposhi View Point; Altit Fort & Baltit Fort; Duikar; Karimabad town, Altit old settlements, and ancient village of Ganish; Haldikish; Attabad Lake and Borit Lake; Passu Cathedrals and Batura Glacier; scenic views of Rakaposhi, Diran, Golden Peak, and Lady Finger; Hoper valley and Hoper Glacier, Passu valley and glacier, and the tiny terraced valleys along the gorge leading to Khunjerab, and the Hunza River, Gilgit River and Indus River are all part of this beautiful journey.
The KKH was ranked as “third best tourist destination” in Pakistan by “The Guardian”. It provides mountaineers and cyclists easy access to the attractions along the highway including mountains, glaciers, and lakes and also to interact with people. The highway also provides access to the two major tourist destinations –Gilgit and Baltistan – which host the highest mountains and longest glaciers outside polar region besides manifesting wealth of attractions.
For travelers along the KKH, there are sufficient food and accommodation arrangements. The major stopovers recommended are at Besham, Chilas, Gilgit, Hunza, and Sust where tourists can find standard accommodation at a reasonable price. There are also several short excursions to the nearby mountains, glaciers, and valleys one can carry out between Gilgit and Khunjerab. The best time to travel along the KKH is between April and November. The border at Khunjerab remains closed from the end of November until the start of April every year.
Passu Cathedral or the Passu cones are the jagged spires rising from a set of mountain peaks located to the north of Passu Valley in the Karakoram mountain range of Pakistan. Located to the other side of the Hunza River, the cones present a majestic view from different points along Karakoram Highway passing through the Gulmit and Passu Valleys.
The sun-drenched mountain peaks are known by several names including Passu Cones, Cathedral Spires, and locally called Tupopdan but are still prominent among the tourists as Passu Cathedral. Passu Cathedral is the most photographed peak scaled for the first time by the British in 1987.
The origin of the name “Passu” is still ambiguous but there are several attractions associated with it. Notable among them are the stunning Passu Village, Passu Glacier, Passu Peak and of course the Passu Cathedral. All these attractions can be seen from the Karakoram Highway.
The Passu Cathedral is located near the Khunjerab border between Pakistan and China in upper Hunza, about 50kms from central Hunza valley, and some 150kms from Gilgit town. The elegant mountains can be seen from Attabad Lake while driving along the Karakoram Highway. The jagged rocky peaks thrusting skywards from the rest of the Karakoram Range present breathtaking views from Shishkat, Gulmit, and Passu.
A major reason the gorgeous Passu valley is famous for is the 6,106m (20,033 ft) pyramid shape Passu Cathedrals bearing a striking beauty. The Passu Valley is located at 2,400 metres, but from their base, the gleaming cones are almost four kilometres, straight up, and are inspired by its unique structural attributes.
The gorgeous mountain begins to glow when the first rays of sun shined over the jagged cones, particularly, it glitters when it has layers of snow on. And as the day’s last rays shimmer off the cones it turns golden-bronze – a panorama worth observing.
The Cathedral range is surrounded by renowned peaks including Passu Sar, Shishpar, and the 56km long Batura glacier which is the seventh longest non-polar glacier making edge near the KKH. The Passu valley itself serves as base and kick-off point for trekkers heading for diverse treks surrounding the valley.
For the people travelling along the Karakoram Highway in the upper part of Hunza, trekking up Batura glacier, visiting the remote Shimshal valley, or driving further to Khunjerab Pass, the Passu Valley is an ideal base to acclimatize, enjoy the breathtaking views, and taste some traditional organic food. Particularly, to feast the eyes with the early morning sun rays hitting the jagged peaks of glowing Passu Cathedral.