Skardu, along with Gilgit, is a major tourism, trekking and expedition hub in Gilgit–Baltistan. The mountainous terrain of the region, which includes four of the world’s 14 Eight-thousander peaks, attracts tourists, trekkers and mountaineers from around the world. The main tourist season is from April to October; except at this time, the area can be cut off for extended periods by the snowy, freezing winter weather.
Accessible from Skardu by road, the nearby Askole and Hushe are the main gateways to the snow-covered 8,000-metre (26,000-foot) peaks including K2, the Gasherbrums, Broad Peak, and the Trango Towers, and to the huge glaciers of Baltoro, Biafo and Trango. This makes Skardu the main tourist and mountaineering base in the area, which has led to the development of a reasonably extensive tourist infrastructure including shops and hotels. The popularity of the region results in high prices, especially during the main trekking season.
Deosai High-Altitude Plains
Treks to the Deosai Plains, the second highest in the world at 4,114 metres (13,497 ft) above sea level, after the Chang Tang in Tibet, either start from or end at Skardu. In the local Balti language, Deosai is called Byarsa, meaning ‘summer place’. With an area of approximately 3,000 square kilometres (1,158 sq mi), the plains extend all the way to Ladakh and provides a habitat for snow leopards, ibex, Tibetan blue bears and wild horses.
Skardu Fort or Kharphocho Fort lies on the eastern face of the Khardrong or Mindoq-Khar (“Castle of Queen Mindoq”) hill 15 metres (49 feet) above Skardu town. The fort dates from the 8th century CE and contains an old mosque probably dating back to the arrival of Islam in the 16th century CE. The fort provides a panoramic view of Skardu town, the Skardu valley and the Indus River. It was built by Maqpon dynasty rulers of Baltistan. It was a seven-storey building. Mostly local people say that Kharpoocho is made by a ghost as they were servants of the ruler of that time.
Located on the route to the world’s second highest mountain, K-2, is Shigar Fort. It is also known as Fong-Khar, which in the local language means the “Palace on the Rock”. The complex at Shigar comprises the 400-year-old fort/palace and two more recent buildings: the “Old House” and the “Garden House”. The former palace of the Raja of Shigar has been transformed into a 20-room heritage guesthouse, with the grand audience hall serving as a museum of Balti culture and featuring select examples of fine wood-carvings, as well as other heritage objects.
There are two Kachura lakes — the less well-known (Upper) Kachura Lake and the more famous Shangrila Lake (“Lower Kachura Lake”). Shangrila Lake is home to the Shangrila Resort hotel complex (possibly the reason for the lake’s alternative name), built in a Chinese style and another popular destination for tourists in Azad Kashmir. The resort has a unique restaurant, set up inside the fuselage of an aircraft that crashed nearby. Kachura Lake is famous for its deep blue waters.
Satpara Lake is Skardu Valley’s main lake. In 2002, the Federal Government decided to build a dam on the Satpara Lake allocating $10 million to the project, in 2004. Progress has, however, been slow. Satpara Lake is 6 miles (9.7 km) from Skardu. Satpara Lake is one of the largest fresh water lakes in the countryside offering trout fishing and row boating. This lake is the source of Skardu’s drinking water. The dam was mostly completed in 2011 and four powerhouse units are operational; the latest started operation in June 2013.