By Islamuddin Sajid
SKARDU, Pakistan (AA) – Skardu, a scenic valley with blue water and high mountains, is located at an elevation of over 7,300 feet (2,225 meters) in Pakistan's northern Gilgit-Baltistan region.
The beauty of the valley is enhanced by its fresh spring water, delicious fruits, the blue water of the Indus River, historical sites, lakes, and pleasant weather, which attract tourists from around the world.
The city of Skardu is the main urban center and headquarters of the Skardu district, a strategic northern region of Pakistan bordering China, Afghanistan, and India.
The valley is known as a major tourism and trekking hub, and a gateway to four peaks towering over 8,000 meters high, attracting tourists, mountaineers, and trekkers from abroad.
– Treks to Baltoro glaciers, K2 base camp
According to the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, five of the 14 highest independent peaks in the world over 8,000 meters in height are located in the Himalayan and Karakoram mountains in northern Pakistan, including K2 — the second-highest mountain in the world — Broad peak, Gasherbrum, and Nanga Parbat. Four of these peaks are located in Skardu, while Nanga Parbat lies in the Diamer district of the Himalayas in Gilgit-Baltistan.
The valley remains a hub for global mountaineers from April to October during summer, while winter remains snowy and freezing in the area.
Tourist attractions in summer include Lake Kachura, the Mantokha waterfall, Sarfranga Cold Desert, Ft. Shigar, and the Buddha Rock in Skardu.
The majestic valley also has impressive glaciers in Baltoro, Gyari and Gyong in the Siachen region.
The city of Skardu is located along the bank of Indus River, surrounded by mountains with no greenery and sand dunes. Near the city, the river is wide and still.
It is located a drive of some 25-30 hours from Pakistan's capital Islamabad, while by air it takes less than an hour. Daily flights by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) are offered, weather permitting.
– Historic tourist spots
Ft. Shigar is located around 44 kilometers (27 miles) from Skardu on the route to the world's second-highest mountain, K2.
The fort is built on a rock which was a palace of the raja of Shigar around 400 years ago, now transformed to a 20-room guest house for tourists with a hall and a museum of Balti culture.
The Shangri-La resort is another tourist spot in the valley, a unique resort set up on the banks of an artificial lake with shining blue water.
But hotel and food prices are very high in Skardu during the tourist season in summer.
"Hotels and food are very expensive here as we paid 15,000 rupees [$96] per night for an ordinary room," Wajahat Ali, a tourist from Lahore, told Anadolu Agency.
The valley is often snowbound in winter. Roads in and out of Skardu can be blocked for several days and air travel is the only feasible alternative to reach other parts of the country.
– Lake Satpara
Satpara, a beautiful natural lake located at a 2,600-meter altitude and spread over an area of 2.5 km (1.5 mi), is another popular attraction for tourists. The lake is located some 9 km (5.5 mi) north of Skardu.
The government has now built a small dam, which adds to the beauty of the lake.
According to the Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority, the Satpara dam produces 17.3 megawatts of hydroelectric supplies to the local city and irrigates 15,536 acres of land. The dam is also a main source of drinking water for Skardu.
Foreign and local tourists visiting the lake enjoy its shining blue water, while many tourists also visit it for fishing as it is an exciting place for trout fishing. But without prior permission from dam authorities, fishing is not allowed.
– Fruits main source of income
The Gilgit-Baltistan region is known for its delicious fruits, both fresh and dried. According to Pakistan’s Agriculture Council, the valley produces a variety of fruits including apricots, apples, almonds, pears, cherries, and walnuts.
"Fruit is the main source of income for us, as our area produces large quantities of fresh and dried fruits," Mohammad Ayub, a local resident of Skardu, told Anadolu Agency.
But some people are also earning good money during summer tourist season, he added.
The area is peaceful and local people are known for their hospitality.