It’s a strange scenario. You want to sit put in one spot and just breeeaaattthe it all in. The next moment you want to be up and running to one place and another, as you don’t want to miss anything. Such a paradox! So, let me start where my last post ended at the water falls of Manthoka. (You can grab a nice cup of tea or coffee this post is a bit long, I’m sorry…. but it was time to wrap it all up here.) The water fall was so beautiful and so was my hunt for a good bathroom which ended in a secluded one on a tree! (Actually!) 😊 Gosh this is why I love traveling. You come across so many paradoxes.
During my hunt for a good washroom at Manthoka waterfalls, I met the owner:
Not finding a good washroom isn’t a surprise while traveling in Pakistan. Yet, a clean Indian style one can be found in most places. As a blogger I prefer to discuss things normally avoided. This is one of them. So, anyhow, I was specially provided with an amazing ‘English’ style washroom which was kept locked. Definitely more public washrooms are needed here, which can easily charge Rs.100 per person. (While traveling you either end up with diarrhea or with constipation. However, I didn’t experience any of the two. So, it was great. Where was I? In Skardu, of course.
We saw the Safaranga Desert on return from Manthoka Falls, in Shigar. There were horses, ATVs jeeps there for tourists’ enjoyment. So, for the first time in my life, I enjoyed my ATV ride. It was very easy and fun. Even walking there wasn’t too difficult, I guess we were near the edges of it, that’s why. Frankly, it is a spectacular vision and the thought of it being there in -14 degrees Centigrade in winters is quite tantalizing! No wonder it is called the cold desert. One of the very few in the world.
We saw the Shigar Fort the day we were to leave, which was the 20th of May 2022. The tour took around 30 minutes, as the area isn’t very large, yet the guide happily took us through its four-hundred-year-old history, while going through its rooms.
One realized what a gruesome and violent times those were!
Yet, what came through primarily was the religious tolerance of the people of the region. How folks from different religious back grounds worked harmoniously side by side while building this fort.
The materials used here were mainly stone and clay which was interspersed to make it very earthquake proof and secure. The best thing is that here, at Serena Hotel, the guests can use the rooms of the fort. Our friends used two of the cozy and comfortable bedrooms.
I was particularly fascinated by the kitchen which was apparently a very important room in the home, here casual meals were served to the family. The ‘pressure cooker’ made of an iron pot was fascinating.
Naturally there were weapons, jewelry and manuscripts on display in the fort too.
The significance of the local ceremony which is celebrated every 21st of December was shared. It is based on the fact that a barbaric ruler who lived long ago in Shigar – around four hundred years ago – ordered the killing of young children. That would be done for him, so a group of people killed the ruler, and saved the lives of the children of Shigar area.
So, every 21st of December, young boys take up torches made of wood and walk up the mountain tracks to celebrate. A special soup bhalay soup is made in every home for the returning boys, and there is a great celebration.
Off to Skardu:
The one and half hour drive to Skardu from Shigar was completed quickly due to the spectacular views. There is a pattern design of landscape which is repeated in almost every valley. The place has these bare rocky high mountains, where the highest peaks are snow capped. There is a river bed down below and a green valley next to the river. White sand lines River Indus River everywhere, which spreads into the cold desert it seems. In winters the temperatures here drop well below -14 degrees Centigrade.
Skardu city is simple, narrow and very basic. It has several trout fish farms in it which are subsidized by the government to encourage their farming by locals. It is also a popular delicacy offered by most restaurants in the city and in the outskirts. So, you can have trout fish with your food wherever you go.
The famous library at road crossing is something that every city in Pakistan should have. It is a library open to the public in the center of the road crossing. Here you can leave a book and borrow one too! When I gifted my book of Allama Iqbal Tulip of Sinai to Waseem, our driver, he said ‘when I’ve read it, I’ll leave it at this library. But I quickly offered to give him a copy of my book specially for this library soon.
Then there is the Sadpara Chowk which has the sculpture of Ali Sadpara who was a famous mountaineer of this region, belonging to the Sadpara village nearby. In those days, his son was ill, and later he too expired. It is a sad news. Ali was devoted to mountain climbing in this region where the base camp for K2 mountain is located.
Shangrila is a bit outside of Skardu and we settled there happily enjoying the heavenly surroundings.
Next morning after breakfast we went on a marathon trip of sightseeing. Starting with Sadpara Lake which is this deep turquoise color. Waseem our driver showed me the signs of the heights to which the lake rises in July and August when the glaciers in mountains have melted the most.
Our friends Uzma and Haroon remembered a café in an island there, which Waseem said, got swept away in a landslide nearby some time ago. A little above of the Sadpara Lake is the Sadpara village where Ali Sadpara belonged. So, he spent his childhood in these areas.
Then we drove down to this enchanting place which will be open to public soon. It is located a bit out of Skardu, between Sadpara Lake and Buddha Rock and on the way to Desai Plains. Haroon is closely related to Meherbano who is his cousin. We had a warm welcome there, and felt quite enchanted. We sat under the grapevine covered area munching at the tasty homemade snacks made by Meherbano.
Their landlord Chacha Chu (That’s what his name sounded like!) owns all 18 kanals of the land which has been rented partly by the guest house owners. The place is still getting ready to be able to have four to eight rooms available soon for guests. It is an attractive place to be in, since it lies near Sadpara Lake and Buddha Rock which is at walking distance from here. You have goats and kids and a real farm yard feel to the place. There is a wifi facility too which is quite effective.
The stories behind Des Dastaan:
So, the now eighty-year-old landlord Chacha Chu was the one who came originally and developed this place after 1971, when he moved here from Ladakh in India. This place was all barren rocky land, and he cultivated it all. There are fruit trees here with cherries, apricots, grapes and peaches. The foods are all cultivated here so it is all very organic.
The owners Meherbano and Omair gave up their corporate lives in London and then Lahore, to settle here starting their guest house business. They are living their dream of life in the open in natural surroundings, eating organic foods and living close to nature. They have chosen to live here and bring up their children in an area which is spectacular. Both are into trekking and cycling.
You can trek up to the Buddha Rock from Des Dastaan, but we went by jeep. Even by jeep you feel you are trekking! Yes, it’s a bit of a rough ride. The Buddha Rock is really cool. Just to think that hundreds of years ago, there were people here who took the trouble to carve the Buddha on the Rock.
Buddhists are peace loving people and the preaching of Buddha was all about inner harmony with nature and peace. The effects of that can be felt all over this region. The people here are good, honest, hardworking and friendly.
Sauk Valley and Upper Kachura Lake:
Then Waseem drove our us over to these two spectacular places. Soux Valley is beautiful, you can sit right next to the river bed of Indus River and have trout fish or a nice cup of tea with chips. Enjoy the view and the sight of those high mountains. Watch the gushing river flowing beside you and feel all the tensions of your life dissolving into those gushing waters.
Upper Kachura included a bit of a walk. My childhood of loving trekking and hopping up and down from places, helped. However, my bad knee didn’t permit me to go down to the lake. I sat above looking at it, as my friends Haroon, Uzma, Danyal, Sadia and Ijaz bhai walked all the 127 steps down to the lake water. I had a beautiful spot on the hill top restaurant nearby to see the beautiful lake scene. I looked on, while sipping the delicious apricot juice.
Hard life of locals:
A young man with dashing good looks came over to chat with me. (I was thinking my phone’s battery is dying, or I would have taken his pic. This man could be the next ‘chai wala’ for he certainly was even better looking!) Anyhow, he shared his life with me, and I realized how tough life can be in these parts. His father was retired from the army and would help carry luggage for mountain climbers for K2 (second highest mountain peak of the world.) That is where he finally lost use of his limbs which was frost bitten. Now he is handicapped and cannot work. It is left to his children to take care of him and support him.
All the youngsters in the valley move to the plains in winters to earn while the elders and youngsters stay in Skardu area. He was saying they need teachers in schools here. I told him, it would be best for such jobs to be done by the locals, as no one from the plains would be able to take the harsh winters here. He said, in winters they have leave. So, anyhow, I could see the pays aren’t that great here either. It is a simple yet hard life here for the locals.
Located at a height of 13,497 feet above sea levels, Deosai Plains are closed during the winter months. Now, these had just opened up and we were being warned not to go. So, more than half our group members were reluctant to go but Haroon, Sadia and I were determined to go and see the place.
So, next day, Waseem drove us along the same road of Skardu passing beside the Sadpara Chawk, the Library chowk, Des Dastaan, Sadpara Lake and then Sadpara village. The glaciers got closer as we moved higher, enjoying the sight of pink rose-like flowers growing wild in the area. Gushing streams and rivers were beside us tantalizingly close.
Deosai plains are one of eleven highest plains in the world. It was freezing cold and snowing up there with a strong breeze. It literally felt as if one would get blown off. We had hot tea and chips served to us in our Prado. Then decided to turn back as the weather was turning ominous. (Later we found out that eight cars had got marooned in Babusar Pass that night.) I’m glad we decided to return back on time.
In mid July these Plains are full of purple and yellow flowers all over. Now we saw a few of these early bloomers too.
Last day at Shangrila:
The last day, we spent in Shangrila, just enjoying the place itself. That is when I had started the Part I of my Skardu trip blog posts.
Now I’ve completed it here in the comfort of my own home. I’m loving going over the beautiful memories.
Come last evening, Sadia and I couldn’t resist asking Waseem to take us for a little round nearby, so he showed us a valley which is famous for grapes and a bridge called Ayub Bridge over river Indus:
On return, Faisal, the son of owner of Shangrila, Mr. Aslam Abbasi came over to show me the new Swiss Villas that are being completed now.
Waseem driver: 0340-5124313
Shangrila accommodation bookings: 03045659052, 03045659054
Des Dastaan: 03554828989
You can contact Serena Hotel through their website, I’m sure.
Note: All phone numbers are to be dialed from Pakistan. You can add +92 and remove the first zero to dial from abroad.
Go on such trips, as often as you can – they really boost you up. I’m feeling like a refreshed person now. I walk much better, and my knee is much improved. This trip has given me a lot of confidence in myself, after that long illness I recently went through. My perspective on life has been enriched. Seeing these nice hardy people living a tough life, with a smile on their faces, makes one think. It also makes one realize all the bounties that Allah has blessed us with, and sometimes we aren’t so appreciative.
In spite of leading tough and hard lives, this region has people living here and in Hunza with longest life spans.
Yet, in retrospect, I’d say Allah has blessed them with best foods like apricots and fruits in every nook and corner, and He has blessed us with other comforts of life. He doesn’t leave anyone without His bounties, He just keeps showering each of us with treasures, wherever we are. It is up to us to treasure what we have, and value what others have too.
Just loved the whole experience. 😊 Alhamdulillah!
Note: Kindly note, I’ve not received any payment or collaboration invitation from anyone from Skardu mentioned here. It is my own initiative, I also realize, there must be many others who are very good. But, these are the ones that I know of.