Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) is a very sparsely populated high-mountain area in the north of Pakistan. Its natural environment is usually described with superlatives – the longest glaciers outside of the polar region, home of the world’s second-highest peak (K2) and four more eight-thousanders. GB is largely a high-mountain desert; geologically, it spreads over three high mountain systems: Himalaya, Karakorum, and Hindukush. The society of GB is diverse in terms of language, religion, and ethnicity. Gilgit Baltistan is considered to be the capital of tourism in Pakistan.
In Pakistan, tourism mostly relies on the vast region of GB, formerly known as the Northern Areas (NA). This part of the country is famous for its snowy mountains, lush green valleys, mighty rivers, plentiful wildlife, and beautiful lakes. Below is the description of some amazing places in this region.
It is one of the most beautiful places in the Northern areas. Hunza is located at a distance of 100 kilometers from Gilgit. The place is wonderfully engulfed by mountains covered with snow. In mountains, one feels seclude; secluded from depressions, secluded from everything but the hospitable people of northern areas, the loving and caring people that they are. The Baltit Fort is also located in Hunza Valley. The rich beauty of Baltit Fort can be traced back 700 years, to Ayasho II, Tham/Mir (ruler) of Hunza, who married Princess Shah Khatoon (Sha Qhatun) from Baltistan in the early 15th Century. The Baltit Fort is a wood-and-stone structure with mud plaster. It is a three-story building, with granaries and some stores in the basement on a glacier moraine hill with man-made narrow terraces for the stability of its ancient foundations.
Deosai is the combination of two words ‘Deo’ (giant) and ‘Sai’ (shadow). For centuries, it is believed that giants haunt this place, thus the name ‘The Land of the Giants’ came into being. Deosai is located on the boundary of the Karakoram and the western Himalayas, and at no point, it is less than 4000 meters above sea level. It remains covered with snow for 8 months. There are several springs in Deosai, brimming with trout fish serving as food for locals and bears alike. 5000 meter high mountains in the backdrop, wildlife dwelling in these mountains, clouds so low that one can almost touch them, Himalayan Golden eagles flying between the clouds, and a strange fragrance in the atmosphere which probably is a mixture of brown bears, red foxes, white tigers, and naughty marmots — this is the real beauty of Deosai.
In the extreme north of Pakistan, Skardu the central valley of Gilgit-Baltistan is an epitome of beauty, serenity, and wilderness. Paths to some of the world’s highest mountains that include K2, K3, and Gasherbrum; all are connected through this valley. These towering mountains attract thousands of climbers from all over the world each year. During the seven-hour journey, one is greeted with several streams, springs, and the hospitality of the local people. Some of the notable places of Skardu are of course its lakes Satpara, Kachra, Shigar, and Skardu Fort are the most famous places in all.
Once the second-largest kingdom and called the Yabgo Dynasty in old Baltistan, and an active trade route to Ladakh, Khaplu is now the administrative capital of the Ghanche District of Gilgit-Baltistan. It is about a three-hour drive, some 103 kilometers east of Skardu, with a replica of Chaqchan Mosque waiting at the entrance of Khaplu valley. From the town itself, one can go on some excellent hikes, which range from easy to strenuous. There is the Hushe trek, the path that leads to Laila Peak and Gondogoro, K7, Saltoro Kangri 1 and 2, and more. You can go to the Hushe village and rent a jeep for going all the way up to the Masherbrum Base Camp. For those not inclined towards physical pursuits, Khaplu offers many historical attractions, including the painstakingly restored 700-year-old Khanqah-i-Chaqchan and Khaplu Palace. Near Khaplu, there are orchards on the right side and forests on the left. It is the coldest place in the northern areas. During winters, the temperature here can drop down to -20 degrees celsius, with the region often referred to as the “third pole”.
Shigar Valley, often compared with Tibet due to its beautiful landscape, is also home to Askole, the last settlement in Pakistan which leads to an alpine paradise. Heading to Shigar Valley, one drives past apricot orchids that line both sides of the small road. In the dusty, little town of Shigar, signboards lead one to various tourist spots. Must see are the 14th-century Amburiq Mosque, Khilingrong Mosque, and the Astana of Syed Mir Yahya, the burial place of a Sufi from Xinjiang who promoted Nurbakhshisium in Baltistan during the 17th century, and the 330-year-old Gulabpur Khanqah. The ruins of Shigar’s first fort, the 11th century ‘Kari Dong’ can be visited. Lying atop a small hill, the ruins are perched right above the present-day Shigar Fort. Fong Khor (Palace on the Rocks), popularly known as the Shigar Fort, is a restored heritage guesthouse and allows the visitors to experience the lifestyle of a 17th-century raja while enjoying the luxuries of the 21st century. Shigar also proudly owns the 14th-century Amburiq Mosque, which was awarded Unesco-protected heritage status in 2005.
Gupis Valley is located about 112 kilometers (70 miles) west of Gilgit on the bank of River Gilgit, in District Ghizer of Gilgit-Baltistan. It is characterized by stark, towering, snowcapped mountains of the Karakorum meaning black mountains. However, in innumerable towns and villages, water channeled from the nalas, emerging in the mountains, creates a profusion of greenery giving us the fabled fruit of this region. Taking a riverside walk is relaxing and leisurely quite unlike the universal trekking fatigue one encounters on inclining tracks -- all walks here are on flat and gentle terrain. The jade-green fields and damp meadows are soothing for the senses. The valley incorporates famous tourist places such as Khatli Lake, Gupis Fort, Shingalote village, and many more.
Astore (2600 m) is a sleepy town right in the center of trekking action between Diamer District (KKH), Skardu, Deosai, Nanga Parbat (8126 m), and Minimarg. The high altitude mountain passes that lead to these locations are wonders in themselves – and it all starts at Astore. These are the various vectors for mountain passes originating from Astore: 10-day trek to Mazino Pass (5400m) leads to Nanga Parbat Base camp then on to Buner across the KKH. 3-day trek Harpo Pass (3500m) leads to Skardu across glaciers. 5-day trek across Bubin Pass (4000m) to Skardu has meadows and mountains on its path. Trashing- Rupal sightseeing trek to see the Rupal-Nanga Parbat peaks. Rama meadows are an ancient pine forest at the tail end of Rama Glacier that has receded right up to the foothills of Nanga Parbat (Southside). The beauty of Rama lake is breathtaking. One can see the reflection of Chongra and Nanga Parbat peaks on its surface. There is always moist cloud cover over the lake.
The Skardu Fort or Kharpocho is located in Skardu in Gilgit Baltistan. This fort belongs to the 16th Century. The credits for this magnificent fort go to Ali Sher Khan Anchan, a Famous ruler of Gilgit Baltistan. The fort and the palace within the fort were constructed with great love by the Raja, and craftsmen from Kashmir ensured that it is one of the best architectural feats of its time. The fort is surrounded by lush green orchards and lawns, and you can find cherries, apricots, apples, and grapes all around in a season. Once you climb up to the top, it makes you feel like an eagle overlooking its territory, which in this case is the whole valley, the Indus River, and the natural beauty of Skardu City.
The idyllic place is the inspiration for James Hilton's Lost Horizon. The spot is one of the most popular destinations in Pakistan. Shangri-La is a fictional place described by author James Hilton in the 1933 novel "Lost Horizon." It is described as a harmonious, peaceful, and isolated place, which was inspired by the mythical Buddhist kingdom of Shambhala. Shangrila cushioned between some of the world's highest peaks. The small heart-shaped lake set in a narrow valley between partially snow-covered peaks also sets the scene for a fantastic resort. Shangrila cushioned between some of the world's highest peaks. The small heart-shaped lake set in a narrow valley between partially snow-covered peaks also sets the scene for a fantastic resort.
In the Gojal Valley (Gilgit Baltistan) of Pakistan lies the very stunning Attabad Lake, which was created by a natural disaster in the year 2010. Also known as the Attabad Disaster, the lake here is one of the prime tourist attractions and tourists can often be seen enjoying jet skiing, fishing, boating, and myriad other recreational activities. A look at the clear blue colors of this stunning lake will make you feel like you are living in a poet’s dream. What adds to the natural beauty of the lake are the peaks of the Karakoram mountain range surrounding the region.