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22 February 2020

Skardu: An embodiment of nature's perfection

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 includes K2, K3, and Gasherbrum; all are connected through this valley.

These towering mountains attract thousands of climbers from all over the world each year; some have even lost their lives in efforts to summit these steep climbs.

After Jaglot on the Karakoram Highway, a narrow road turns towards Skardu. During the seven-hour journey, one is greeted with several streams, springs, and the hospitality of the local people.

Soon after crossing the old wooden bridge built over the River Indus, one reaches Shangrila. This is where Arif Aslam, Chairman of Shangrila Resorts, has constructed a beautiful world amidst the surreal mountains.

Shangrila resorts, Skardu. — S.M.BukhariShangrila resorts, Skardu. — S.M.Bukhari
Inside Shangrila. — S.M.BukhariInside Shangrila. — S.M.Bukhari
Garden of Shangrila resorts. — S.M.BukhariGarden of Shangrila resorts. — S.M.Bukhari
Braldu river. — S.M.BukhariBraldu river. — S.M.Bukhari
Waterfall at Skardu. — S.M. BukhariWaterfall at Skardu. — S.M. Bukhari

Higher up is Kachhura Village, where Kachhura Lake’s crystal clear water is surrounded by old dramatic trees.

Watching the sun rise behind the mountains is a captivating sight. This was the first time, I had seen such a serene sunrise over Indus.

Boating in upper Kachura lake. — S.M.BukhariBoating in upper Kachura lake. — S.M.Bukhari
Upper Kachura lake.— S.M.BukhariUpper Kachura lake.— S.M.Bukhari
Entire view of upper Kachura lake.— S.M.BukhariEntire view of upper Kachura lake.— S.M.Bukhari
Upper Kachura lake.— S.M.BukhariUpper Kachura lake.— S.M.Bukhari
Upper Kachura lake at night.— S.M.BukhariUpper Kachura lake at night.— S.M.Bukhari

The Indus River changes during different seasons; turquoise waters at the banks during winters and various shades of grey during summers.

According to Tibetan myths, the Indus gushes from the mouth of a lion, that’s why it is also known as ‘Sher Darya’ (Lion River).

Dusk at Indus river. — S.M.BukhariDusk at Indus river. — S.M.Bukhari
Dusk at Indus river. — S.M.BukhariDusk at Indus river. — S.M.Bukhari
Sunrise of Indus river. — S.M.BukhariSunrise of Indus river. — S.M.Bukhari

Then there’s Kharpocho Fort looking down the hills, this construction is 600 years old. It was built by Balti ruler Ali Sher Khan Anchan.

Once considered unconquerable, this fort is now battling for survival against time. But even through the shambles, Kharpocho still retains its beauty. The breathless sight of the valley from the fort on a full moon night is a view that is hard to miss.

The sand dunes in Katpana village, also known as cold desert, are a wonder in itself. Strong winds shift the dunes as quickly as nomads. At this high altitude and cold region, this desert holds strange a attraction.

Katpana sand dunes in the morning. — S.M.BukhariKatpana sand dunes in the morning. — S.M.Bukhari
Katpana village, Skardu— S.M.BukhariKatpana village, Skardu— S.M.Bukhari
Katpana sand dunes at night. — S.M.BukhariKatpana sand dunes at night. — S.M.Bukhari
Cold desert at dusk.— S.M.BukhariCold desert at dusk.— S.M.Bukhari
Cold desert at night.— S.M.BukhariCold desert at night.— S.M.Bukhari

Moving forward from the Skardu Bazaar, a road leads up to the world’s highest plains, Deosai, and on the same road, Sadpara Lake can be seen where a dam has been constructed now.

There is only one hotel standing on the bank of Sadpara Lake. Half of it has been submerged in water, and all that remains now are three rooms.

On a full moon night, Sadpara Lake seems extremely mesmerising.

In the mountains, sun sets earlier than in the plains, and the afterglow remains for several minutes. The interval between the sunset and before nightfall is an experience which cannot be described in words to someone who hasn’t been a witness to this.

Sadpara lake at dawn. — S.M.BukhariSadpara lake at dawn. — S.M.Bukhari
Sadpara lake in moonlight. — S.M.BukhariSadpara lake in moonlight. — S.M.Bukhari
Sadpara lake in full moon. — S.M.BukhariSadpara lake in full moon. — S.M.Bukhari

I was walking on a narrow strip, when a window of a nearby home opened, and a boy with green eyes and a warm smile waved at me. All my exhaustion seemed to just melt away.

I then, made my way to the main road, crunching over fallen leaves that had covered both sides of the road.

It was autumn, and the month of Muharram. Some place far away, elegies were being played. Autumn, silence, and elegies made a strange combination, enveloping the valley in a strange sadness.

I so wanted to hear a whistle of a locomotive. Fallen leaves, elegies, and the whistle of a locomotive, all represent one thing — separation.

Road in Skardu in autumn. — S.M.BukhariRoad in Skardu in autumn. — S.M.Bukhari
Road to Skardu. — S.M.BukhariRoad to Skardu. — S.M.Bukhari

I kept walking on the main road, when all of a sudden a sound of a whistle broke the chain of my thoughts. It was a check post of Gilgit Baltistan Scouts.

The guard on duty checked my identity card, and then said: ‘It’s Muharram, so we have to be more vigilant, are you carrying anything else?’

My reply would have been ‘memories and fallen leaves’, instead I just smiled.

By: Syed Mehdi Bukhari /Bilal Mughal - Courtesy: DAWN
Photo Credits: 
Syed S.Mehdi Bukhari