In a notable endeavor, the Pakistan Navy League has meticulously organized a spectacular expedition to the illustrious Skardu Valley, renowned for its unspoiled lakes and imposing mountain ranges. The venture, under the astute leadership of Commodore Rashid Ulla, was marked by meticulous planning and insightful guidance owing to his extensive experience in exploration. Recognizing the complexities inherent in such an undertaking, the Navy League aligned with a proficient tour operator to curate a holistic six-day itinerary, unveiling the diverse wonders of Skardu. Remarkably inclusive, the expedition welcomed family members, fostering an environment of excitement and familial bonding, and attracted 35 enthusiastic participants. Spanning September 12th to 17th, the journey intertwined luxury, local culinary experiences, mesmerizing aerial views of northern landscapes, and rhythmic discoveries of nature’s masterpieces, crafting not just a visual feast but a transcendental journey into nature's exquisite magnificence.
The Navy League planned an expedition to Skardu Valley, renowned for its extraordinary natural beauty, featuring pristine lakes and awe-inspiring mountain ranges. Commodore ® Rashid Ulla spearheaded this mission. With an extensive background in travel and exploration, he possesses unparalleled expertise in navigating remarkable locales. His acumen made him an ideal choice to plan this excursion. Given the complexity involved in planning a trip of this magnitude, the Navy League engaged a proficient tour operator. Collaborating closely with Commodore Rashid Ulla and, the tour operator meticulously crafted a six-day itinerary, ensuring that all of Skardu’s key points of interest would be covered.
It is noteworthy that this expedition was extended beyond the confines of Navy League membership. Family members were also welcomed to participate, thereby offering an opportunity for both adventure and familial bonding. The initiative was met with an overwhelmingly positive response, leading to a group of 35 enthusiastic individuals committing to the venture. The trip was scheduled for the duration of September 12th to 17th. Due to the unavailability of a direct flight to Skardu, the initial journey commenced from Karachi to Islamabad then Skurdu
Day One: Members arrived in Islamabad at 1600 hours on September 12th and were received by the tour operator. Accommodations were arranged at the VORANO Guest House, which featured spacious, immaculately clean rooms with high-quality furnishings. Transportation was facilitated via comfortable coaches. Dinner was arranged at Kabul restaurant, where attendees had the opportunity to sample an array of authentic Afghani dishes, including “Afghani Kebab,” “Afghani Tikkah,” and “Qabli Pulao,” among others. While the culinary experience was exceptional, but the ambiance left something to be desired.
Day Two: On the morning of September 13th, a sumptuous breakfast buffet was made available to the participants at VORANO guest house, offering a diverse range of options to suit various palates. This anticipatory phase at Islamabad alone sets a high bar for the forthcoming adventures in Skardu. All participant proceeded to airport to catch flight to Skurdu by PIA. Flight time was 8:30 but delayed by 2 hours. Departing from Islamabad at 10:30, the A320 soared directly over the majestic mountains of Northern Pakistan, maintaining a cruising altitude of 28,500 feet. The clear day ensured optimal visibility, providing a panoramic view of the rugged terrains below. The pilot's informative commentary accentuated the experience, highlighting the grandeur of the Karakoram and Hindu Kush mountain ranges, which house some of the world's tallest peaks. Prominent among them were Nanga Parbat (8,125m), Rakaposhi (7,788m), and the magnificent K-2, which stands as the second highest peak globally at 8,611 meters. The 1-hour journey was made comfortable with a light refreshment service onboard. The descent into Skardu was breathtaking. Skillfully, the pilot executed a maneuver, weaving between mountain peaks before revealing the expansive Skardu valley. This aerial journey undoubtedly offered an unparalleled opportunity to witness the splendor of Pakistan's northern landscapes from a bird's-eye view. An experience this extraordinary is sure to leave an indelible mark on any traveler's memory.
Upon concluding an awe-inspiring flight, our group was warmly greeted by our tour operator at Skardu Airport. An impressive fleet of nine Prado vehicles awaited us, with each designed to comfortably accommodate four passengers, marking the onset of our journey into the heart of the Skardu Valley.
Our initial destination was the Dynasty Hotel Skardu, where we were immediately treated to refreshing juices and a delightful array of snacks. Room allocations had been efficiently pre-arranged, enabling us to swiftly rejuvenate ourselves in anticipation of the forthcoming excursions. The Dynasty Hotel, harmoniously integrated into the mountainous backdrop, features quaint chalets, with configurations of three or four rooms each. While the accommodations were modest in design, they were undeniably cozy and immaculate.
At 14:00, we were treated to a lavish dinner, impeccably curated to satisfy our palates. Post-dining, our group eagerly embarked on our first significant site visit, the mesmerizing Shangrila Lake of Skardu. Situated merely 10-13 km from our lodgings, we reached this renowned resort by 15:30.
The sheer majesty of Shangrila immediately captivated us. Set against the magnificent backdrop of the Himalayas, the pristine lake mirrors the emerald green of the expansive lawns and the distinctive red hue of the resort's huts. This ethereal landscape seemed almost surreal, prompting an unanimous compulsion amongst us to immortalize the moment through our cameras. We later found solace on the verdant lawns encircling the lake, deeply immersing ourselves in the profound beauty and serenity of our surroundings. Following our immersive two-hour experience at Shangrila, our entourage set forth to the mesmerizing Souk Valley. Positioned on the elevated terrains of Kachura, Souk Valley stands as one of Skardu's most scenic treasures.
A mere half-hour drive from Shangrila Resort brought us to this serene locale. The journey itself was a visual treat, with pristine landscapes unfurling before our eyes. The valley's charm was accentuated by a confluence of rivers originating from the Deosai National Park. These tributaries converge to form the majestic “Souk River”, which gracefully meanders through the valley. Our time in the Souk Valley was marked by tranquillity and awe. We were enveloped by nature's grandeur, and the golden hues of the setting sun further embellished our experience. It was an ambiance where time seemed to stand still, and we basked in its beauty until dusk.
Our inaugural day in Skardu was undeniably magical. As the day drew to a close, we found our way back to the Dynasty Hotel, our hearts and minds enriched by the day's experiences. An exquisite dinner awaited us at the hotel, after which we retired to our rooms, the day's splendid memories echoing in our thoughts.
Day Three: On our third day, according to the scheduled itinerary, the much-anticipated visit to Deosai National Park was planned. The previous evening, Lt. Commander G.H. Shah had diligently informed the group via a WhatsApp message about the breakfast timings set for 7 AM, ensuring everyone was primed for the day's adventure.
Following a hearty breakfast, the group, brimming with enthusiasm for the day's escapade, embarked in the fleet of Prado vehicles by 8 AM. Our route took us through the picturesque Satpara village, and our inaugural stop was the enchanting Satpara Lake and Dam. Though this natural lake is ensconced amid rocky terrains devoid of greenery, its inherent charm was undeniable. We took a brief 15-minute pause to encapsulate the scenic beauty with our cameras before moving forward.
The ensuing journey was marked by winding, rugged trails with rising altitudes. The juxtaposition of towering mountains on one side and profound chasms on the other painted a breathtaking tableau. Along the way, we seized opportunities to capture this unparalleled beauty in photographs and videos.
After approximately three hours, we arrived at Chotapani. Here, the tour operator had thoughtfully arranged for lunch boxes. We relished our meals and indulged in the sheer tranquility of the location, with some of us dipping our feet into the pristine stream flowing from the mountain's melted snow. The sheer peace and stillness of Chotapani defy mere words.
Our itinerary had originally slated a visit to Deosai National Park, an elevated alpine plain and national reserve situated between Astore and Kharmang, which would necessitate another hour of travel. However, gauging the extensive journey and the terrain, a collective decision was made to prioritize our return.
By the evening, we had returned to the Dynasty Hotel, a day of challenging terrains behind us but our spirits undeniably uplifted. Dinner awaited, and soon after, we retired, our minds awash with the day's extraordinary experiences. Overall, the expedition was a resounding success, leaving an indelible imprint on all participants, and elevating our collective sense of wonder and appreciation for nature's grandeur.
Day Four: Following an invigorating night's rest, owed in part to the preceding day's eventful tour of the Dosai Park, the group gathered with renewed vigor for the day's adventures. A sumptuous breakfast set the tone, and by 8 AM, everyone had boarded our fleet of Prado vehicles, eager for the day's activities.
Our fourth-day destination, as detailed in our itinerary, was the much-anticipated Sarfaranga Cold Desert. This unique landscape, a mere stone's throw from our hotel, offers a surreal juxtaposition of stark sand dunes nestled amidst imposing mountainous backdrops. The desert's diverse array of activities, ranging from paragliding and horse riding to jeep safaris and dirt biking, ensured there was something for everyone. Particularly noteworthy was the overwhelming interest in paragliding, especially among our female members. The breathtaking aerial views of contrasting terrains and the camaraderie experienced during each participant's descent was palpable.
Further enhancing the day's exhilaration was the jeep safari. With engines roaring, the vehicles surged over dunes and through trails, much to the delight of the adventurers within. The dirt biking experience was similarly hailed as an adrenaline-rich activity, leaving an indelible mark on the participants.
Three hours into our desert escapade, our trajectory shifted towards another of Skardu's jewels – the Shigar Valley, crowned by the majestic Shigar Fort. The journey itself was a visual feast, characterized by towering mountains, glistening rivers, and picturesque villages. As the ‘Fruit Garden of Baltistan’, the valley’s lush vibrancy starkly contrasted the rugged Karakoram vistas.
Our visit to Shigar Fort – or ‘Fong Khar’, meaning the ‘Palace on the Rock’ – was both educational and luxurious. This architectural marvel, a blend of Tibetan and Mughal craftsmanship, stands as a testament to Baltistan's rich heritage. Now under the stewardship of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the fort doubles as a museum and the luxurious Serena guesthouse.
Elevating our fort experience was the gourmet lunch organized by our tour operators. Dining beneath the grape-laden canopies of the fort's gardens, every dish we savored was a gastronomic delight, made even more memorable by our historical surroundings. Subsequent to our meal, while some members relaxed in the meticulously maintained gardens, others embarked on a deeper exploration of the fort's architectural nuances, immersing themselves in the region’s historical tales.
After nearly three hours at the fort, we journeyed back to Skardu. Some members chose to explore Skardu Bazar, seeking souvenirs and local crafts. As evening descended, we were treated to an alfresco barbeque dinner arranged by our hotel – a fitting culinary end to the day.
Yet, the night had one more gem in store: a stargazing session in the Sarfaranga Cold Desert. The clarity of the night sky here was unparalleled, providing a celestial spectacle that soothes the soul. It was an opportunity to connect with the cosmos, a perfect conclusion to a day of diverse experiences.
Day Five: As dawn broke, a gentle sunlight seeped through, hinting at the day's upcoming explorations. In the heart of our cozy hotel, with its quaint wooden features, we began our day with a hearty breakfast. The spread invigorated us, setting the stage for our adventures.
First on the agenda was Manthokha Waterfall. Located 40 kilometers from our hotel, getting there was a journey in itself. Aboard our Prado SUVs, we cruised along Skardu-Kargil Road, a route renowned for its scenic offerings. Along the way, charming villages like Hussainabad, Thorgo, Parkutta, and Ghasing unfolded before our eyes, each providing a snapshot of the Balti culture nestled amidst vast landscapes.
The first hint of the waterfall was its resonating sound, and when it finally loomed before us, it was a sight to behold. Waters cascaded from impressive heights, gleaming under the sun's rays, before merging with the expansive Indus River. We felt the mist from the waterfall on our faces, an invigorating sensation. While some of us surrendered to the allure of the water, others sat by, soaking in the sights and sounds. Amidst the splashes and laughter, we enjoyed a break with tea and freshly-made pakoras, elevating the experience further.
Having made the most of our time at the waterfall, by midday, we embarked on our next journey to Upper Kachura Lake. The drive back through Skardu's captivating routes was a prelude to the lake's beauty.
Upon reaching, near the parking a local 'dhaba' provided the perfect respite. Our tour operator, ever attentive to details, had a culinary treat in store for us. He arranged the region's culinary for lunch at Dhaba: a delightful rice pulao paired with grilled trout fish, chana Dall complemented by juicy grapes and a refreshing salad. Everyone enjoyed this feast.
Once our appetites were satiated, it was time for exploration. While some wandered the periphery, absorbing the scenic beauty, others, , were visibly excited for the main attraction: boating on the lake. There was a palpable sense of nostalgia among the members. Their adeptness at maneuvering the boat was a silent testament to their naval expertise. The deep waters of the lake, reaching down to a staggering 70 meters, mirrored the vast oceans they once navigated, evoking memories of their days at sea.
Upper Kachura Lake is often overshadowed by its sibling, the Lower Kachura, but it possesses a unique, untouched allure. The pristine waters, mirroring the brilliant blue skies, are encased by verdant landscapes, offering a peaceful reprieve from the usual hustle of popular tourist spots.
The visit to Upper Kachura Lake transcended mere sightseeing. It was a profound communion with nature, interspersed with moments of reflection and nostalgia, particularly poignant for our naval comrades. The tranquil ambiance, combined with the tantalizing local food, etched this experience deep into our memories.
As evening approached, we made our way back to the hotel. The day's adventures culminated in a delightful outdoor barbeque dinner, perfectly wrapping up a day filled with wonder and discovery.
Day Six: On the final day of our expedition, all participants convened promptly in the hotel's dining hall. The preceding evening, Lt Commander® G H Shah had efficiently communicated the breakfast timings, which spanned from 7AM to 10AM. He had also requested all attendees to place their luggage outside their rooms to facilitate a seamless transfer to the airport.
As breakfast was served, camaraderie and anticipation filled the room. Post the meal, attendees gathered in the hall for a concluding assembly. The President of the Navy League took the podium, expressing his profound satisfaction with the successful and memorable journey we had undertaken. He then proceeded to make a significant announcement: three individuals had been identified as the most active and engaged members throughout the trip. Commodore® P A Khan, Lt Commander® Azad Iqbal, and Mrs. Nazia Majaz were the esteemed nominees. It was revealed, to enthusiastic applause, that Mrs. Nazia Majaz had surpassed her peers and had been selected for the coveted prize.
In a fitting gesture, the Navy League's President requested the most senior naval officer in attendance, Vice Admiral Saleem Khalid, to present the Skardu souvenir to Mrs. Majaz. The room erupted in applause, celebrating her achievement.
The President then extended his heartfelt gratitude to the tour operator, acknowledging their pivotal role in ensuring the trip's success. He also conveyed his appreciation to the hotel management for their impeccable service and ensuring a comfortable stay for all participants.
With formalities concluded, attendees promptly departed at 10 AM, heading for the airport. The punctuality of our flight was commendable, allowing us to promptly journey back to Islamabad. From there, we awaited our 4 PM connection to Karachi. As the aircraft soared, each one of us was engrossed in our thoughts, cherishing the indelible memories of our Skardu sojourn.