My trip to Skardu in Gilgit Baltistan was beautiful, stunning, chaotic and more than a little adventurous. You can check out my detailed blog posts on Shigar, Khaplu Palace & Deosai Plains or you can just read ahead to learn what to do & not to do when planning a trip to the northern areas in Pakistan.
1. Buy a map – do your research
I know we are used to ‘Googling’ everything but in remote places like these a basic map will be far more handy. Go to the places you want to go not where the driver wants to take you! When planning a major journey, there are always little places (like Manthal Buddha) where you can check out a mosque, a ruin, a tapestry. Your map will tell you so stop and ENJOY!
2. Don’t carry designer anything on the trip!
I know we want to look the best for pictures but when your Coach handbag is drenched in rain you will regret carrying a backpack. Something sturdy that will carry all the essentials you need AND make sure your shoulder isn’t titled towards the right (because that’s where you carry your bag)
3. When eating out, try out the local specialties
Hotel menus do have options for continental food and they do serve a mean mushroom & cheese omelette. BUT why try something that you can get in your own city? Be adventurous, ask them what their local dishes and then give it a shot. Order one safe item like chicken karahi, chicken handi, palak paneer or well biryani but otherwise go for local. We loved the creamy walnut gravies at Khaplu. However, the buckwheat pancake & palpu was literally not our piece of cake.
4. Make friends – divide your travel cost
We met this German tourist on our trip – she was staying at Serena Khaplu & joined us in the journey to Serena Shigar. When the driver mentioned the Manthoka waterfall trip detour we decided to split the cost making it cheaper for everyone. Similarly, when we went out at Shigar she decided to join us in our Deosai trip. Not only did it decrease our overall cost but it was also company on the really long road trip. Same with our adventurous trip back from Islamabad. Going as a couple is great but even if we divide the cost per head, the cost center remains the same :p
5. Be prepared – switching from plan A to plan B is inevitable
Our original plan was to go by plane from Skardu to Islamabad and then train from Islamabad to Karachi. We ended up taking a 24 hour road trip followed by a plane ride that got delayed by 6 hours. We wanted to go hiking and it started raining. We saw a guest who tripped over the last step on the stairs and sprained their ankle. So yeah, things happen. Focus on the silver lining and enjoy your time! Just be prepared with travel essentials (next point)
6. Make sure all your bags have hand sanitizers
The thing with beauty in a remote area is that you are literally in the middle of nowhere so modern conveniences like supermarkets & clean washrooms are not so nearby. So make sure your bag has toiletries – I carried hand sanitizer, tissue paper AND toilet paper. Towels & bedsheets in your suitcase – you never know where you might have to stay the night (e.g. our night at Naran)
7. Get a good driver
During our time at Skardu we saw only one traffic jam. But what we did see were a lot of roads going up, down and round & round. So it’s essential that you get a good driver – someone who doesn’t brake or accelerate too much and drives at a smooth pace. Make sure the car is in good condition – the fuel tank is full and there’s a working spare tire. We met this transporter at Khaplu who we hired at Shigar – not only did he give us really good rates but the car & driver he supplied were excellent too. His number is 0355-5640855 (Imtiaz) for reference.