I am sure all of you must be wondering where I am, or well I hope you must be wondering about that. Nothing to worry about – it’s all happy news. The reason that I have been completely MIA since Eid is because I just got married (Alhamdullilah) and just like every other Pakistani wedding mine was just as long AND busy AND hectic. Running frantically from one place to another trying to remember all the things that we forgot on our last trip; tearing up a completed to do list only to remember something new; telling off caterers and tailors and kaam wala’s and what not.
The wedding craziness has ended now but I still can’t help remembering the fun moments – the entire family gathered together and celebrating in my happiness. There can be no better way to start off a new life than what I experienced in the last couple of days.
I was thinking of what to post after this long break and the thing that came to mind was my recent trip to Skardu in Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan. We kept our itinerary simple, two days in Khaplu at Khaplu Palace and four days in Shigar Fort in Shigar. We probably could have covered more places but our focus was to enjoy the scenery and relax and not cram our days with activities from morning to night. In the first blog post, I will be covering Khaplu and in the second I will be covering Shigar.
You can read up about my trip to Shigar Fort HERE.
Travel Diaries: Trip to Islamabad, Serena Khaplu Palace, Machalo Valley & a Fish Farm
Serena Khaplu Palace is a boutique heritage hotel managed by Serena that offers guests the amenities of a 5 star hotel in a historical setting within buildings that date back to the 1840’s. The original buildings for Khaplu Palace have been converted into a hotel following a carefully designed restoration strategy that allows the location to be monetized while still maintaining the historical & cultural significance. One actually has the option of staying in the actual rooms that were occupied by the Raja & Rani of the region.
Serena Khaplu Palace, Gilgit Baltistan
Khaplu Palace is about 2 ½ – 3 hours away from the airport so it is recommended to stay here first then go to Shigar which is about 45 minutes away from the airport. That way, one can still plan for flight delays or cancellations on the way back.
First Leg – Karachi to Islamabad
We covered the journey from Karachi to Islamabad through Greenline – a business train that has Margalla has the last stop. Having never travelled in a train before, I was a bit worried but to my relief the experience was good. There were 6 passengers in one compartment with sleeping berths for everyone. The bathrooms were decent (extremely important) and the compartment was air-conditioned to the point of us needing blankets all the time. Two meals & one snack (including tea) were covered in the package; however, we could always order food or snacks / drinks on our own expense.
The entire journey took a total of 22 hours and the cost was PKR 5500 (one way) per head. I would still prefer air travel for its convenience & short duration. However, the train journey is MUCH more affordable and can be fun if friends / family are travelling together.
Second Leg – Islamabad to Skardu
We had to stay a night in Islamabad so we could catch our flight to Skardu the next day. We opted for The Riveria Guest House in F-6 Markaz which is located about 30 minutes from the airport. Not a 5-star hotel but this was safe, clean & affordable (Rs.4500/night excluding tax). They have room service but there’s an entire food street at walking distance.
Next day we booked a Careem and headed out at 6:30 am for our flight that was scheduled to depart at 8 am. Right before boarding, we found out the flight was delayed – pretty standard for flights to Skardu which get delayed / cancelled due to bad weather in the mountains. Thankfully, the flight departed at 9:30 am and after some spectacular views of the mountains & northern areas we reached Skardu at 10:30 am.
Third Leg – Skardu to Khaplu Palace
Serena provides transport from the airport to the hotel & vice versa so we had a shuttle (Hi-Ace) waiting for us at the airport. The journey is normally about 3 hours but there was a funeral in the city that very day so the actual time was about 4 ½ hours. We got there exhausted but the view & serenity of the locale was enough to relax us.
Stay at Skardu Palace – Hotel
We had decided to stay only 2 nights at Khaplu Palace and leave for Shigar on the 3rd day in the morning.
We didn’t really need to go out of the hotel to sightsee because the hotel itself was so picturesque that one could sit for hours just relaxing and observing the stunning scenery. One of our most favorite spots was this terrace styled dining area where one could sit down, have a bite to eat and enjoy the view of the mountains in the horizon. We had a late lunch here on the first day, came up to watch the sunset on the 2nd day and on the 3rd day we even got up early to watch the sunrise.
Considering the remote location of this hotel, one would assume it was lacking in amenities. However, that was not at all the case. The hotel food was delicious and there was a mix of continental & Pakistani items (with a lot of local specialties) to try out. We stuck to the local items as we wanted to try out something new plus one doesn’t really go to the north to have Chinese food or a club sandwich. Our favorites were the chicken / mutton curries which are made with a creamy walnut sauce & the fresh salads with local vegetables & cottage cheese.
Breakfast started at 7:00 – 7:15 pm and consisted of the typical international basics (cereals, butter & jam) along with local specialties. There were parathas / puris with aloo ki tarkari, chicken and chole ki salan. One could also get omelets made with their choice of ingredients and pick from a selection of juices, tea & coffee. A must try is the local pastry / bread – Zerchoon and if you are feeling experimental then do try the buckwheat pancakes / paratha.
The hotel does not provide the tea ka samaan – something that I greatly missed because I love being able to make a random cup of tea whenever I want. However, one can always have fresh doodh patti either through room service or at the restaurant.
Macholo Valley – On the second day of our stay, we decided to go out and explore the area. One of the day trip options given to us was the nearby Macholo Valley where we could go visit Chaqchan Mosque, a 900 year old mosque offering beautiful views of the nearby fields especially the terraced fields that are so common in this area. The trip also included a visit at the nearby fish farm where one could both catch & eat fish. We left at around 11 am in the morning through transport arranged by Serena Hotel. It took us about 1 hour to reach the mosque. We climbed up the road to the mosque and checked out the absolutely amazing view.
On the way back, we stopped at a fish farm. Unfortunately, it was off-season for trout fishing (which is the only fish we non-locals can potentially catch) but we had the option of eating local / Desi machli caught by the fisherman at the farm. In the time it took for them to catch the fish, we wandered the place and enjoyed a cup of hot doodh patti.
Final Comments – Khaplu Palace, Skardu
- Serena provides a complimentary tour of the palace. Make sure you take it ASAP – the guide will not only take you through the entire palace but is also a treasure trove of information of what can be done nearby. We could only manage to go to Machelo but there are other places offering other activities so you can pick & choose based on your interests.
- Though one does need a jeep to go a long distance there are so many activities that can be done by simple walking. For e.g. visit the Khaplu garden just next door or visit the polo ground which was supposed to be a 20 minute walk. There are also hiking trails nearby that can be accessed on a walking distance. Talking to the tour guide helps you in making a list.
- Stock up on water & snacks. The hotel provides 2 water bottles daily but it’s always good to have extra along with biscuits & snacks for the potentially long trips.
- The hotel does not provide an electric tea kettle in the room. However, we could ask for it if needed. Unfortunately, we were unable to find any teabags in the towns. So again, something to stock up on.
- It’s better to have a car for the full day instead of hiring a car on location basis. If a car is hired on location basis you will be charged Rs.xxxx for that particular location only. But if you hire a car for the day then you can plan out your entire day based on the activities you want to do. We hired a car on location basis at Khaplu but at Shigar we hired the car on a daily basis which was far more reasonable.
Though I have yet to complete my blog post on Shigar Fort & Residency & Deosai Plains (completed now) , I can safely say that we loved Khaplu more than Shigar. Though both were scenic in their own way, Khaplu was far more serene and the hotel was designed in such a way to encourage one to relax and contemplate on life. One could order a cup of tea and read a book, which we did quite a bit except we used our Kindles! Yay for technology and lighter luggage.
Contact Details & Rates – Serena Khaplu Palace
Room Rate – PKR 12,000/night (for double occupancy)
This included welcome drinks on arrival, buffet breakfast, complimentary guided tour of Palace & Museum, Pick and drop from and to airport and complimentary transfers via shuttle service between Serena Shigar Fort and Serena Khaplu Palace. Additionally, you also got 2 water bottles daily.
Phone: +92 (0) 5816-450891-4
Fax: +92 (0) 5816-450877
Cell : +92 (0) 346-8101033