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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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Translated by Bilal Karim Mughal
The writer is a network engineer by profession, and a traveler, poet, photographer, and writer by passion. He can be reached on Facebook.