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Islamabad to Skardu Trip

I really wanted to see Skardu and finally this summer(2017) decided to do it. This blog post is about the trip. Destinations covered, the difficulties we faced and why you should do it too if you are a nature lover. Pakistan has so much to offer that it boggles my mind. In a very little span of time and distance you can see terrain ranging from lush green cold mountains, spectacular lakes, barren desert, an entire national park blossoming with flowers to a city which gives you an idea what would be the weather in hell. Here is the trip itinerary plotted on google maps.

Trip Itinerary

Trip Days: 6

Day 1: Islamabad to Naran
Day 2: Naran to Rama
Day 3: Rama to Skardu via Deosai
Day 4: Skardu to Shigger and back to Skardu
Day 5: Skardu to Chillas
Day 6: Chillas to Islamabad

Total Distance covered: 1342 KM

Cities/District Covered: 

  1. Balakot
  2. Kaghan
  3. Naran
  4. Rama
  5. Skardu
  6. Shiger
  7. Chillas

Lakes Covered: 

  1. Lulu Sar
  2. Rama
  3. Sheosar
  4. Sadpara
  5. Jarba Zou
  6. Upper Kachura
  7. Lower Kachura

National Parks Covered: 

  1. Deosai National Park

Trip Difficulty: Moderately difficult

Kid friendly: No

Expense for 4 people: 120,000 Rs

Transportation: Car till Naran and rest of the journey was on Jeep

Time of Year: July

Day 1: Islamabad to Naran Stop over at Balakot

Travel time: 8 hours

Difficulty level: Easy

Road Conditions: Good

Places to See: Balakot, Kaghan valley, Naran and Rafting in Naran

We were suppose to wake up at 4 am in the morning and leave for Naran at 5. It is an estimated 8 hours drive from Islamabad to Naran. The idea was to be there before 2 pm and spend some time in Naran. Like every other plans of waking up early this was a failure as well. We woke up at 5 am and left at 6:30 am.

It was a fine Saturday morning with very little traffic. A good start to the journey. There is not much to see on this leg of the journey. You pass through Abbotabad and Manshera but there is not much to see until you enter Balakot. The road starts to run along with river Kunhar in Balakot. The weather is still the same as in Islamabd(hot) but you can stop over on any restaurant along the river and cool yourself with the refreshing river water. Continuing the journey towards Naran when you enter Kaghan, that is when the magic happens.

The valley is beautiful surrounded with lush green mountains. There is a change in the temperature as well which sets a great mood after all the travel. Naran bazaar has a lot to see but we were tired and went straight to PTDC to settle in. There is an excellent spot for rafting 10-15 minutes drive away, its good fun and highly recommended if you are an adventure lover. PTDC is a good place to stay. There are few rooms just beside the river which costs more than the standard room. The standard rooms are also nice and cozy. The management needs much improvement. We got cold, tasteless and possibly stale food for dinner and went to sleep.

Day 2: Naran to Rama

Travel time: 8 hours

Difficulty level: Hard. Passing through Chillas in midday is not recommended in summer. 

Road Conditions: Difficult. Tricky bends and incline till Babusar Top. Chillas region till Raikot is in shabby condition. Astore to Rama has tricky bends and steep incline.

Places to See: Jalkhad, LuluSar Lake, Babusar Top, Rama Meadow and Rama Lake

We left PTDC Naran around 8 AM towards Jalkhad. It was a nice and pleasant morning with no clouds. The area after Naran around Jalkhad and Besal is one of the most scenic area in my opinion. It is the text book definition of landscape beauty. Green mountains and gushing blue water of river Kunhaar is a spectacular view. There are fields of corn and potatoes carved into the mountains and you really appreciate the effort of local people. After an hour's drive you get to LululSar lake. On a cloudy day the lake is spectacular to see. It is a big lake and the starting point of river Kunhar. Bluish/Green calm water is therapeutic. The lake is angled in such a way that you can't see all of it from one place. The road till lake is excellent and nicely maintained.

LuluSar Lake

We drove on the road for Babusar Pass for an hour or so. Babusar top is the highest point in the region. It can get pretty cold if the weather turns cloudy. It is a good idea to have a jacket in hand carry.

Babusar Top at midday

After passing through Babusar Top the road starts to decline sharply. There are some dangerous curves in the road and there was a wreckage of a car giving you an idea of the criticality of the road. There are many warning signs to drive in low gear and they must be followed instead of relying on brakes too much.

The weather starts to turn hot as the descend continues. In an hour while entering Chilas region  when you touch Karakorum Highway the heats starts to become intolerable. If you are in a car without an AC you got to prepare for what is to come. There is a drastic change in the terrain as well. The mountains become barren and dry, the road becomes unpaved. It is like visiting hell after you have just been to heaven. 

The heat became so unbearable that we had to stop at Raikot bride and wait for the sun to go down. We stopped at a hotel, had food which was average quality. Even in the shade the heat was intense. Raikot is a place where people park their cars and go to Fairy Meadows. It is a very popular destination and you can go to the base camp of Nanga Parbat from fairy Meadows. 

After a couple of hours the sun went down and we went on with the journey. Next destination was Rama PTDC. The road became paved and nice. It is maintained by Chinese and you question yourself if we(Pakistanis) can do anything right?

After 2 hours of drive you reach Astore district. The weather turns nice and so does the terrain. There is a small market in Astore. You should make any phone calls if you have to because there is no coverage afterwards toward Rama.

Rama is 45 minutes away from Astore bazaar. It is a car track but you need to be very careful driving this road. The road is tricky and in shabby condition. Rama is a meadow with lush green landscape. There aren't many accommodation options there. There is PTDC motel and another one by Forest division. For both the booking is done through their headquarters. If you are going there without a booking, at the moment camping is the only option. We reached there around 7.30 PM. It was cold and a jacket made it comfortable. Ordered chicken karachi and fried rice which surprisingly were good. The management is friendly and it is a well maintained establishment, much better than Naran.

PTDC Rama 


Day 3: Rama to Skardu

Travel time: 10 hours

Difficulty level: Hard

Road Conditions: Difficult. Deosai is a jeep track.

Places to See: Deosai, Sheosar Lake, Bara Pani(Chota Deosai) and Sadpara Lake

We woke up at 7, had breakfast and went to see Rama Lake. It is half an hour jeep track from PTDC motel. The trek only opens up in mid july otherwise it is frozen and a walking trek. Rama lake is a nice calm lake. We wished to spend more time there but there was a long journey up ahead so we went back. I'm not sure if it is possible to camp at the lake but the thought of it made a todo list.

Rama Lake 

Departure to Deosai

We left to Deosai from Rama around 10 AM. The road is shabby for most part. It is a 3 hour drive till Chillam, which is a small establishment by army. You can have tea, biscuit and daal roti here. Just before Chillam the landscape starts to become beautiful, preparing you for what is to come next. After having tea in Chillam we moved on. Entering Deosai immediately, there is a picket where you pay fee for each person. There is a feeling of excitement and grandeur which is difficult to explain. The weather turned cloudy and there was immediately a chill in the air.

It started to rain slowly as we moved on the Deosai road. The road at the start is better but slowly it turns into a mud track. After half an hour drive you get to Sheosar lake, which is a site of utter beauty. Just after a turn you get to see the marvelous lake and if you are lucky to have a cloudy weather, it is a site to behold.

Sheosar Lake


The serenity of this place cannot be described in words. After getting some pictures we moved onto Bara Pani also called Chota Deosai.

It takes an hour or so to reach Bara Pani, you can have lunch and tea there. There are also camps available for staying. I wondered how fun it would be spending a night there but we had to move on towards Skardu.


Bara Pani

It takes a couple of hours to reach Sadpara Lake from Para Pani. The road condition is bad and frequent jumps and jolts begin to tire you tremendously. After crossing Sadpara Lake you enter Skardu. We reached Skardu around 8:00 PM. We were tired to the bones and immediately slept after eating dinner.

Day 4: Skardu to Shiggar

Travel time: 2 hours

Difficulty level: Easy

Road Conditions: Good

Places to See: Skardu bazaar, Shiggar Fort, Jarba Zou lake

Skardu is a small city and you can roam around the bazaar. If you are a fan of camping and treking, there is a small market with really inexpensive gear. After the breakfast we left Skardu to see Shiggar. 45 minutes drive away is the Shiggar dessert. If you grew up in the 90s then you will remember String's song Dur and its video. Its shot in this desert. Its amazing to find a desert at this height but that's the beauty of Pakistan. If NASA's curiosity rover starts to roam around this desert no one would notice much of a difference. This area is more like mars than earth.

Shigar Dessert

After crossing the dessert you reach Shigar fort in about 45 minutes. Its a nicely maintained fort by Serena. There are rooms available for stay as well but they are expensive. The interior is nice and cozy and very well maintained. It is a very small fort if you compare it to the forts build by Mughals and there is nothing 'Grand' about it. Practicality was more of a concern of the builders than show off I guess. You can have food at the fort as well. Its good food but expensive.

Shiggar Fort

After the fort we were on the return journey when a friend whatsapp us the location of a lake nearby. Its called Jarba Zou and its a 40 minutes detour from the main road. The lake is ok to watch but it has a mysterious aura to it. The calmness and silence was therapeutic.

Jarba Zou Lake

Day 5: Skardu to Chillas

Travel time: 11 hours

Difficulty level: Hard

Road Conditions: Bad. Skardu - Gilgit road is prone to land slides. The drive is long and uncomfortable for most part. 

Places to See: Upper Kachura lake, Shangrilla Resort, Karakorum View point

It happened to be a cloudy day and I can't thank Allah enough for it. First it made the landscape beautiful, secondly it made the drive on the Skardu-Gilgit road bearable. Our first destination was Upper Kachura Lake and we reached it in about 45 minutes from our hotel. From the parking to the lake you have to take a small walk. That is one beautiful walk. It goes through trees of Prune, Apples, Cherries and Grape vines. It makes you wonder if heaven will be something like this.

The way descends into the lake which is a beautiful and calm lake, reminded me of Rawal dam somehow. You can take a boat ride and enjoy the serenity even more in the middle of the lake. On the way back we bought some freshly dried fruits at a much lower price than we get in Islamabad. You would be lucky if you find and eat a ripe Prune fresh from the tree. It is an experience I will not forget. The taste is very different that we get in Islamabad. It was like eating a bomb of flavor. The fruit melts in your mouth and the sweet flavor and aroma is out of the world.

After enjoying the delicious prunes we went on to see Shangrilla resort which is like 5 minutes drive away. It is a nice resort with an entry ticket of 300 Rs per head, yes you read it right.

Shangrilla Resort

After Shangrilla we hit the gilgit-skardu road which merges at the Karakorum highway. It is a long and tiring journey but thankfully the weather remained cloudy throughout. Our driver kept us asking to pray that it doesn't rain. The mountains are extremely barren and rain can easily cause landslides. At one moment it did started to rain and we got really worried. The next day in news we read the news of landslide and blockade of the same road we traveled on. Thanked Allah very much for keeping us safe. We finally got to Chillas at around 8:00 PM after a very tiring journey. Ate dinner and slept.

Day 6: Chillas to Islamabad

Travel time: 14 hours

Difficulty level: Moderately Hard

Road Conditions: Good

You can do this part from your own car. Though it is a very long drive but the road is nice and comfortable. Climbing up Babusar top can be a challenge for a car with small engine. We woke up at 7 and retraced our footsteps back to Islamabad. It was a 14 hour journey back to the home and a 2 day rest to recover.


UsmanBaiga said…
very nice (Y)
I definitely will visit Deosai soon. IA
Faraz1 said…
What is the better route to go to skardu from chillas, via rama-deosai or via gilgit and what is the time of the two ?
Arslan said…
@faraz1: Going to Skardu from Rama-Deosai is very scenic but it definitely takes longer than via KKH.

If you want to go to Skardu via KKH then there is a turn on KKH before Gilgit if you are going from Raikot side, you don't actually pass through Gilgit. You take the turn after Karakorum view point and it takes around 5-6 hours to reach Skardu. From Chillas to Skardu via kkh is a ~8 hour journey. Read Day 5: Skardu to Chillas part. You will be doing the opposite we did.

If you want to go via Deosai then it is approximately 10 hour journey as well but you will need a jeep to cross Deosai.

Chillas -> Astore ~4 hours
Astore -> Deosai ~3 hours
Deosai -> Skardu ~3 hours

These times don't include stop overs.