Discover the best places to visit in Skardu, Pakistan. Learn about the stunning landscapes, cultural experiences, and tips on how to make the most of your journey and places to visit in Skardu.
Skardu, located in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, is a remote mountain paradise that offers breathtaking landscapes, unique cultural experiences, and a chance to escape the city life’s hustle and bustle. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, crystal-clear lakes, and lush green valleys, Skardu is a haven for travelers seeking solitude and adventure.
In this travel blog, we will explore this stunning region’s hidden treasures and provide tips on how to make the most of your journey during your visit to Skardu famous places. Skardu has now become synonymous with Baltistan, representing the whole region.
Getting to Skardu
Skardu is accessible by road and air. The Skardu Airport has direct flights from Islamabad. And from Lahore, Karachi, and other cities during summer. Alternatively, you can travel by road from Rawalpindi/Islamabad, which takes around 16-20 hours. The scenic road trip offers stunning views of the mountains and valleys.
Top 15 Places to visit in Skardu
1. Deosai National Park
Deosai National Park is a breathtakingly beautiful and serene destination situated in the Skardu and Astore districts of Gilgit-Baltistan. Spread over 3,000 square kilometers, it is one of the second-highest plateaus in the world and is often referred to as the “Roof of the World”. The park is home to diverse flora and fauna, including the Himalayan brown bear, snow leopard, and ibex.
Apart from the wildlife, Deosai is also known for its stunning landscapes and panoramic views. The park is also dotted with several freshwater lakes, including the Sheosar Lake, Pakistan’s highest lake. The best time to visit Deosai is during the summer when the weather is pleasant and the wildflowers are in full bloom, painting the entire plateau with vibrant colors. Deosai National Park is a must place to visit Skardu destination for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers.
2. Shangrilla and Upper Kachura Lake
Nestled in the heart of the Karakoram Mountain range lies the picturesque resort of Shangrilla, one of the most famous places in Skardu, also known as “Heaven on Earth.” The resort’s stunning natural beauty is breathtaking, with majestic mountains, lush green forests, and a crystal-clear lake. Shangrilla truly lives up to its name and is a must-visit destination for anyone seeking to reconnect with nature.
Just a short drive from Shangrilla lies the Upper Kachura Lake, a stunningly beautiful lake that is the region’s hidden gem. Towering mountains surround the lake and offer a peaceful retreat for visitors looking to escape the crowds. Visitors can take a boat ride on the lake, go fishing, or relax on the lake’s shore and take in the beauty of their surroundings. The lake is also home to various bird species, making it a popular spot for birdwatchers. Upper Kachura Lake is a truly magical place that showcases the region’s natural beauty and is a must-visit for anyone traveling to Shangrilla.
3. K2 Base Camp
K2, the second-highest mountain in the world, is a breathtaking destination that attracts adventurers and nature enthusiasts worldwide. The K2 base camp trek is a challenging yet rewarding journey that takes you through some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. For adventurers, it is the best place to visit in Skardu. As you hike through rugged terrain and climb steep passes, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of snow-capped peaks, glacial lakes, and deep valleys.
The K2 base camp trek is not for the faint of heart, but for those willing to take on the challenge, it’s an experience of a lifetime. Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to meet friendly locals, experience the region’s unique culture, and camp under the stars in some of the most beautiful places on Earth. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just starting, the K2 base camp trek is a must-do for anyone looking for an unforgettable adventure in one of the world’s most spectacular destinations.
4. Basho Meadow
Basho Meadow in Skardu is truly a paradise on Earth. Surrounded by breathtaking views of towering mountains, lush green meadows, and crystal-clear streams, this meadow is a perfect destination for nature lovers. The scenery is simply stunning, and the fresh air will leave you rejuvenated. You can trek around the meadow, explore the nearby forests, or sit and soak in the natural beauty.
The meadow is also home to various flora and fauna, including wildflowers and butterflies. The meadow is carpeted with colorful flowers during the spring and summer, making it a sight to behold. The best time to visit Basho Meadow is from May to September, when the weather is mild, and the sky is clear. If you’re looking for a place to escape the city life’s hustle and bustle, Basho Meadow should be on your list of must-visit destinations.
5. Sarfaranga Cold Desert
Sarfaranga Cold Desert, located in the Shigar district of Gilgit-Baltistan, is a truly mesmerizing travel destination. The vast expanse of the cold desert, surrounded by towering mountains, offers breathtaking views that will leave you spellbound. In shades of orange and brown, the dunes create a dramatic contrast against the snow-capped peaks, making for a stunning sight.
Visitors can also engage in various activities, including dune bashing, quad biking, and horse riding. The serene atmosphere, stunning scenery, and thrilling activities make Sarfaranga Cold Desert a must-visit destination for any travel enthusiast who is traveling to Skardu.
6. Soq Valley, Skardu
The Soq Valley is a hidden gem in Pakistan’s northern region. Surrounded by majestic mountains, the valley offers breathtaking views and a serene atmosphere for travelers seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. The valley is located in the Upper Kachura region, just a twenty-minute drive on bumpy road from the town. Visitors can also enjoy local cuisine and trout fish at the valley. Overall, the Soq Valley Kachura is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the beauty and tranquility of northern Pakistan also known as one of the best places in Skardu.
7. Tormik Meadow
Tormik Meadow is a beautiful travel destination in Pakistan’s northern region. This stunning meadow is situated at an elevation of 3,700 meters above sea level, surrounded by towering mountains and lush greenery. The area is known for its breathtaking views of the Himalayas and the Karakoram range, which makes it a popular spot for trekking enthusiasts.
Visitors to Tormik Meadow can enjoy various outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and photography. The meadow is accessible via a steep, winding road providing an exciting journey through the mountains. Upon arrival, visitors are greeted with stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, which are awe-inspiring. That’s why it is in the Best places to visit in Skardu list.
8. Shigar Fort
Shigar Fort, also known as Fong-Khar, is a magnificent 17th-century fort in the town of Shigar in Gilgit-Baltistan. This beautiful fort is a unique blend of Tibetan and Balti architecture and has been beautifully restored to its former glory. It is a must place to visit in Skardu for anyone interested in history, culture, and architecture.
The fort has been converted into a hotel that offers a unique opportunity to experience the royal lifestyle of the Balti rulers. The rooms are decorated with traditional Balti furnishings, and the hotel offers a range of activities such as trekking, mountain biking, and fishing in the nearby rivers. The fort also has a museum that houses a collection of artifacts that provide a glimpse into the rich history and culture of the region, which is why it is the top place to visit in Skardu
9. Mantokha Waterfall
Mantokha waterfall in Kharmang district of Gilgit-Baltistan is a breathtaking natural wonder that are a must-visit for adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts. Mantokha waterfall is in a narrow gorge surrounded by towering mountains covered in lush greenery. The sound of the waterfall echoing off the gorge’s walls creates a soothing melody that is both calming and awe-inspiring. The crystal-clear water cascades down the rocks and mixes with the stream. The surrounding landscape is also ideal for hiking and picnicking, making it an ideal spot for a day trip.
10. Khamush Waterfall
Khamush waterfall, on the other hand, is a relatively lesser-known destination hidden away in a remote Kharmang valley. The cascading waterfalls surrounded by towering mountains create a serene atmosphere perfect for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. The journey to the waterfall is also a treat, with the lush green valleys and glistening streams providing a scenic backdrop. Overall, both Mantokha and Khamush waterfalls are a must-visit for anyone looking to experience the natural beauty of Pakistan.
11. Khaplu Palace
Khaplu Palace is a beautiful historical monument in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region. The palace dates back to the mid-19th century and served as the residence of the local royal family. Today, the palace has been converted into a hotel that offers a unique blend of historic charm and modern amenities. The palace’s architecture is a testament to the region’s rich cultural heritage, with intricate woodwork and carvings adorning its walls and ceilings. The majestic Karakoram Mountain range surrounds the palace, and the view from the palace is simply breathtaking.
Visiting Khaplu Palace is an unforgettable experience that glimpses into Gilgit-Baltistan’s rich history and culture. The palace’s luxurious accommodations and stunning surroundings make it the perfect place for a peaceful and relaxing getaway. Whether you’re interested in exploring the local area or want to relax and soak up the beauty of your surroundings, Khaplu Palace is an ideal destination and the best place to visit in Skardu. With its fascinating history, stunning architecture, and breathtaking views, this palace is a must-visit for anyone traveling to the region.
12. Organic Village, Skardu
Organic Village Skardu is a hidden gem in the heart of Pakistan’s northern areas. This serene and picturesque village offers visitors a unique opportunity to experience life in an organic village, where every aspect of daily life revolves around sustainability and self-sufficiency. The village is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and lush green fields, making it an ideal destination for nature lovers and adventurers.
Visitors to Organic Village Skardu can enjoy the local culture and organic cuisines. The villagers are warm and hospitable, and visitors are always welcomed with open arms. One of the highlights of a visit to Organic Village Skardu is the chance to sample the delicious organic produce grown on-site, including fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. Overall, a visit to Organic Village Skardu is an unforgettable experience that offers a unique glimpse into a way of life that is both sustainable and in harmony with nature. That is why it is the best place in Skardu to visit for nature lovers.
13. The Blind Lake
The serene lake is nestled in a valley surrounded by snow-capped peaks, making it a picturesque destination for adventure seekers and nature lovers. A must place to visit in Skardu. The journey to the lake is quite an adventure, as the road leading up to it is narrow and winding, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. Once you reach the lake, you can relax and soak in the beauty of the place or take a hike along the rugged terrain to explore the area further. Camping by the lake under the stars is an unforgettable experience that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.
One of the most striking features of Blind Lake Shigar is its crystal-clear water, which reflects the surrounding mountains and sky, creating a mesmerizing panorama. The lake is also home to various fish species, making it a popular spot for fishing enthusiasts.
14. Kharphocho Fort, Skardu
Kharphocho Fort, located in Skardu, is one of the best places to visit in Skardu is a historical landmark and a must-visit destination for those interested in the region’s rich cultural heritage. The fort stands tall on a cliff overlooking the Skardu town and the Indus River, offering a breathtaking view of the surrounding landscape. The fort was built in the 16th century by Ali Sher Khan Anchan, the ruler of Skardu, and has since served as a strategic location for various rulers and armies. The fort was restored recently and now offers visitors a glimpse into the region’s history and architecture.
Visitors can explore the fort’s various chambers, halls, and watchtowers and learn about its rich history and cultural significance. The fort also offers a stunning panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and Skardu Valley, making it an ideal spot for photography enthusiasts.
15. Katpana Desert
Katpana Desert, located in the picturesque region of Skardu in Gilgit Baltistan, is a must-visit places to visit in Skardu for every traveler. This breathtaking desert uniquely blends barren dunes, rugged mountains, and clear blue skies. The best time to visit Katpana is between May and October when the weather is pleasant and the skies are clear. The local culture is warm and welcoming, and visitors can indulge in traditional Pakistani cuisine and enjoy the hospitality of the locals. The serene silence of the desert, the stunning sunsets, and the starry night sky will leave you mesmerized and make your trip a truly unforgettable experience.
Cultural Experiences in Skardu:
Skardu is home to the Balti people with a rich cultural heritage. You can experience the local culture by visiting the local bazaars, trying local food, and participating in traditional festivals.
The Balti people have a unique culture and language. You can learn about their culture by visiting the local villages and interacting with the locals. You can shop Balti traditional things from local bazaars, including traditional dresses, caps, and jewellery items.
Must try Local Food, Balti Cuisine while visiting Skardu:
The Balti cuisine is a fusion of Tibetan and Pakistani flavours. You can try local dishes such as Keser (similar to paratha), Mamtu (steamed dumplings), Balay (noodle soup), Plapu (Balti Pasta made of wheat and walnut paste), and Khurba Skardu bread (a type of bread baked in a traditional oven). Don’t forget to taste local Namkeen Chai. You can also try local fruits such as cherries, apples, and various apricots.
Tips for Traveling to Skardu:
Best Time to Visit Skardu:
The best time to visit Skardu is from May to September, as the weather is pleasant and the roads are accessible. During the winter, the roads may be closed due to heavy snowfall, so it is best to avoid travelling. If you want to enjoy the Autumn colours, mid-October to November is the perfect time. If you are fond of spring, March and April is the best time to witness blossom’s beauty, such as the eye-captivating cherry blossom.
Packing List for Skardu:
When traveling to Skardu, it is important to pack warm clothes, as the weather can be cold, especially at night. You should also bring comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen, and sunblock, as the sun is quite intense in Skardu due to its height.
Safety Tips for Skardu:
Skardu is a safe place to travel, but it is always important to take precautions. You should carry a first-aid kit, stay hydrated, and avoid eating and drinking dirty stuff. It is also essential to respect the local culture and customs to enjoy the hospitality of the locals.
From the best places to visit in Skaredu to cultural experiences and safety tips, Skardu has something for every traveler. So, pack your bags, and prepare for the adventure of a lifetime!
Discover the Unparalleled Beauty and Culture of Gilgit-Baltistan
Nestled within the northern folds of Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan emerges as an awe-inspiring destination, boasting not only majestic landscapes, but also a cultural tapestry woven with threads of history and tradition. In this comprehensive guide, we embark on an immersive journey to uncover the hidden treasures and rich heritage of Gilgit-Baltistan, spotlighting the distinctive features that make this region truly extraordinary.
1. Gilgit-Baltistan: A Geographical Marvel:
Gilgit-Baltistan, positioned at the confluence of the Himalayas and the Karakoram Range, stands as a testament to nature’s grandeur. The region’s iconic peaks, including the second-highest mountain globally, K2, draw mountaineers and adventure seekers. The Indus River weaves through valleys, creating a stunning mosaic of landscapes. From the vast, snow-capped summits to the verdant valleys below, the geographical splendor of Gilgit-Baltistan is nothing short of breathtaking.
2. Cultural Tapestry of Gilgit-Baltistan:
Diversity in Gilgit-Baltistan extends beyond its landscapes to its people. Various ethnic groups, including Shina, Balti, and Brushaski, coexist harmoniously, each contributing to the vibrant cultural fabric. Cultural festivals such as the Shandoor Polo Festival and Navroz not only showcase traditional practices, but also serve as a communal celebration. The locals, known for their warm hospitality, add a layer of authenticity to the cultural experience, making every interaction a journey into the heart of Gilgit-Baltistan’s identity.
3. Must-Visit Destinations in Gilgit-Baltistan:
Every corner of Gilgit-Baltistan beckons with its unique charm. Hunza Valley, with its ancient forts and breathtaking vistas, offers a glimpse into the region’s history. The cobalt blue Attabad Lake, a result of a natural disaster turned tourist attraction, is a marvel to behold. Skardu, a gateway to serene lakes and valleys, captivates visitors with its pristine beauty. Fairy Meadows, nestled beneath the Nanga Parbat, provides a surreal escape into nature. The vibrant bazaars and historical sites tell tales of a bygone era, creating a seamless blend of past and present.
4. Adventure Tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan:
Gilgit-Baltistan isn’t merely a picturesque destination; it’s an adventure enthusiast’s haven. The region’s challenging terrains beckon trekkers and mountaineers from across the globe, offering the chance to conquer some of the world’s highest peaks. As winter blankets the landscape in snow, skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts find their paradise. The thrill of adventure resonates in every footstep, with the region becoming a playground for those seeking the extraordinary. From the adrenaline-pumping ascent of K2 to the serene trekking trails of Rakaposhi, Gilgit-Baltistan invites adventurers to push their limits amidst nature’s grandeur.
5. Flora and Fauna: The Natural Wealth of Gilgit-Baltistan:
Beyond the towering peaks, Gilgit-Baltistan harbors a wealth of biodiversity. The Deosai National Park, a high-altitude plateau, serves as a sanctuary for the endangered Himalayan brown bear and numerous bird species. Conservation efforts underscore the commitment to preserving this natural treasure. The rolling meadows, alpine flowers, and crystal-clear lakes create an ecosystem that is as delicate as it is resilient. In exploring Gilgit-Baltistan’s natural wealth, one becomes part of the ongoing narrative of conservation and ecological balance.
6. Economic Significance and Development:
Gilgit-Baltistan’s economic landscape is intertwined with its rich natural resources and burgeoning tourism industry. Abundant in minerals and possessing significant hydroelectric potential, the region contributes significantly to Pakistan’s economic development. The growing tourism sector not only invites exploration but also creates avenues for employment and business opportunities. Ongoing infrastructure developments, including improved transportation networks, lay the groundwork for sustainable growth. The delicate dance between progress and preservation is evident, as Gilgit-Baltistan strives for economic prosperity while safeguarding its unique identity and natural wonders.
7. How to Reach Gilgit-Baltistan:
Accessing the mountainous haven of Gilgit-Baltistan requires strategic planning. Travelers can choose to arrive by air, with airports in Gilgit and Skardu offering convenient access points. Alternatively, a road journey through the Karakoram Highway provides a scenic adventure, showcasing the region’s rugged beauty. For those seeking practical information, the road to Gilgit-Baltistan becomes a journey in itself, offering glimpses of local life and breathtaking landscapes. Each mode of transportation becomes a gateway to an adventure waiting to unfold.
8. Local Communities and Sustainable Tourism:
Gilgit-Baltistan’s charm lies not only in its landscapes, but in the warmth of its people. Community-based tourism initiatives empower local residents, providing authentic experiences for visitors. Balancing progress with cultural preservation is a delicate dance, and initiatives focusing on sustainable tourism emphasize the importance of preserving the local way of life amidst the winds of change. From homestays in traditional villages to cultural exchanges with local artisans, sustainable tourism initiatives create a symbiotic relationship between visitors and the communities, ensuring that the magic of Gilgit-Baltistan remains intact for generations to come.
In conclusion, Gilgit-Baltistan invites the world to explore its wonders. From the towering peaks to the cultural celebrations, every aspect of this region tells a story. As visitors traverse the landscapes and engage with the local communities, they become part of a narrative that goes beyond the ordinary tourist experience. The journey to Gilgit-Baltistan promises not just a physical adventure but an immersion into the soul of a region where nature and culture dance in harmonious celebration. It is a journey that leaves an indelible mark, inviting all to discover the unparalleled beauty and culture of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Exploring the Enchanting Astore Valley: A Paradise in the Himalayas.
Astore Valley is a hidden gem in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, nestled among the majestic foothills of the Himalayas. Known for its beautiful landscape, greenish meadows, snow-capped mountains, glistening glaciers, appealing waterfalls, and pristine rivers, this valley offers a truly enthralling experience for nature lovers and adventurers alike.The Valley is located in the eastern part of the Gilgit-Baltistan region bordering the Indian-administrated Jammu and Kashmir, which covers an area of over 592 square kilometers. It stretches 120 kilometers from east to west and is divided by the peak of Nanga Parbat (8126), dominating the sky with its majestic presence. The Astore River flows through the valley, adding to its spectacular beauty.
In Pakistan’s Gilgit Baltistan, the Astore Valley is a veritable treasure mine of historical beauty. Traders have long maintained commercial contacts between their cities and Kashmir’s markets by travelling the Astore Road. Students and businesspeople wishing to purchase Kashmiri textiles frequently visit Srinagar. Throughout history, tourists from all over the region have visited this area. It also played an important role in the settlement of the Astore Valley, thus creating a community.
Natural Beauty and landscapes.
The beauty of the Astore Valley is unparalleled, with its diverse landscape ranging from lush green meadows to snow-capped peaks. The valley is studded with thick woods, alpine pastures, and colourful wildflowers, creating a picturesque tapestry that leaves visitors in awe. Meandering Rivers such as the Astore and Rattu Rivers add to the valley’s charm, providing a tranquil atmosphere and excellent trout fishing opportunities.
Deosai Plateau (shared plateau with Skardu), Rama Lake, and Rupal Valley are some of the scenic attractions in this vast valley. In addition, Astore is known for its diverse natural attractions and proximity to mountain activities that are unique on the planet.
One of the loveliest spots to visit is Rama Astore. Rama Meadows and Rama Lake are about 10-11 km from Astore. Jeeps to Rama Meadows and Rama Lake take more than an hour’s drive. Rama is regarded as one of Pakistan’s most exquisite grasses, with green grass, mountain trees and shrubs, beautiful lakes and mountain vistas.
Deosai National Park is the highest plateau in northern Pakistan, located between Astore and Skardu Valley. It is often called the “land of giants” because it is believed ghosts and giants inhabit the land. At about 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) above sea level, the Deosai Plateau is one of the highest mountains in the world; with its craggy cliffs, flower-filled meadows, sparkling lakes, and rough hills, this valley is renowned for its stunning beauty. The Deosai Valley is completely blanketed in snow throughout the winter, which makes for a stunning winter scene.
Rupal Valley is renowned for its beautiful landscapes, majestic peaks, and diverse plant life and fauna. The valley stretches a giant distance, beginning from the base of Nanga Parbat and lengthening toward the Astore district. The Rupal River flows through the valley, adding to its natural splendour. The valley gives breathtaking views of Nanga Parbat, the “Killer Mountain.” Its snow-protected peaks and sheer cliffs attract mountaineers and adventurers from around the sector. Rupal Face, one of the three faces of Nanga Parbat, is considered one of the globe’s hardest and most technical mountaineering routes.
This majestic Astore Valley consists of more than a hundred villages that are beautiful tourist attractions in themselves, including Trashing, Chilam, Bubin, Gurikot, Rattu, Kamri, Minimarg, Mirmalik Valley, Rehmanpure Valley, and Burzil Top, are breathtaking places. These are distinct by their spectacular beauty.
Adventure and outdoor activities.
The mountain forest makes it a paradise for trekkers, hikers, and climbers. The area offers a variety of trekking routes, from easy hikes to strenuous expeditions, providing an unforgettable experience for outdoor enthusiasts. Astore is a region acknowledged for its pristine rivers and streams, making it a brilliant vacation spot for trout fishing fanatics. Numerous trout species, including the highly valued Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout, are found in the rivers and streams of Astore. Those fish thrive in the clean waters of the region, making it a great spot for anglers searching for a fishing journey.
Cultural Heritage and local life.
Shina is the prevalent language, while Urdu is the second most frequently verbalized language in Astore. The people of Astore are greatly fond of music and dance and have traditional roots. Shalwar kameez among men is common, while women wear kameez (Kurtani.Peeran.Cheelo), Dopata or Shawl (Phatek, Cheel). The traditional hat is the most gorgeous kit ladies wear in the Astore. The stunning Iraghi hats with classic silsila stones are the most often worn. Agriculture and livestock are the main sources of income for locals, while many Astore men seek work in the major business cities of Pakistan. Traditional cuisine Chapshuro, Mamtu, Sharadi, Harisa, Sharadi, Sharbat, Goli, Diram, and Bread (chappati) are famous among the people.
Currently, tourism activists are being duped without proper guidance, and tourists do not know the tourism industry. The local government must create a comprehensive vision and plan not just now but for the next ten or two decades to take tourism in the region to another level. The policies must ensure the engagement of international tourists by showing a soft image of the area.
Tourism’s infrastructure is its bedrock. Without a solid infrastructure, trying to draw in foreign visitors is useless. Facilities and infrastructure should be designed to accommodate various visitors’ kinds. For this purpose, the local government is constructing various projects; the 47 KM-long Gorikot-Shonter road costing Rs7bln will be constructed under PSDP, Gorikot to Shonter 47 KM long road will be constructed for seven billion rupees under the public sector development program, the road from Bubin to Shagharthang is also part of these projects.
Indeed, the Astore Valley is bestowed with nature’s blessing, from the majestic mountains of the Himalayas to crystal clear rivers from landscapes to glaciers. The beauty of this valley attracts people from all around the globe. Government policies with local communities can promote the flux of tourists to Astore. Social media can also play a vital role in enhancing tourism. The people, especially the youth of Astore, will have to understand that tourism has the potential to act as the backbone.
Save, Preserve, and Conserve.
One of the many things traveling teaches you is that “you are more capable than you ever thought”.
A decade ago, I was oblivious that traveling leaves a massive footprint on the environment and the destinations we visit. I took my first trip with my son in 2013, however, I did not truly understand why I was traveling. Things started to decipher when I decided to take a trip every year thereafter, with a purpose. My paradigm shifted as my trips increased and the more I explored the terms “sustainable” and “responsible” tourism. I now prefer to travel with a strong purpose. Vacations are essential and wonderful to look forward to for many reasons, but for some of us, traveling is how we connect with our fellow humans and the world around us. I became conscious about how we are capable of turning our trips into meaningful adventures – ethical, eco-friendly, and sustainable.
They say that traveling is the best way to learn things that truly matter, which is exactly what happened when I visited Hunza (Gilgit-Baltistan) in 2016. The week-long trip experience brought a substantial change in me – it was overwhelming and enriching. Admiring the stunning landscape, engaging with the local communities, and hearing their stories was a very humbling opportunity. I prefer to travel more slowly, observe more, create a better bond with the locals, and seize these experiences.
I revisit the same destinations across Gilgit-Baltistan, predominantly because of the inhabitants – their simplicity, hospitality, and respect towards tourists, especially female tourists. The reason why I keep going back every year, the reason I spend months away from home fearlessly, the reason I recommend tourists from around the world, and the reason I choose to write about this region extensively. I’ve traveled across Pakistan; Sindh, Punjab, all Districts of GB, Chitral, and Kashmir and it is truly the interaction with locals that makes your trip memorable. To this day, I feel incredibly at ease if I’m staying at an accommodation owned and run by locals.
Remember, “A place is only as good as the people in it.”
Unfortunately, in recent years, the tourism industry has expanded and evolved rapidly. Investors and entrepreneurs from metropolitan cities have seen huge potential in these mountains and seem to take advantage of the gullibility of local communities and their financial struggles. The surge in tourism has brought a drastic “inconsiderate” change in the region, which needs prompt action – now!
Although some may argue that it does generate economic benefits for local communities and provides jobs for those in the industry, leasing or selling property, land, and territory to the urbanites will soon turn Gilgit-Baltistan into the next Galiyat region.
There is no denying that it has imperative negative consequences, including the over-use of resources, displacement of wildlife, and damage to history, heritage, and local culture. Uncontrolled conventional tourism triggers potential threats to nature around the globe.
In recent years, expanded tourism in many regions across Pakistan has already contributed to land and water pollution and scarcity, ill-planned urbanization, traffic congestion, and loss of cultural values — all of which have contributed largely to the natural disasters we’ve experienced. Mass tourism, with little or no focus on sustainability, is often more exploitative and can inadvertently harm local culture and indigenous people.
Tourism can cause the same forms of pollution as any other industry: air emissions, noise, frivolous use of blazing lights at restaurants and hotels that hinder stargazing, solid waste and littering, releases of sewage, oil, and chemicals, and even architectural and visual pollution. A lack of land-use planning and building regulations in many destinations has facilitated sprawling developments along coastlines, valleys, and scenic routes.
The sprawl includes tourism facilities and supporting infrastructure such as roads, employee housing, parking, service areas, and waste disposal.
Every year my interaction with local communities increased – staying with them, in their homes, eating with them, and discussing issues. As they voiced their concerns, it occurred to me that even a slight increase in tourism activity can cause harm to the natural resources and cultural setting – completely ignoring the heritage, the aesthetics, and the well-being of the residents. From carbon emissions to pressure on resources to everything being commercialized including values; tourism can have a series of negative effects. Parts of Pakistan that were once hard to reach are now easily accessible and add to this, the rise in popularity of social media channels inspires and encourages people to explore more than ever. Regrettably, all they can do is silently protest against illegal land-grabbing and depriving them of their ancestral properties. The state must respect, facilitate and protect this right.
From a frequent traveler’s perspective, I have observed a massive transformation of my favorite destinations in the last 6 years. There have been excessive constructions and increased recreational facilities which have had a detrimental effect on scenic landscapes. Sadly, in Pakistan, no one cares about aesthetics and therefore, we have failed to integrate structures with the natural features and indigenous architecture of the destination. Large, dominating resorts of contrasting structural design can look out of place in any natural environment; concurrently involving sand mining, soil and dune erosion, and deforestation caused by fuel wood consumption and land clearing. The extensive paving has led to land degradation and loss of wildlife habitats and deterioration of scenery.
Eco-tourism vs. Sustainable tourism vs. Ethical and Responsible tourism vs. Reformative tourism – is there a difference?
Recently, the terms Eco-tourism, Sustainable tourism, Ethical tourism, and Responsible tourism are quite a bit of a discussion amongst the masses, particularly more on social media, and as much as it may seem, they don’t all mean the same thing.
Eco-tourism The widely accepted definition of eco-tourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”
Sustainable tourism is about minimizing the negative impacts of tourism and conserving resources or using them wisely to maintain their long-term viability. Also, it generates economic benefits for the locals through tourism. The economic benefit of tourism is massive and many countries rely hugely on tourists to keep their economies running smoothly.
Ethical and Responsible tourism embraces local communities and generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities. It involves local people in decisions that affect their lives. Tourism offers more enjoyable experiences through deep, meaningful connections with the inhabitants, and a greater understanding of cultural diversity, heritage, and environmental concerns. It is essential to develop empathy and encourage mutual respect between tourists and hosts.
Reformative tourism takes the travel industry to another level where the emphasis is on development and expansion without obliterating the ecological structure. Involving the local people in the decision-making process of new tourism ventures is significantly important, as in the coming years as the basic infrastructures of many destinations have been affected by mass tourism in recent times.
Let us all make a conscious effort and try and reduce our environmental impact while traveling.
- Begin by choosing to support local businesses to add value to sustainability. Prearrange trips with local tour operators, and choose to stay and dine in at places run by the local communities. The people who own the place will ensure that their business operations will not harm nature.
- I prefer to stay at a homestay where you can get an authentic local experience with the best facilities, while your money stays in the community.
- Minimize plastic and waste production. Carry and use reusable or biodegradable items. Avoid littering and help contribute towards conservation.
- If you are traveling with children, you can engage them in community service activities; helping in the fields, tutoring kids, collecting and removing the garbage, learning or sharing skills, etc.
- Protect and respect nature and the environment. Follow rules, norms, and local guidelines.
It all begins with a choice – So, try and be better; act better; and become more. That choice conclusively lies with you.