The Shigar River Valley of Pakistan is wedged between three mountain ranges: the Rondu, Hunza and Karakoram. Shigar is 20 miles for the town of Skardu, about a 40-minute drive away. The town of Shigar lies on the banks of the mighty Indus River, and sits 2,798 meters above sea level. The entire scene is striking, with breathtaking mountains and placid green meadows. The people of Skardu and Shigar valleys are as interesting as the scenery.
The dominant population is called “bality” and their language, balti, is an old form of Tibetan. Most of these friendly, hospitable people are Muslim Shias of Tibetan descent. Other ethnic groups include Shins, Punjabis, Pashtuns, Hunzakuts and even the odd Uyghur.
The Shigar River is formed by the confluence of the Basha and Braldu Rivers that flow from northern river valleys. Visitors flock to the Shigar Valley every year to partake not only of the many cultural amenities, but also to enjoy the scenic beauty of the environment at the foothills to the Himalayas and Karakorums. The areas of Baltistan that surround Shigar are spectacular to visit. Skardu is a popular destination surround by impressive mountains. You can drive for two hours and arrive in Khaplu, world-renown for its friendly and spiritual people.
Near Shigar is the Deosai Plateau (Deosai means “land of giants”), which is second in height to only the Tibetan plateau of Chang Tang. The plateau separates the western Himalayan Mountains from the Karakorum Range.
As you travel about, you’ll encounter ancient trees and experience brisk mountain air and cloudless blue skies. The local mountain streams are beautiful to see and hear. You’re likely to spot one of the local plant or animal species indigenous to the Deosai National Park, including wild flowers of every description, the brown bear, Himalayan ibex, red fox, golden marmot, gray wolf and the snow leopard. Bird-watchers can spot native eagles, vultures, falcons, kestrels, sparrowhawks and snowcocks.
There is a lot to see in Shigar, so bring your camera. You will want to take photos of the picturesque landscape that supports many fruit growers. The grapes, apricots, peaches, walnuts and pears are among the best in the world.
Shigar has a long history as the cultural and administrative seat of Baltistan. If you’ve been to Tibet, you’ll be struck by the similarities – in fact, the area used to be called “Little Tibet”. Ancient structures include the Klanquah Moalla mosque, Raja palace, Fong Khar and hilltop ministries. You can converse with older men in traditional attire selling foodstuffs, textiles and household articles at the Shigar Bazaar.
From Shigar, you can walk to:
- Jarba Zhou Lake
It will take a little longer to tour:
- Thale La
You can also plan exciting mountain-climbing treks, including K2, the second highest peak in the world. As you explore the valley, you will encounter numerous glaciers and streams. If you have a sense of adventure, you will love exploring the entire area. Boating enthusiasts should visit the Jarba Zhou Lake adjacent to Lamsa. You can also go down river runs on a raft or kayak. Travelers have come through this on their way to Tibet for centuries, so you will be participating in a rich tradition.
To get to the Shigar Valley, rent a Jeep or similarly rugged car in Islamabad and drive for 22 hours along the Karakoram Highway to Skardu. A bus is available for those who prefer not to drive. A less exhausting route starts in Gilgit and involves only six hours of driving. Or charter a 45-minute flight from Islamabad. However you get there, you will never forget the trip.