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Northern Areas of Pakistan

Astore  ||  Diameer  ||  Ghanche  ||  Ghizer  ||  Gilgit  ||  Skardu  || 

The Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA) is the northernmost political entity within the Pakistani-controlled part of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. According to Pakistan's constitution, FANA is not part of Pakistan, and its inhabitants have never had any representation in Pakistan's parliament. However, FANA is home to some of the world's highest mountains, including five of the eight-thousanders. The main focus of attention for many travelers is the world's three highest mountain ranges--the Karakoram, the Himalaya, and the Hindu Kush, with five peaks over 8,000 meters and many peaks over 7,000 meters, and having the largest glaciers in the world (other than those in the polar region). Wild rivers and unique landscapes make this area a "mountain paradise" for mountaineers, trekkers, and tourists.

Background

Gilgit, FANA's administrative center, was an important city on the Silk Road, through which Buddhism was spread from India to the rest of Asia. A large number of Buddhist Sanskrit texts, including the long version of the Heart Sutra have been unearthed in Gilgit. The Dards and Cizinas also appear in many of the old Pauranic lists of peoples, with the former finding mention in Ptolemy's accounts of the region. Two famous travellers, Faxian and Hsuan Tsang, are known to have traversed Gilgit as per their accounts. Gilgit was ruled for centuries by the local Trakane Dynasty, which came to an end in about 1810. The area descended into internecine turmoil before being occupied by the Sikhs in 1842. It was ceded to Jammu in 1846. Gilgit's inhabitants drove their new rulers out in an uprising in 1852. The Khushwakhte Dynasty of Yasin and Gulapure led the people of Gilgit to drive out the Dogra rulers. After Yasin was conquered by the Katur Dynasty of Chitral, the power of the Khushwakhte was crushed. The rule of Jammu was restored in 1860. Gilgit came under British rule in 1889, when it was unified with neighboring Hunza and Nagar in the Gilgit Agency. When British rule came to an end in 1947, the region was briefly handed back to the maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. Subsequently, it came under Pakistani control. To this day, the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA) remains part of the Kashmir dispute and is claimed by India to be a Pakistani-occupied part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Regions

The Federally Administered Northern Areas is divided into two divisions--the Baltistan Division and the Gilgit Division--which together comprise seven districts.

Baltistan Region

The Baltistan Region consists of two districts:

  • Skardu District – Skardu town is the administrative center of the Skardu District. Askole is the last settlement in the district for all treks to Concordia (the confluence of the Baltoro Glacier and the Godwin-Austen Glacier). Skardu is the district where the Indus River enters the Northern Areas from the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Ghanche District – The Ghanche District is the easternmost district of Baltistan. To its east is the Leh District of Ladakh, northeast is Aksai Chin, (China), to the north and northwest is the Skardu District, to the west is the Astore District, and to the south is the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The administrative center of the Ghanche District is Khaplu. The Hushe valleys form the gateway to the great Baltoro Muztagh, the sub-range of the Karakoram.

Gilgit Division

The Gilgit Division now consists of five districts:

  • Astore District – The Astore District was recently carved out of the Diamir District. Previously, the Northern Areas was divided into five districts. The administrative center of the Astore District is Astore town and it includes many villages in the Astore valley. The Astore District is bounded by the Diamir District to the west and the Skardu District to the east.
  • Diamir District – The Diamir District is the district where the Karakoram Highway enters the Northern Areas from Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province. Chilas is the administrative center of the Diamir District. The Diamir District is bounded by the Astore District to the east, Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province to the south and southwest, the Ghizar District to the north and northwest, and the Gilgit District to the north and northeast.
  • Ghizar District – The Ghizar District is the westernmost district of the Northern Areas. It is bound by Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province on three sides (north, west, and south), by the Diamir District to the south and southeast, and by the Gilgit District to the east. A small strip of Ghizar District (roughly 35 x 12 km) is sandwiched between the North-West Frontier Province and the Wakhan Corridor of (Afghanistan). Gakuch is the administrative center of the Ghizar District.

Sherqilla is most famous town being capital of Rajas of Punial and Ishkomin. It is still a tourist spot with many attractions like trout fishing, treking natural swimming pools. Wazirs of sherqilla and Raja palace are still inscribe their period of splendour.

  • Gilgit District – The Gilgit District is bounded by the Wakhan Corridor of (Afghanistan) to the north, the Xinjiang autonomous region of (China) to the north and northeast, and the Skardu District to the south and southeast. Gilgit town is the administrative center of the Gilgit District. Gilgit is one of the two major hubs in the Northern Areas for all mountaineering expeditions to the peaks of the Karakoram and the Himalayas.
  • Hunza-Nagar District – The Hunza-Nagar District is a newly formed district which was previously part of the Gilgit District. The district encompasses the Hunza and Nagar valleys. The major town is Karimabad (actually a grouping of five to six smaller villages), surrounded on all sides by glorious mountain peaks, foremost amongst which is Rakaposhi. The Nagar Valley and the Hoper Glacier are situated a dizzying 40-minute drive from Karimabad, nestled below Golden Peak. Hunza is approximately 100 km from Gilgit, and is the last major town along the Karakoram Highway before entering China.

Cities

  • Gilgit is the major town along the Karakoram Highway before entering China.
  • Karimabad - supposedly the setting for James Hilton's Shangri-La, and the valley lives up to that reputation.
  • Skardu - Home to some of the World's highest mountain peaks, glaciers, forts, museums and resorts.

Other destinations

  • Fairy meadows is a point where world's three famous mountain ranges meet - the Himalayas, the Karakorams and the Hindukush
  • K2 (Mount Godwin-Austen) - world's second-highest mountain peak, Also visit K2 Museum located in the Skardu near K2 Motel.
  • Shangrila Resort in Skardu Valley is a place of bliss, delight and peace
  • Shigar Fort
  • Rock carvings Dating back to 8th century AD, a huge Buddha figure surrounded by small Buddhisatvas is carved on a rock, three kilometres from Skardu across Sadpara Nullah on Skardu-Sadpara Road. Pre-historic men and animal figures are carved on rocks along Kachura Lake. Some rock carvings and diagram of a monastery near Perkuta (Mehdi Abad) Nalah are also found.
  • Punial Sher Qila is the main village of the picturesque Punial valley.
  • Singal This spot in the Punial valley offers ideal trout fishing opportunities.
  • Rama A lake in this region offers an awe-inspiring view of the eastern side of Nanga Parbat, 8126 meters high. For the adventure-loving tourist, hiker, angler, art-lover, mountaineer or polo enthusiast, there are few places in the world that could compare with Gilgit.
  • Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindukush
  • Deosai National Park and Khunjerab National Park

Talk

Urdu is the national language and is spoken throughout Pakistan as lingua franca. Local language is Burushaski, As elsewhere in Pakistan, English is fairly widely spoken among the educated classes and those involved in the tourist industry.

Get in

By plane

Arrive in Islamabad. Pakistan International Airlines offers daily flights between Gilgit and Islamabad. The flying time is approximately 50 minutes, and the flight is one of the most scenic flights in the world, as its route passes over Nanga Parbat, and the peak of the mountain is higher than the aircraft's cruising altitude.

PIA also offers regular flights on Being 737s between Skardu and Islamabad. All flights, however, are subject to weather clearance, and, in winters, flights are often delayed by several days.

By road

The Karakoram Highway, once a minor Silk Road route, connects Islamabad to Gilgit and Skardu, which are the two major hubs for mountaineering expeditions in the Northern Areas. The journey from Islamabad to Gilgit takes approximately 20-24 hours. Landslides on the Karakoram Highway are not uncommon, but bulldozers usually clear the road in a short time. The KKH connects Gilgit to Taxkorgan and Kaxgar in Xinjiang, China, via Sust (the customs and health inspection post on the Pakistan side of the border) and the Khunjerab Pass, the highest paved international border crossing in the world at 4,693 metres (15,397 feet).

Get around

By Bus

NATCO (the Northern Areas Transport Corporation) offers bus and jeep transport service to the two hubs and to several other popular destinations, lakes, and glaciers in the area.

By Car

Mountains

Eighteen of the fifty highest peaks in the world are located in the Northern Areas.
  • 1 K2, 2nd-highest in the world at 8,611 m.
  • 2 Nanga Parbat, 9th-highest in the world at 8,125 m
  • 3 Gasherbrum I, 11th-highest in the world at 8,080 m.
  • 4 Broad Peak, 12th-highest in the world at 8,047 m.
  • 5 Gasherbrum II, 13th-highest in the world at 8,035 m
  • 6 Gasherbrum III, 15th-highest in the world at 7,946 m.
  • 7 Gasherbrum VI, 17th-highest in the world at 7,932 m.
  • 8 Distaghil Sar, 19th-highest in the world at 7,884 m.
  • 9 Khunyang Chhish,21st-highest in the world at 7823 m.
  • 10 Masherbrum ,22nd-highest in the world at 7,821 m.
  • 11 Batura Sar, 25th-highest in the world at 7,795 m.
  • 12 Kanjut Sar ,26th-highest in the world at 7,788 m.
  • 13 Rakaposhi, 27th-highest in the world at 7,760m.
  • 14 Saltoro Kangri 31st-highest in the world at 7,742 m.
  • 15 Chogolisa 36th-highest in the world at 7,498 m.
  • 16 Shispare 38th-highest in the world at 7,611 m.
  • 17 Trivora 39th-highest in the world at 7,577 m.
  • 18 Skyang Kangri 44th-highest in the world at 7,545 m.

Glaciers

Three of the world's seven longest glaciers outside the polar regions are also in the Northern Areas, the Biafo Glacier, the Baltoro Glacier, and the Batura Glacier.

The Siachin Glacier is 75 km. The Hispar (53 km) joins the Biafo at the Hispar La (5154.16 meters (16,910 ft) to form an ice corridor 116.87 km (72 mi) long. The Batura, too, is 58 km in length. The most outstanding of these rivers of ice is the 62 km Baltoro. This large glacier, fed by some 30 tributaries, has a surface area of 1291.39 sq km.

Lakes

There are several high-altitude lakes in the Northern Areas.

  • Sheosar Lake in Deosai Plains
  • Satpara Lake in Skardu
  • Katchura Lake in Skardu
  • Borith Lake in upper Hunza
  • Rama Lake near Astore
  • Rush Lake near Nagar
  • Kromber Lake in Kromber Pass

Do

  • Karakoram Air Safari is the most scenic air journey starting from Islamabad by Pakistan International Airlines.
  • Mountaineering, Trekking and Hiking: The area is ideal for mountaineering, trekking and hiking. Permission for mountaineering and trekking for restricted zone is issued by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of Pakistan, Pakistan Sports Complex, Kashmir Highway, Aabpara, Islamabad (Telephone: 92-51-9203509). Fishing permits are issued by the Fisheries Department at Gilgit and Skardu.
  • Fishing: at Satpara Lake (8km) and Kachura Lake 932km) from Skardu abound in trout. Fishing permits are issued by the Fisheries Department.
  • Flora & Fauna: Roses, lilies, pansies, willow, pine and fir trees are found in abundance. Apples, apricots, peaches, plums mulberry, walnuts and grapes are available from June to October and almonds from October to March.
  • Wildlife: Baltistan boasts of wildlife like Markhors, ibexes, snow leopards and birds, namely Chakors, partridges and ducks. Most of the animals and birds are protected but limited shooting is allowed. Hunting permits are issued by the local administration.
  • Biking
  • Eco tours at different National parks
  • Skiing
  • Polo Attend Shandur Polo festival

Eat

Most of the top end restaurants are located in Hotels.

  • Cafe De Hunza is located in Hunza Valley
  • Pagoda Restaurant, offers a sumptuous Chinese cuisine. The Pagoda is on an island amidst the Honeymoon Lake linked to the Shangrila Resort by a short bridge.
  • The Lake View Restaurant gives a panoramic view of the Shangrila Resort and offers Pakistani and Continental cuisine.
  • Tandoori Village offers a taste of ancient old recipes, Chicken Tikka, Seekh Kababs, Mutton Tikkas, Grilled Fish with home made tandoori rooti. Enjoy the out door feast under the stars in a traditional atmosphere.
  • Cafe DC-3 This code name of orginal DC-3 Aircraft was Alph Alpha Foxtrot (AAF) . This unique cafe is one of its kind. Situated in an airplane, which crash landed on the riverbed and was brought to the present site in the 50's. It offers a variety of snacks and cabin crew hospitality

Drink

Bars are located in most of the top end hotels.

Avoid drinking tap water. Locals usually drinks water coming from a stream, but that can be unsafe for some people due to its minerals which may not suite you. So only drink bottled water, which is easily available all over.

Sleep

  • Hunza Baltit inn in Hunza Valley
  • Serena Hotel in Gilgit
  • Shangrila Resort in Skardu Valley
  • Shigar Fort Residence in Skardu Valley
  • K2 Motel, located in Skardu.

Stay safe

Security wise, the Northern Areas is considered to be one of the safest regions under Pakistani control, but some parts of it are off-limits to tourists, especially the buffer zone along the "Line of Control" that divides the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled parts of Kashmir. District Head quarter hospitals are present in Gilgit, Skardu, Khaplu (Ghache District), Chilas (Diamer), Ghazin (Gahkuch).

Contact

Mobile services are available in the area.

Emergency Numbers

  • Chief Secretary, Northern Areas Tel: (92-0572) 2501
  • Deputy Commissioner Tel: (92-0572) 2521
  • I.G. Police Tel: (92-0572) 2403
  • A.I.G. Tel: (92-0572) 2366
  • S.S.P. Tel: (92-0572) 2502
  • Airport Police Station el: (92-0572) 3266
  • Special Branch Police el: (92-0572) 3356
  • Intelligence Bureau Police Tel: (92-0572)2496
  • PIA Booking Tel: (92-0572) 3390
  • PIA Tower Tel: (92-0572) 3947
  • Airport Manager Tel: (92-0572) 2333

Get out

By road

To China: Thrice-weekly bus service was scheduled to begin crossing the border from Gilgit, Northern Areas, to Kashgar, China, and road widening work was scheduled for 600 kilometres of the Karakoram Highway. There were also plans for one daily bus in each direction between Sust and Taxkorgan in the border areas of the two countries.

To Islamabad: Via the Karakoram Highway, popularly known as the Silk Road.

By plane

Pakistan International Airlines offers daily flights between Gilgit Airport and Islamabad International Airport. The flying time is approximately 50 minutes, and the flight is one of the most scenic flights in the world, as its route passes over Nanga Parbat, with the peak of the mountain being higher than the aircraft's cruising altitude. PIA also offers regular flights on Boeing 737s between Skardu and Islamabad. All flights, however, are subject to weather clearance, and in winters, flights are often delayed by several days.

 

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