At an elevation of 7,500 ft/2,300 m, this scenic but stark area has some of the world's highest mountains, lakes and glaciers—an ideal place to trek and relax in a cool climate. Attractions include the Karpochu Fort (great views) and Lake Satpara, as well as the somewhat arduous but interesting and scenic trip to the Shigar Valley, about 45 mi/72 km away. Travelers who make it that far will be rewarded with a view of the Braldu Glacier, lovely fruit orchards (peaches, pears, apples and apricots) and the chance to buy local embroidery and pattu (handwoven cloth). Near Lake Satpara is a large Buddha carved from a single rock. One of the world's most productive aquamarine mines is outside of Skardu; topaz and beautiful examples of crystal quartz are plentiful, too. Skardu is also the starting point for treks to K2 mountain and the Baltoro Glacier. (All permits for Baltoro must be acquired in advance through the Pakistan Tourist Development Corporation in Islamabad.)

We suggest a minimum of two nights in this area, more if you're planning to hike. Travel with a reliable guide, and keep in mind that travel permits are difficult to obtain. The best time to visit is April-October. The 30-minute flight from Islamabad to Skardu is one of the most spectacular that we've ever experienced. Operated only on clear days, the flight almost always affords a magnificent view of K2 and the ominous peaks of the Baltoro Glacier. (Because operations are subsidized, the flight is also one of the best bargains in Central Asia.) 185 mi/300 km northeast of Islamabad.

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