Skardu Town as seen from the Skardu Fort
|Elevation||2,226 m (7,303 ft)|
|Time zone||PST (UTC+5:00)|
|• Summer (DST)||GMT+5:00 (UTC)|
Skardu (Urdu: سکردو, Balti: སྐརདུ་་ from Tibetan (Balti): skar rdo སྐར་རྡོ་ — "star stone, meteorite") is a town and capital of Skardu District, in Gilgit–Baltistan, Pakistan. Skardu is in the 10 kilometres (6 miles) wide by 40 kilometres (25 miles) long Skardu Valley, at the confluence of the Indus and the Shigar River. Skardu is at an altitude of nearly 2,500 m (8,200 ft). The town is surrounded by grey-brown coloured mountains, which hide the 8,000 metre peaks of the nearby Karakoram range. There are three lakes in the vicinity: Upper Kachura lake, Lower Kachura Lake, and Sadpara Lake.
The first mention of Skardu dates to the first half of the 16th century. Mirza Haidar (1499-1551) described in his in the forties of the 16th century wrote Tarikh-i-Rashidi Baltistan and called Askardu as one of the districts of this country. With the conquest of Kashmir in 1586 by the Mughal Emperor Akbar (1556-1605) were starting with Ali Sher Khan Anchan, the kings of Skardu mentioned as ruler of Little Tibet in the historiography of the Mughal Empire. These are, in particular, histories of Al-Badaoni, Abu'l Fazl, 'Abdu-l Hamid Lahori, Saqi Must'ad Khan and Inayat Khan.
The first mention of Skardu in a European literary work of Frenchman François Bernier (1625-1688). Bernier was a physician and world traveler who reached India in 1659 and 1663 in the wake of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (1658-1707) traveled to Kashmir. In 1670, publishing his travel experiences, he describes the encounter with a King of Little Tibet — these related to Murad Khan — and mentions Eskerdou (= Skardu) as one of the places of Baltistan. After this mention of Little Tibet and Skardu through the country, Little Tibet and Skardu were quickly shot into the Asia maps produced in Europe. Skardu was first mentioned as Eskerdow the map "Indiae orientalis nec non insularum adiacentium nova descriptio" by Nicolaes Visscher II, published 1680-1700, and the first recorded Baltistan as Tibet Minor.
Skardu is in the 10 kilometres (6 miles) wide by 40 kilometres (25 miles) long Skardu Valley, at the confluence of the Indus river (flowing from near Kailash in Tibet and through neighbouring Ladakh before reaching Baltistan) and the Shigar River. It is at an altitude of nearly 2,500 m (8,200 ft). The town is surrounded by grey-brown coloured mountains, which hide the 8,000 metre peaks of the nearby Karakoram range.
Skardu, along with Gilgit, are the two major tourism, trekking and expedition hubs in Gilgit–Baltistan. The mountainous terrain of the region, including four of the world's 14 Eight-thousander peaks (8,000 m and above), attracts the attention of tourists, trekkers and mountaineers from around the world. The main tourist season is from April to October; except this time, the area can be cut off for extended periods by the snowy, freezing winter weather.
Accessible from Skardu by road, the nearby Askole and Hushe are the main gateways to the snow covered 8,000 m peaks including K2, the Gasherbrums, Broad Peak, the Trango Towers, and to the huge glaciers of Baltoro, Biafo and Trango. This makes Skardu the main tourist and mountaineering base in the area, which has led to the development of a reasonably extensive tourist infrastructure including shops and hotels. However, the popularity of the region results in high prices, especially during the main trekking season.
Treks to the Deosai Plains, the second highest in the world at 4,114 metres (13,497 ft) above sea level, after the Chang Tang in Tibet, either start from or end at Skardu. In local Balti language, Deosai is called Byarsa, meaning 'summer place'. With an area of approximately 3,000 square kilometres (1,158 sq mi), the plains extend all the way to Ladakh and provide habitat for snow leopards, ibex, Tibetan blue bears and wild horses.
Climate and geology
The climate of Skardu during the summer is moderated by its mountain setting; the intense heat of lowland India does not reach it. The mountains block out the summer monsoon, and summer rainfall is thus quite low. However, these mountains result in very severe winter weather. During the April-to-October tourist season, temperatures vary between a maximum of 27 °C (81 °F) and a minimum (in October) 8 °C (46 °F).
Temperatures can drop to below −10 °C (14 °F) in the December-to-January midwinter period. The lowest recorded temperature was −24.1 °C (−11 °F) on 7 January 1995.
The Shigar River is a tributary to the Indus River, joining at the town of Skardu. The Basha and Braldu rivers are northern tributaries of the Shigar. Numerous complex granitic pegmatites and a few alpine-cleft metamorphic deposits are found in the Shigar Valley and its tributaries. Shigar Valley contains the Main Karokoram Thrust separating the metasediments (chlorite to amphibolite grade) on the Asian plate from the southern volcanoclastic rocks of the Kohistan-Ladakh island arc.
|Climate data for Skardu|
|Average high °C (°F)||7.6
|Average low °C (°F)||−1.9
|Rainfall mm (inches)||11.8
Skardu is accessible by two methods, road or air. The normal road route into Skardu is via the Karakorum Highway and a linkroad into the Skardu Valley from it. There are four or five other road links to Kashmir and Ladakh. Alternatively, there are normally one or two flights daily between Skardu Airport and Islamabad. The high cost of air travel means that travel via the Karakorum Highway and the link road onward to the Skardu Valley is often the preferred option of locals and tourists alike.
A famous all-weather road, the Kargil-Skardu road linked Skardu with Kargil, a city in Ladakh. Since the annexation of Gilgit Baltistan by Pakistan, the road has been closed. Whilst the Indian government has been interested in opening the road as a humanitarian gesture, this initiative has been refused by the Pakistani government.
The climate can have adverse effects on transport in and out of the Skardu Valley, as Skardu becomes snowbound during the winter months. The roads in and out of Skardu (and other Northern Areas locations) can be blocked for weeks at a time depending on conditions (though two to five days is more normal), sometimes leaving air travel as the only feasible alternative. However, air travel in winter is also subject to disruption due to the unreliable Skardu weather. Flights can occasionally be delayed by several days.
The Satpara Dam development project on the Satpara Lake was inaugurated in 2003. It was expected to be completed in December 2006; now the development work will be completed in December 2013. It is 6 km (4 mi) south of Skardu city and is at an altitude of 8,700 feet (2,700 m) from mean sea level. The main source of water is melting ice of the Deosai plains during the summer season. Now Satpara Dam provides drinking water to the whole city of Skardu and agricultural water to major areas of Skardu, for example Gayoul, Newrangha, Khlangranga, Shigari khurd, etc.
It is a multipurpose project, which will produce 17.36 megawatts hydro generation, irrigate 15,000 acres (61 km2) of land and provide 13 cusecis drinking water daily to Skardu city. 
Skardu Fort (Kharphocho Fort)
Skardu Fort or Kharphocho Fort lies on the eastern face of the Khardrong or Mindoq-Khar ("Castle of Queen Mindoq") hill 15 metres or 40 feet (12 m) above Skardu town. The fort dates from the 8th century CE and contains an old mosque probably dating back to the arrival of Islam in the 16th century CE. The fort provides a panoramic view of Skardu town, the Skardu valley and the Indus River. It was built by Rmakpon dynasty rulers of Baltistan. It was a seven-storey building. Mostly local people say that Kharpoocho is made by a ghost as they were servants of the ruler of that time.
Kharphocho (Skardu) fort was built on a design similar to that of Leh Palace and the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. The name Kharpochhe means the great fort — Khar in Tibetan means castle or fort and Chhe means great.
Located on the route to the world’s second highest mountain, K-2, is Shigar Fort. It is also known as Fong-Khar, which in the local language means the “Palace on the Rock”. The complex at Shigar comprises the 400-year-old fort/palace and two more recent buildings: the "Old House" and the "Garden House". The former palace of the Raja of Shigar has been transformed into a 20-room heritage guesthouse, with the grand audience hall serving as a museum of Balti culture and featuring select examples of fine wood-carvings, as well as other heritage objects.
Lakes near Skardu
There are three lakes in the vicinity of Skardu. In local Balti-Tibetan language, a lake is a thso or tso.
There are two Kachura Lakes — the less well-known Upper Kachura lake and the more famous Lower Kachura Lake, better known as Shangrila Lake. Lower Katsura Lake is home to the Shangrila Resort hotel complex (possibly the reason for the lake's alternative name), built in a Chinese style and another popular destination for tourists in Pakistan. The resort has a unique restaurant, set up inside the fuselage of an aircraft that crashed nearby. Kachura Lake 18m from Skardu. Kachura Lake is famous for its deep blue waters. There are numerous places to visit and things to do near Kachura Lake, near Skardu in the northern area.
Satpara Lake is Skardu Valley's main lake. In 2002, the government of India decided to build a dam on the Satpara Lake allocating $10 million to the project, in 2004. Progress has, however, been slow. Satpara Lake is 6 miles (9.7 km) from Skardu. Satpara Lake is one of the largest fresh water lakes in the countryside offering trout fishing and row boating. This lake is the source of Skardu's drinking water. The dam was mostly completed in 2011 and four powerhouse units are operational; the latest started operation in June 2013.
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- Petr 1999, p. 134.
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- Q. 368 Present status of Kargil to Skardu Road | Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
- Satpara Dam Project
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- piac.com.pk page about Northern Areas
- Famous Skardu-Kargil road
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- The Changing Northern Areas
- Photos from Skardu, Kachura Lake and Satpara Lake by Waqas Usman
- Photos from Skardu and Kachura Lake by Arif Khan
- Photos from Skardu and Kachura Lake by Asher Yaqub Khan
- Photos from Skardu by Ole Holbech