The Indus barely seems to move across the immense, flat Skardu Valley, 40km long, 10km wide and carpeted with silvery grey sand dunes. In between dust storms the land seems cleansed and freeze-dried, and the light is intense. The brown mountains give no hint of the white giants beyond. Skardu, at 2290m, is on a ledge at the foot of Karpochu, a rock sticking 300m out of the plain.
The town has been a mountaineers’ haunt for over 150 years, and a military headquarters since Partition, but it’s also the base for many classic Karakoram treks and even some good day trips. Midsummer is prime mountaineering season, when jeeps and hotel space may be hard to find. Walking and trekking can be pleasant even in October, when prices start to fall and the weather is clear and cold. From November to March, temperatures drop to freezing.
Hotels get booked out in the second week of August, when Skardu hosts a big tournament of Baltistan’s polo teams to celebrate Pakistan’s Independence Day.