By Sikander Hayat
Skardu is located in the Skardu Valley at the confluence of the Indus River and the Shigar River. Skardu is situated at an altitude of nearly 2,500 m. 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 fourteen (8,000 m and above) peaks, attracts the attention of tourists, trekkers and mountaineers from around the world. The main tourist season is from April to October; except this time period, 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 and the Trango Towers, and also 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.
The climate of Skardu during the summer is moderated by its mountain setting and the intense heat of lowland Pakistan does not reach here. The mountains also 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). However, temperatures can drop to below −10 °C (14 °F) in the December-to-January midwinter period. Basha and Braldu rivers are northern tributaries of the Shigar.Skardu is accessible by two methods, road or air. The normal road route into Skardu is via the Karakorum Highway and a link road into the Skardu Valley from it. There are also four or five other road links to Kashmir and Ladakh. The climate can have adverse effects on transport in and out of the Skardu Valley, as Skardu becomes snowbound during the winter months. Often the roads in and out of Skardu (and other Gilgit Baltistan 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 andflights can occasionally be delayed by several days.The Satpara Dam development project on the Satpara Lake was inaugurated in 2003 and 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 dam will pond the water about 90,000 acres (1.2×109 ft). The main source of water is melting ice of the Deosai plains during the summer season. Now satpara dam provide drinking water to 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 also provide 13 cusecis drinking water daily to Skardu city. 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 and contains an old mosque probably dating back to the arrival of Islam in the 16th Century. The fort provides a panoramic view of Skardu town, the Skardu valley and the Indus River.Shigar Fort is located on the route to the world’s second highest mountain K-2. 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.