Best Places to visit in Gilgit-Baltistan and the Northern Areas of Pakistan
Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly known as the Northern Areas of Pakistan, might just be one of the most captivating regions in all of South Asia.
Gilgit-Baltistan is home to three mountain ranges, numerous lakes and rivers, glaciers galore and five of the world’s eight-thousanders (peaks over 8,000m), so there’s no end to the beautiful places to visit in Gilgit-Baltistan, but let’s try to identify the best ones!
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The Hunza valley is the gateway so some of the best places to visit in Gilgit Baltistan, and is pretty cool place to base yourself in when exploring this part of the Northern areas of Pakistan. Karimabad, its capital is home to some hotels, accommodation options and restaurants whilst Duiker (Eagle’s Nest) Viewpoint offers spectacular views across the Hunza Valley.
The Altit and Baltit forts are also located in the Hunza valley; indeed, Baltit Fort is in Karimabad itself. The forts were the summer and winder residences of the royal family and the views from the forts, especially Baltit, which is located at a higher altitude, are mind-blowing.
Attabad lake has to be one of the most beautiful places to visit in Gilgit-Baltistan, besides being one of the best places to visit in Pakistan itself. It was formed just over a decade ago in the aftermath of a landslide, and has since, become a very popular spot in the Hunza Valley!
Fairy Meadows National Park
I have to say that my experience of the Fairy Meadows was not amazing since I was there on the last day of the season and almost all the accommodation options were closed – it was far too cold to do anything but try warm up besides the shelter of a hot fire!
Visiting during the right season seems to be a pretty remarkable experience though! It should be noted that getting to the Fairy Meadows involves riding a jeep along what is known to be the second most dangerous road in the world (which is then followed by a 3-hour uphill hike), and I thought that was pretty cool, even if the actual Fairy Meadows left me quite cold (literally).
No doubt that the view from the Fairy Meadows across to Nanga Parbat mountain is one of the most beautiful in all of Pakistan, though it was all pretty much grey and white when I was there in the beginning of November. Most of the accommodation options in the Fairy Meadows consist of unheated wooden cabins, which are very pretty to look at, and no doubt are great in the summer, but a lot less great in the wintertime!
There are some hiking trails around the Fairy Meadows, most notably one to Nanga Parbat basecamp but again, we only went on a short hike in the woods during our time there (besides the actual hike to the Fairy Meadows itself) since everything was pretty much frozen over. I’m pretty convinced that I really should go back to the Fairy Meadows in the summertime, since I get the feeling that I’ve missed out on the beauty of one of Pakistan’s prime destinations!
The Karakoram Highway spans across the mountain range of the same name and connects Pakistan to China. It is the world’s highest paved international road in the world and offers some pretty epic views along the mountains!
The KKH provides access to several of the most beautiful places to visit in Pakistan, but is itself a noteworthy attraction in the Northern areas of Pakistan.
The Khunjerab Pass
The Khunjerab Pass is one of the most fascinating places to visit in Gilgit-Baltistan because it is the world’s highest international border between Pakistan and China and is in fact located on the Karakoram Highway.
A most interesting attraction here is the world’s highest ATM which was covered in ice at the end of October, so we skidded and slipped around as we tried to take a picture there! Since the border was closed due to Covid in 2021, we couldn’t get to close to the China side, but we were pretty stunned by the natural, snowy, bleak beauty and the vastness of the mountainous area.
Although Passu is actually located in Hunza, I have included it in a dedicated section, since the Passu Cones, the Passu Bridge and the Passu Glacier all deserve a special mention, making Passu one of the best places to visit in Gilgit-Baltistan and the Northern areas of Pakistan.
The Passu Cones are a series of peaks, visible from the Karakorum Highway. There are several photo stops along the highway from where to get a good view and snap of the Cones!
The Passu Bridge, or Hussaini suspension bridge, spans across a river (which was very gentle during our visit in November) connecting the Karakorum highway to the mountainside. I had a great time jumping from one plank to the other, but it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted or those with a fear of heights, since some of the planks a little wide apart. It’s good fun to see locals almost running across the bridge as though the planks are non-existent though!
The Passu Glacier is accessible via 45-minute walk from the highway; it’s perfectly possible to get very close to it. There are different viewpoints along the trek to the glacier, and we only made it to the first one, since it was getting late and we had been told that the other viewpoints further on are not very different to the that at the first stop anyway. The views of the mountains along the hike are almost as good as those of the glacier itself!
The Cold Desert
The town of Skardu is a great place from where to explore the Baltistan area of the Northern Areas of Pakistan, with quite a few natural attractions around, one of the closest being the Cold Desert or Katpana Desert.
The sand dunes are lovely, especially during sunset time! You can walk up to admire the great views from the top of the sand dunes. The feeling I got here is very different to other deserts I’ve experienced such as the Sahara, or the Varzaneh desert in Iran, mainly because you’re surrounded by tall snowy mountains the whole time! Surely a worthwhile attraction to put on your list of places to visit in Gilgit-Baltistan!
Phander Lake and Valley
Phander Lake and Valley are sure two of the most beautiful places to visit in Gilgit-Baltistan, with the views over Phander Valley and walks by Phander Lake being pretty epic!
I was there towards the end of the tourist seasons and whilst that ensured that there was almost no one around, and we had most of the area to ourselves, it also meant that most places and restaurants were closed, so that we didn’t stay there too long – long enough to take in these spectacular vistas though!
Deosai National Park
Deosai Plateau is the second highest in the world and home to the gem that is Sheosar Lake. The area is surrounded by huge mountains and is very popular with tourists especially in the spring when the flowers are in full bloom! Easily one of the best places to visit in Gilgit-Baltistan!
Blind Lake / Zharba Tso (near Shigar Valley)
Blind lake was a favourite of mine when exploring Gilgit-Baltistan. After passing though a sandy area, you’re greeted by large boulders which are fun to climb! When climbing the boulders, you will get your first view of the lovely lake surrounded by snowy mountains mirrored in the water. What’s not to love?!Read more about Pakistan!