A mosaic of eastern and Asain cultures, Gilgit Valley sits at the foot of the majestic Karakoram Mountains. With the Gilgit River flowing through its center, this wide valley is home to sloping mountains, warm-hearted locals, and the historic Gilgit City.
Surrounded by craggy, wild mountains, Gilgit Valley is one of the best places to visit in Pakistan. Here, perfectly clear skies meet the land along a horizon of rugged mountain peaks, and lush green vegetation blankets the valley floor. The broad valley seems to make way for Gilgit River’s path as it winds through towns, villages, and the city of Gilgit itself. North-west of the valley, the imposing Karakoram mountains stand proud, their peaks capped with glimmering snow.
There’s a diverse mixture of cultures to discover here, a complex blend that mirrors the region’s history. Before it became part of Pakistan, the region was a princely state ruled by a raja (prince). It’s a cultural mosaic, formed by the past and the communities that have migrated from the various parts of the wider Gilgit-Baltistan region, all living together in harmony.
Explore relics of both the Buddhist era and British rule to learn more about the region’s heritage, wander through old markets and unravel the history of the Silk Route, and take an awe-inspiring journey along the Karakoram Highway with its hairpin bends and sheer drop-offs.
Dating back to the 7th century, the Kargah Buddha is an ancient wonder. Etched into the cliff face in the valley of Kargah Nala, the carving of the Buddha speaks to the region’s Buddhist history. The Kargah Nala area is also perfect for hiking and enjoying the crystal clear water of Kargah River as it collides with the rocks along its banks.
Just an hour’s drive away from Gilgit city, you’ll find Nalter Valley. The valley is a paradise of breathtaking nature and is one of the best tourist places to visit in Pakistan. At an elevation of 15,348 feet, it’s covered with thick, green forest. In summer, hike to the five vibrantly coloured lakes – Blue, Green, Halima, Bado and Satrangi Lakes – and wander fields of wildflowers. In winter, the valley becomes a ski resort, with slopes that are famous for winter sports in Pakistan.
Just a one and half hour drive away from Gilgit city is the majestic Bagrote Valley. With snow-capped mountains as the backdrop, the valley floor is blanketed in green meadows and adorned with lush trees and shrubs. Two of the most popular sites to explore in Bagrote are Farfo village and Chirah valley. Farfo is an old settlement with scattered traditional mud and stone houses. Time travel to the Bagrote’s past through folklores and direct interaction with indigenous communities. Bagrote is also home to Mir Salim khan’s Biyaak. Visit the place of residence of Mir Salim khan, former Mir of Hunza, while he was in exile in Bagrote. Chirah has glacier and is at 4000meters above sea level. It is an ideal place to trek and camp. Hike to the glacier and enjoy a starry night around a crackling bonfire. Both Farfo and Chirah are at a distance of about 10kms, approx. 30 min drive in between.
One of the gems of Gilgit city is the Gilgit Bazaar. With Gilgit being a significant junction of the old silk route, its Bazaar still offers a myriad of merchandise for travellers, from authentic foods to locally mined gemstones and jewellery. The bustling market is lined with pickups and coaches decorated in traditional truck art, shops that spill out onto the path selling their wares and restaurants offering up delicious traditional cuisines. The market is one of the best places to visit in northern Pakistan. Not only is it the perfect place to discover some of the region’s rich heritage, visitors can also pick up traditional souvenirs here, including hats, dresses and Cashmere shawls.
Discover the beautiful Astore in Gilgit-Baltistan. Astore is a valley known for its beautiful scenery and simple charm. Astore has an altitude of 2600 meters and 250 square kilometers of glaciers. It is located at the eastern face of Nanga Parbat, the Killer Mountain and links to Skardu, Diamer, Gilgit and from the south to Kashmir. One can access Astore from Gilgit. It takes 2.5 hours to reach the main city of Astore. There are a range of places that one can visit in Astore. Rama Lake and meadows where one simply goes in awe of nature. Two other stunning places to visit in Astore are Minimarg and Domail. In Minimarg and Domail, the mountains are green too and the breathtaking views are in all directions. The crown of this region is Rainbow Lake in Domail, which is so called because of its changing colours depending on the time of day. Perhaps, the most notable part in Astore Valley is the Deosai Plateau. This the 2nd highest plateau in the world. Deosai Plains has been given the status of a National Park for the protection of its flora and fauna. Deosai, meaning ‘Land of the Giants’ is home to the endangered Himalayan brown bear, red fox, gray wolf, golden marmot, ibex and snow leopard along with multiple species of birds and sweeps upon sweeps of wildflowers. Astore itself provides different activities for tourists such as camping, trekking, fishing, and even adventure sports such as skiing for which Rattu in Astore is particularly known for. Travel across Astore and take in the beautiful sights for yourself! It will be a memorable experience in the Himalayas.
Fairy Meadows has an out worldly charm that allures both mountaineers and tourists alike. The meadows is situated in the shadow of the magnificent Nanga Parbat (killer Mountain) in Gilgit-Baltistan. The rolling mountain slopes with lush green grass, juniper trees surrounding the landscape and cute wooden cabins erected on the peripheries provide much-needed comfort and charm. In winters the area is only visited by mountaineering expeditions to summit Nanga Parbat but in summer the whole landscape transforms into a stunning retreat. Fairy Meadows is known for its view of enchanting sunset and sunrise on Nanga Parbat. Travelers can also enjoy Camping, bonfires at night, horse riding, and trekking. Fairy meadows can be reached from Gilgit city. It takes approx. 1 hr 30 min (78.1 km) from Gilgit city to reach Raikot Bridge on KKH and have to hire local jeeps to reach the meadows. Fairy meadows can be reached from Astore and takes around 2 hr from Astore (71.6km) on a jeepable road-the road is rough and precarious in some places. On the foot of fairy meadows, travelers have to either opt for horses/donkeys or on foot and the path is steep and tedious.
Ghizer valley is one of the best attraction to explore in Gilgit-Baltistan. Its beauty and tranquility are unparalleled. Ghizer valley has three main regions Yasin, Gupis and Ishkomin and each area have its unique beauty. Ghizer is known for its pristine azure river that runs parallel to the road and accompanies travelers throughout the journey. Yet another distinct identity of Ghizer is its Trout fish population. Nowadays many private firms also run fish farms in the area that caters to tourist’s needs. Phander is a serene valley filled with popular trees and an azure river running in the middle. Trout fish is abundant in Phander River. Phander valley can be reached from Gilgit city by road and takes around 5 hr (187.0 km) journey. Khalti Lake situated in Gupis Tehsil and takes a journey of just 1 hr 30 min journey from Ghakuch. Khalti Lake is surrounded by mountains of one side that provides a stunning backdrop to the sapphire lake. In winters the entire lake gets frozen and winter sports such as ice hockey, ice-skating, even food ball, and cricket are being played. Travel time from Gilgit city to Khalti Lake is 3 hr 34min (135.7 km). Ghakuch town is the commercial and the administrative hub of Ghizer offers many hotels and restaurants. Travelers can explore upper Ghakuch and the marshy area near Ghizer River. Adjacent to the river, it is a public park where tourists can relax and enjoy the surrounding vistas.
Gilgit is reachable by road or by air. The Karakoram Highway connects northern Pakistan, making it possible to reach Gilgit by road from Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad. The newly built Hazara Motorway has made the journey easier too, offering an all-weather bypass for the Karakoram Highway, which is bumpy and rough with renovation works underway in some places. In the summer, you can also travel by road along the Babusar Pass road. Amongst a plateau of over 3000 sq.km, Babusar Pass sits at an elevation of 4,173m. The pass can be reached from Khagan Valley and connects with the Karakoram Highway at Chilas via Thak Nala. Keep in mind that the pass is only open in the summer season, from June to October. Whether you take the bus from Islamabad or rent a car and take it at your own pace, the drive is an experience in and of itself. With breathtaking views over northern Pakistan’s stunning landscapes, it’s the perfect introduction to the region. Another option is to fly from Islamabad by Gilgit. The journey by plane is much quicker and still offers up some incredible views of the ever-changing landscapes from above. Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) operate flights to Gilgit city from Islamabad daily. The flights are relatively cheap but do keep in mind that the weather in Gilgit-Baltistan is unpredictable and flights do get cancelled or delayed if the weather is bad.
Novroz is celebrated across the Gilgit-Baltistan region on the 21st of March each year. The event stems from the area’s Central Asain influence as many counties across Central Asia celebrate the beginning of spring as according to the Persian calendar. Novroz comes at the time when the frost starts to lift in Gilgit, and the celebration is all about the rejuvenation of living beings. Locals offer prayers to God for His bounties and wish for a happy and abundant year ahead.
On the 21st of December, Gilgit commemorates the death of the last Buddhist Cannibal Raja of Gilgit. The ceremony is celebrated with locals lighting a huge communal bonfire in the evening, dancing around the fire and singing chants
On the 21st of March, each family’s elders piggyback the children born on the same year and dance to local music. A myriad of delicious local dishes are prepared for the celebration, including popcorn, roasted apricot nuts and wheat, and fried flatbreads. The roasted nuts and wheat are mixed with sweets and showered over children chanting prayers.
Chapshuru, a dish consisting of flatbread and seasoned meat, is another popular dish in the Gilgit region. Two flatbreads are rolled out; one is spread with minced meat (usually beef or mutton) that’s been cooked with onions and spices, then topped with the other plain flatbread. The two breads are then tightly bound together around their edges before being baked on a low heat. The cooked meat-filled bread is then served with local walnut or apricot oil.
A dish that stems from the region’s Asain influence, Munttu are tasty dumplings stuffed with minced meat (either beef or mutton), onions and herbs. The meat mixture is separated into dumpling-sized portions then wrapped with thin dough and steamed on low heat until cooked. Due to the influence of Chinese and Central Asian cuisine, Munttu is widely popular in the Gilgit region.
Asghar Shah combines the delicious flavours of spinach and fried onions. Onions are fried until golden then spinach is added and cooked down. Green chillies are also added to give the dish a kick and enhance the flavour even further. Once cooked, Asghar Shah is often served with freshly baked flatbread.
Enjoyed across the Gilgit-Baltistan region, Gooli is a type of thin pancake. The pancakes are made from either whole wheat or buckwheat flour and covered in walnut or apricot oil once cooked. If you want to enjoy it like a local, try it alongside a cup of salted tea for a warming breakfast.
A delicious combination of bread and spinach, Hoi lo Gurma is full of flavour. Spinach is cooked in a broth to add deep flavour, then thin roti bread is added to the pan. As the mixture thickens with the bread and the broth cooks down, it’s ready to be served with a delicious topping of butter and spring onions.
● Time Zone: Pakistan Standard Time.
● Language: Shina is the major language spoken and understood, and Burushaski, Khuwar and Wakhi are also spoken. Urdu and English are also widely spoken and/or understood.
● Religion: Muslim. The majority of the local population follow Asna Ashari Shia Islam and Sunni Islam.
The best time to visit Gilgit Valley is from April to October. Like much of northern Pakistan, Gilgit’s winters are harshly cold, with unpredictable weather. Summer, on the other hand, sees very hot days with little respite in the evenings. In fact, Gilgit Valley is one of the warmest areas in Gilgit-Baltistan. Spring arrives early here, with beautiful flowers starting to bloom at the beginning of March. Whilst it’s possible to visit in the summer, spring and autumn offer up the perfect time to discover Gilgit Valley. Vibrant, colourful trees await, with local fruits ready to be enjoyed in the autumn, including fresh figs, apples, pears and grapes.
The region of Gilgit-Baltistan lies in the north of Pakistan. It borders China, India, Azad Kashmir, and the Pakistan province of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa.
As well as the chance to take in the beautiful surroundings and get to know friendly locals, Gilgit city boasts a number of cultural gems. Stroll through the Gilgit bazaar and see what local treasures you can find, relax in the historic Chinar Bagh garden, visit the Karakoram International University and walk the twin bridges over the roaring Gilgit River.
Outside the city, visit stunning valleys, like Bagrote Valley and Naltar Valley, and discover the region’s Buddhist history while visiting intriguing sites, like the 17th century Kargah Buddha that’s etched into the cliff wall.
There are a number of great hotels in and around Gilgit. Why not take a look at PakVoyager's hand-picked selection of Gilgit hotels?
If you come to Gilgit in search of the best shopping, head straight to Gilgit Bazaar. You’ll find all sorts of treasures here, like locally mined gemstones and jewelry, dried fruit, Chinese crockery, silk, chiffon, and local handicrafts.
If you opt to drive to Gilgit from Islamabad, you’ll likely want to take the Karakoram Highway. This iconic road is one of Pakistan’s most astounding gems. A feat of engineering, it’s one of the highest paved roads in the world and is an attraction in itself. You can expect some pretty electrifying views along the way, with the road’s hairpin bends and high altitude position offering up some unique perspectives over northern Pakistan’s mountains landscapes, glaciers, and rivers.
Another place to look out for on your journey to Gilgit is Babusar Pass. As you near Gilgit, take the Babusar Pass road to the high mountain pass that sits at an elevation of 4,173m on a huge plateau. With views over snow and cloud-topped mountain peaks, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d made it to heaven.
The Gilgit Baltistan region has a number of delicious traditional dishes to try. Why not start with some bread, like Choppati, a simple round flatbread? For a more hearty dish, try Chapshuru, flatbreads filled with seasoned meat and Hoi lo Gurma, spinach, and roti bread cooked in a flavorsome broth. The region also boasts some traditional pancakes, like Gooli, a thin pancake made from buckwheat or whole wheat that’s covered in walnut or apricot oil once cooked.