The junction point of three mountain ranges is situated near Jaglot on the Karakoram Highway (KKH), only 40 km southeast of Gilgit, Pakistan. It is here that the world’s three famous mountain ranges – the Karakoram (the black gravel), the Himalaya (home of snow), and the Hindukush (the killer of Hindus) – make a knot popularly known as the “Junction Point of the world’s three mountain ranges”. This exclusive site also serves as the junction of Gilgit and Indus Rivers and the Skardu road branches out from the KKH near this place.
The junction point is a venue of interest due to its unique geographic significance, not only in Pakistan but in the entire world. Pakistan is the only country where the world’s three renowned mountain ranges meet with their respective highest peaks recorded top of the list in their respective range and famous in the entire world as Nanga Parbat, K-2, and Terich Mir. These three major mountain ranges are the sub-ranges of the great Himalayas known as trans-Himalayas.
While standing at the junction point, it is easy to outline the direction of these mountain ranges. The Himalayan range is located to the south and east of Indus River. The Karakorum range stretches towards the northeast of Gilgit River. To the west of Gilgit / Indus River is the Hindu-Kush range.
Unique in many aspects, the Karakoram Range with a length of about 500km covers the borders between Pakistan, India, and China, in the regions of Gilgit-Baltistan (Pakistan), Ladakh (India), and Xinjiang region, (China). It is home to the highest concentration of peaks in just a radius of 160 km which are higher than 5,500 m and more than 100 in numbers including the second highest peak in the world, K-2(at 8,611m). The Karakoram Range is the most heavily glaciated part of the world outside the Polar Regions including some of the longest glaciers in the world such as Siachen, Batura, Baltoro, Biafo, Hisper, Gondogoro, Chogolisa etc.
Likewise, the Himalayan range is home to the 2nd highest peak in Pakistan- Nanga Parbat (8,126m), notoriously known as the killer mountain. Pakistan makes up the western anchor of the Great Himalayas and covers the Astor District dominated by Nanga Parbat massif and parts of Kashmir. The Great Himalayan Range spreads over 2400 km across Pakistan, Nepal, and India. Mount Everest (8,848 m), the world’s highest mountain peak, is in Nepal.
The Hindu Kush Range covers nearly 9600km long looming with its own wonders. It is mostly hosting smaller peaks most of them less than 7,500 m high. This range encompasses the peaks of Ghizer, Yasin and Ishkoman valleys of Pakistan and reaches the Queen of Chitral, Terich Mir, at 7,708 meters in the district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The range further stretches from the Pamirs to Iran.
A brief stopover at this point is mandatory to get educated about this exclusive site. This unique venue also offers a magnificent panorama of the entire zone from the confluence of Gilgit & Indus Rivers to the stretch of the mountain ranges bowing here to make a junction.
There is local folklore attached to the junction point which is discussed even today that this site used to be the abode of Jinns and fairies. It was said that at the confluence of the rivers the water was used by these supernatural creatures for drinking and taking bath.
An elevated prominent platform accessible by stairs has been erected on the edge of the Karakoram Highway that gives a 360-degree view of the entire region and pictorial information on the coordinates of the mountain. There is enough parking space created for vehicles and informative signboards have been displayed providing important details on the venue.
Unfortunately, not so many – both from within the country and from abroad – seem aware about the significance of this fascinating piece of land. Many tourists (mostly domestic or those travelling by public transport or even those who pass this place in the odd hours/in darkness) just pass by without noticing it and miss the opportunity to see it. However, many international tourists make it a vital part of their itinerary well before getting to the venue.
Best Time to Visit
The Karakoram Highway remains opened year-round and one can visit or pass by this site any time of the year. However, the best time to visit Gilgit-Baltistan is from March till November as winters are quite freezing and hard to bear in the region.
Rakaposhi is a famous mountain peak in the Karakoram mountain range of Pakistan, to be exact, standing arrogantly in the Nagar valley of Gilgit-Baltistan with Bagrot and Danyore in the background. It is the 27th highest and most amazing mountain in the world and ranked as 12th highest in Pakistan. Rakaposhi means “Snow Covered” and is locally called Bilchhar Dumani (“Mother of Mist” or “Mother of Clouds”).
The first and most fabulous glimpse of Rakaposhi, while travelling from Gilgit to Hunza, is from the Karakoram Highway (KKH) opposite to Kino Kutto (“Black Knee” in local Shina language to denote the shape of the rocky mountain located between Chalt and Khizr Abad). This site is also called the view point of Rakaposhi but the major and famous view point is located in Ghulmet. The broader view of Rakaposhi, however, at this particular spot with Jaffarabad village in the backdrop is stunning and serves as a threshold to Hunza.
The scenic views of Rakaposhi from this point ahead along the whole course of KKH all the way to the Hunza valley are diverse. However, if travelling from the opposite side of the Hunza River, along with the valleys of lower Hunza or Shinaki (Khizr Abad, Hussainabad, Mayun, and Khanabad), one can have stunning faces of Rakaposhi in sight. From Khanabad, it is possible to make it again to the KKH in Ghulmet, almost 5 km short of the viewpoint. The view point in Ghulmet village is about 75 km from Gilgit and is a famous vacationer spot.
Rakaposhi is notable for its exceptional rise over a local terrain of 5900m in only 11.2 km horizontal distance from the Hunza-Nagar River. It is the only mountain peak in the world rises directly from the scenic cultivated fields. Rakaposhi is more prevalent for its excellence than its rank.
Rakaposhi was first ascended by Mike Banks and Tom Patey via the Southwest Spur/Ridge route in 1958. Both endured minor frostbite amid the climb. Another climber slipped and fell on the drop and died amid the night.
The people of Nagar have dedicated the Rakaposhi extend mountain region as a national park and was inaugurated by Minister for Northern Areas. The Rakaposhi mountain extend is the home of endangered species including Marco Polo sheep, Snow Leopard, wolves and several other different species.
Rakaposhi View Point or “the Zero Point of Rakaposhi” is a prominent viewpoint offering the closest view of Rakaposhi and the natural beauty lies in its scenery. This remarkable viewpoint is located right on the Karakoram Highway (KKH) in Ghulmet village of Nagar Valley.
The Karakoram Highway is not merely an asphalt line connecting Pakistan and China at the Khunjerab Pass; it is rather a highway crowned with a series of tourist attractions. These attractions include natural beauty, archaeological sites, cultural heritage and architectural wonders that lure tourists to make short stopovers and overnight stays to further explore these attractions. Rakaposhi View Point is one of such places bearing utmost natural beauty.
While travelling between Gilgit and Hunza, tourists make a must stopover at the Rakaposhi View Point, to relax and to enjoy the natural scenery in the shadow of Rakaposhi – the world’s 27th highest peak at 7,788 m. Small terraces along the water flowing down from the glacier have been created for tourists to sit, eat, and enjoy. During summers tourists enjoy sitting by, dipping feet in cold glacier water, and taking pictures of scenic views.
The Rakaposhi View Point was developed dramatically over the course of several years. The gradual rise in tourist influx lead to a steady increase in its prominence that further spurred development of infrastructure at the site. Major natural attractions at the site include the mountain itself, the glacier surrounded by greenery and the melting stream flowing down the site permitting the visitors to enjoy the scenery and breeze.
In the beginning, the Rakaposhi viewpoint was nothing more than a gift shop and a local food outlet to serve mostly local travellers. Steadily, the development of local businesses including gift shops, handicraft shops, tuck shops, restaurants, campsite and now tourist class accommodation has turned this place a full-fledged tourist attraction. A new road has been constructed giving close access to the glacier coming down from Rakaposhi and development of other tourist attractions is underway. There are chances that this site will turn to be a major tourist destination.
For tourists travelling between Gilgit and Hunza, this place is a great choice to stop by for a late and lavish breakfast or for an open-air lunch with great views. Chap-shuro, a kind of local pizza is the speciality of this place. One can order any kind of fresh local food at an affordable price. You will always get delicious food with personalized services.
The thrilling Shandur Polo Festival takes place at the Shandur polo ground located at 3734 m high altitude on the sharing border between Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Ghizer district of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan. The festival takes place every year from 7-9 July between the teams of Gilgit and Chitral attracting thousands of enthusiastic spectators to witness the game of kings and the king of games – the traditional freestyle Polo competition.
The version of Polo played here between the two arch-rivals is the form of Polo unique to this region and is never experienced elsewhere in the world. During the 3-day mega festival, domestic and international tourists, fervent supporters from Gilgit and Chitral, organizers, vendors, performers, Polo players, and their horses gather to create a makeshift village. There can be no battleground as spectacular as the lush ground of the Shandur Pass during the festival.
The Shandur Polo ground is ranked as the world’s highest Polo ground surrounded by mountain peaks and annexes a beautiful lake in the background which adds to the overall beauty and creates exciting activities for the tourists. The Polo ground is positioned in the midst of the pass measuring 200 m by 56 m (with 60 cm high stone wall running the length) as compared to conventional Polo field measuring 270 m by 150 m. Comparatively smaller in size, the field usually seems crowded for 12 players at a time. However, this limits the horses from long gallops on the high altitude.
With its history dating back to 6th century BC, Polo, an equestrian sport in Central Asia, used to be a training game for cavalry units of the king’s guards and other elite troops in Persia. Originally, Polo was played with as many as 100 players to a side, featuring a mini-battle. In the 6th century AD, it became the Persian national game and gradually spread to Arabia, Tibet, and China. In the year 910, the death of a favorite relative in a game in China incited Emperor Apao Chi ordered beheading of all players.
In South Asia, Polo was introduced in the 13th century by Muslim conquerors. Over the centuries, it adopted a more traditional version from that of a wild. The kind of Polo played today has six players to each side but still with no firm rules. That is why it is famously narrated “the rule is that there is no rule”. However, at Shandur, the only exception made was that six players to each side will play a one-hour thrilling match with only a 10-minute break because of the high altitude. The break is revived with a traditional dance performance. The maximum goal securer within the stipulated amount of time is declared the winning team.
The first Polo match at Shandur was played back in 1936. It originated dramatically when the British political agent of the area, Major Cobb, who was fond of playing Polo under the full moon, ordered Niat Qabool Hayat Kakakhel (a prominent figure, assistant to the governor, and politician from Ghizer district) to construct a Polo Ground in Shandur. The Polo Ground was given the name as “Mas Junali” derived from two Khuwar languages (the native language of people of Chitral and Ghizer) words meaning “Moony Polo Ground”. Cobb was so impressed by the efforts of Kakakhel and wanted to give a reward for his services. However, Kakakhel declined and demanded Cobb to stock the trout in the local streams instead. Cobb accepted this demand and ordered live trout from England which was later dropped into the River of Ghizer. His vision helped in the establishment of the Directorate of Fisheries and creation of job opportunities in the region. Today Gilgit-Baltistan is also the hub of Trout fishing.
The players and horses from both sides make it to Shandur weeks before the real battle takes place in order to get acclimatized for the final encounter. However, to be selected for the final teams, several preliminary matches are played both in Chitral and Gilgit. Best horses and players are chosen for the final games by the local judges during test matches on home grounds.
During the festival, no safety measures are followed in this wild game. Rarely wearing helmets, players dressed colorful, holding strapless mallets, chasing the ball wildly on their own rides even without bandages on at least to keep the horses from severe injuries. Winning the year-long awaited trophy is always worth a pride for both teams to take home which always makes the headlines of the major national news. Most supporters and tourists begin to make their presence at the venue immediately after the rival teams and their horses appear at the venue.
Both, Gilgit and Chitral, districts are accessible by air and by road from the capital city of Islamabad. From Gilgit, Shandur is about 211 kilometers to the west via Gilgit-Chitral road and from Chitral, about 168 kilometers to the northeast along the Shandur-Gilgit road. The journey from Gilgit to Shandur is decked with the scenic view of the valleys, lakes, fruit orchards, traditional houses, terraced fields, gushing river, and silent springs. Likewise, while driving via Chitral, one can observe the lush natural beauty of Mastuj and Surlasp valleys, the alluring culture of welcoming residents and traditional houses set amidst natural landscapes. The roads on both sides are suitable for 4WD vehicles and remain closed during winters.
The thrilling Polo contest at Shandur is coupled with some supplementary activities for the visitors to engage themselves and feast their eyes with the natural and cultural beauty of the region. The journey either through Chitral or via Gilgit is both adventurous and fascinating not only for the new visitors but also for the residents and for frequent travelers.
For adventure enthusiasts, there are opportunities to explore the surroundings of Shandur, fishing at the streams and at the lake, hiking, and much more. The event, besides the warm-up matches and the final battle, offers a fascinating insight into the lifestyle and cultural aspects of the people of Gilgit and Chitral. The nights are filled with musical performances and fireworks while paragliding and traditional dances of Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan are performed in the day. The indigenous customs and natural beauty are a delight to behold for the visitors.
Travel enthusiasts can explore the parts of Chitral Valley and Gilgit Baltistan before and after the event. It is possible to organize a week-long tour program by adjusting days before and after the final Shandur polo contest. Prior planning can help make your tour a rewarding experience.
To all visitors, it is advisable to
- Make it to the venue at least a day before the final contest in order to enjoy all the offerings of the festival.
- Make accommodation, food, and transportation arrangements through a local tour operator if you are new to the destination.
- Carry comfortable (hiking) shoes, warm layers of clothing, cap, sunglasses, sunburn cream, umbrella/raincoat, water bottle, cell phone, and charger, etc.
The Manthal Buddha Rock in Skardu is a 9th century Buddha relief on the natural flat surface of a large granite rock. Resting on the edge of Manthal village, overlooking the town of Skardu, it is a significant relic of Buddhism at Skardu town in Gilgit-Baltistan province of Pakistan. The Buddha Rock is a famous tourist attraction and an iconic archaeological heritage representing the “rich glory of the past”. The Manthal Buddha Rock was not known to the world until Jane E. Duncan, a British traveller, documented it in the early 20th century. There are several other interesting and unique petroglyphs present in the region yet to be unveiled to the world.
Prior to the arrival of Buddhism in the 4th century, Baltistan was the land of Shamanism. The monks from northern India came and built monasteries during the Palolashahi kingdom that ruled the area. Buddhism continued to flourish after the Tibetan conquest of the region in the second quarter of the 8thCentury. The era between 8th and 10th centuries, therefore, is believed to be the “Golden Era of Buddhism” in the Upper Indus Valley.
Buddhism was the major religion of the time and Buddha was engraved on several rock pieces found so far in Gilgit-Baltistan. Historically, the migration of Buddhist people of Gandhara through the mountain kingdom of Gilgit-Baltistan allowed them to settle in different areas. During their stay, they engraved different images including drawings of Stupas, images of Buddha, expression of their experiences, and at some rocks imprinted texts in Kharoshti language.
Several Buddha carvings including Manthal Buddha rock in Skardu, carvings of stupas and Buddhist reliefs in Shigar and Khaplu in Baltistan; Karga Buddha and the Hanzal Stupa in Gilgit, rock carvings in the premises of KIU (Karakoram International University) in Gilgit; Rock carvings on the main KKH (Karakoram Highway) near Hunza (Haldikish); and hundreds of petroglyphs scattered along the KKH are the imprints left by the Buddhist caravans during the time of Buddhist height in the region.
It was the time the region was the epicentre of Buddhism and Islam was still not known to the people of the area. However, almost centuries passed ever since Buddhists have disappeared from the region, but Buddhism is still alive in the form of rock carvings and petroglyphs. Yet, sadly, the rich heritage is ignored and almost forgotten.
The arrival of Ali Hamadani and his followers from Iran in the 14th century changed the dynamics of the region forever. Buddhism gradually vanished, and the places of worship fell into despair. Locals embraced Islam and by the 15th century, the region became purely a Muslim state.
Art on the Manthal Buddha Rock
The Manthal Buddha Rock that stands gracefully even today has in the past been a place of ultimate significance. Bearing testimony to a tradition that has already disappeared, the Manthal Buddha still has the makings of a heritage site.
The triangular shaped rock measuring 20-foot wide and 30-foot high is decked with significant sculptures and inscriptions carved during the period of Buddhist sovereignty in the region. The front face has a dexterous carving of a huge sculpture of a meditating Buddha surrounded by 20 Bodhisattvas and two vicegerents (future Buddhas) standing on either side. According to Buddhist tradition, the convention of all Buddhas, from past to future, as represented on the Manthal Rock, is called ‘Mandal’ from which the name of the village Manthal is derived.
The apex of the Buddha rock is coloured black. The hole right over the head of the meditating Buddha, measuring four-inch-high and wide, was used as a fireplace and the surrounding of the fireplace is therefore coloured black. According to a myth, visitors try to throw pebbles inside the hollow box believing that success would mean a wish come true. The Tibetan script on the rock, being incomplete and not easily decipherable, could not be translated clearly even by experts.
It was also believed that there was a platform to perform religious practices on the eastern side of the rock. Likewise, the area right behind the rock was spared to provide medical facilities by the Lamas. However, the actual platform does not exist anymore, and it was all believed to have washed.
Location and Access
Manthal Buddha is located about 3 kilometres from Satpara (also known as Sadpara) Road that leads to Satpara Lake in Skardu. The town of Skardu has an airport and PIA operates flights on daily basis yet subject to weather condition. By road, Skardu is accessible from Islamabad in almost 24 hours along the KKH. One can also fly to Gilgit and travel to Skardu by road. Currently, the Gilgit-Skardu road is under construction; once it is completed may take around 3 to 4 hours as compared to more than 7 hours now.
The Phander Valley is a scenic valley well-known for its ultimate grandeur and sheer beauty. The valley is famous particularly for its manifestation of diverse natural colors in four distinct seasons. The calmly flowing deep blue rivulet making way through the center of the valley makes the entire vista extremely striking. Nature has blessed the valley so uniquely that its landscape simply displays a panorama of a dreamland.
Phander is situated in the Gupis valley of Ghizer district in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. Ghizer is one of the 10 districts of Gilgit-Baltistan bordering Gilgit District to the east, Hunza-Nagar to the northeast, Diamer to the south, and Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the west.
The entire gorge making up the Ghizer District, all the way to the Shandur Pass, is dotted with tiny valleys mostly nestled by the bank of Gilgit River. The landscape of Ghizer district is diverse; contracting and stretching from Gilgit to Lunger near Shandur. Each stretch before Lunger is adorned with a settlement of traditional houses surrounded by gardens, fruit orchards, and terraced fields.
There are numerous attractions on the way to the Phander Valley making the trip so enjoyable without causing a feeling of fatigue throughout the journey. The lush green fields, fruit orchards and gardens, beautiful lakes including the Khalti Lake and Phander Lake, gushing blue river running along the bases of valleys connected by suspension bridges, clear glacial waters, and numerous channels of natural springs along the way feast the eyes of travelers with a unique experience.
Like the diversity in landscape, there is also an absolute variation in cultures in the entire district which makes it even more alluring. People speak different languages including Shina, Khuwar, Burushaski, and Wakhi in different regions and practicing slightly diverse cultures. People are friendly and welcoming, living a simple lifestyle, eating rich food with agriculture as a source of living for most of the residents.
Although the entire district is scenic with striking beauty; the Phander valley, in particular, is heavenly blessed. The section of the gorge making Phander a bowl-shaped valley is because of the barricade at the eastern end crest perching the PTDC Motel and holding the Phander Lake. The government rest house built on a ridge poking in and separating the valley from the Phander lake provides a gorgeous view of both sides – the valley and the lake.
The valley poses a unique natural setting nowhere can be observed. Beautiful lush plain fields make up the entire base of the bowl-shaped valley separated by the deep quiet blue water flowing downstream. The water is full of trout fish which is an important source of food of the region and a great local dish every tourist would love to enjoy.
Access and Location
Phander is majestically located about 173 km west of Gilgit town. The access to the valley is easy, usually takes about 5 hours to reach yet depending on the speed. Most of the road section is asphalted while some sections are still under the process of construction. However, generally, the road condition is fine and recommended for all kinds of vehicles. Phander is also accessible from Chitral via the Shandur Pass.