Before the year 1978, with the completion of 170 kilometer long Gilgit Skardu road, did Baltistan have permanent access to the rest of the world, and even in 1980s the Balti people retained their self-reliance, aloof from the twentieth century and its wonders
Getting thereSo fearsome in the scale of its colour and texture, savagery and desolation is the Indus gorge out o Skardu that not even strong Baltis ventured to cross it. The Gilgit-Skardu road is one of most impressive roads in the world, following the tapered, shadowy, miserable and spectacularly high ravine of the Indus for miles after miles. Never a blade of grass relieves the monotony of the hostile rock. Only the emerald green river, tumbling and foaming in stretches of white water, relieves the brown, grey, scree and unrelenting walls of boulders strewn rock, scree and cliffs. For centuries, traders and expeditions ventured through the gorge along a trail so narrow that in some parts it’s simply ended in the space. These were bridged with fragile timber to form a shaky foothold in the sky. A simple slip and man or beast plunged 2000 feet or more to their death. In winter waterfalls hang frozen in massive 3000 foot long icicles of gigantic thickness waiting for the summer melt to release them form their bondage of suspended animation.
Like its larger sister, the Karakoram Highway, it represents one of the world’s most important achievements of civil engineering construction and already Skardu, long a Makkah for the high altitude mountaineers, has become a major tourist resort as the coaches, cars, jeeps, buses and trucks flood down the road across more than twenty bridges to the town.
But in the 1980’s however, many visitors opted for the sixty minutes flights from Islamabad which flies along the Indus past Nanga Parbat, then banks sharply starboard to follow the Indus through one of the narrowest ravines ever flown by a civil airline, the walls rise thousands of feet above, dwarfing the puny passenger plain. Within fifteen minutes of taking off from the burning heat and extensive mass of Rawalpindi in Boing 737 airplane, we will be in a virgin world snaking through mountains passes and following emerald ribbons of rivers. Every turn brought a breathtaking new vista, and as we will left habitation behind, we will enter a forest of peaks and nature of such staggering that it is flooded one simultaneously with a soaring joy and stark realization of the absolute insignificance of man. Leaving the plane, the most immediate impression is that of disorientation. The valley and the rock and the desert have no likeness to any other landscape, as if the Sahara had been dropped down between massive walls of rock. There are no perspectives. So complete is the circle of mountains everything narrow and the eye is ever confused.
Lying within this ring of 17000 foot high mountains that glimmers through the haze in varying shade of purple, grey, and ochre, the jade river Indus snakes sinuously between the ribboned, wind blown sand dunes close beneath a 200 foot high island of massive rock, its here that Skardu straggles along the plateau.