A ticket to Skardu will cost you about 8,000 rupees, (or 14,000 rupees if you’re an American and don’t have one of your Pakistani friends pick up the ticket for you which luckily, I did. Thanks Fahim!!) Either way it’s a steal. The only downside is that the sole air carrier to the mountain towns is PIA, the government-owned airline of Pakistan where service is indifferent and your trip home is sort of optional. What can you reasonably expect from an airline whose baggage claim looks like this?
But the bottom line is that one of the best perks of living in Pakistan is that you are close enough to the Himalayas to go for the weekend. This means that from my house in Islamabad, it costs about $100 to get to the most famous mountains in the world. (What about the Alps, you say? They are the Himalayas’ scrawny little sister. The Rockies? Please.)
After a bumpy, five-hour trip made more eventful by frequent stops to fill our wheezing Land Cruiser’s radiator with water, I got to see the Deosai Plains in bloom. Much of the year the plains are covered in snow; for a few short weeks they are covered with delicate little blossoms instead. I found it the perfect setting for forcing one’s traveling companions to belt out highlights from the Sound of Music soundtrack while fighting back high-altitude dizziness.
We stayed at Shiga Fort, the old home of the Raja of the territory, where the Raja’s families have traditionally been living for centuries. The latest Raja got wise, sold the fort to the Serena hotel chain, and now lives in a fancy house next door after pocketing his cash. Shiga Fort is, as a result, the perfect combination of 5-star hotel (strong, hot showers and toilets that work) and stripped-down, zen peace retreat with a zesty sprinkling of history. I highly recommend.
One of the best things about the Fort is the huge garden that wraps all the way around the grounds and is liberally covered by large lounging divans. On my favorite day of the trip, I read Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, drank sweet mixed tea all afternoon, and laughed and talked with friends as ripe apricots fell out of the trees and split neatly into our laps, reminding us that even the effort of peeling would be unnecessary labor in this paradise.