As we took the NATCO bus from Gilgit to Chitral on our way to the Kalash Valleys, we passed through the high-altitude Phander Valley and Shandur National Park, a scenic though rough road taking us to high altitudes valleys and lakes. The landscape is just stunning, and it felt like a little gem waiting to be explored.
On our return journey from attending the Uchal Festival in the Kalash Valley, we decided to spend a few days exploring Shandur National Park and the Phander Valley.
Shandur National Park
The landscape of the Shandur National Park is incredible. Going through rural villages, wheat fields, it also passes through high plateaus and tall mountains bare of any presence except some yaks, cows, sheep, and a few horses.
The road passes by the Shandur Lake towards the edge bordering the Chitral district, as you head towards the Shandur Pass from Gilgit.
The height of Shandur Pass is 12,139 ft (3,700 m), often called the ‘Roof of the World.’
Shandur Polo Festival
Polo at Shandur Pass is world famous thanks to the July Shandur Polo Festival that sees teams from the Chitral and Gilgit districts competing. The Festival also features traditional music, and half of the attendance are local folks coming to enjoy the competition.
Check how beautiful the area is through these pics of Shandur Pass and Shandur Lake.
During our night stay in Hurchin Lurspur (Herchin Larspur), we met with two of the local Gilgit polo teams. Which led me to ride one of the star polo horses! Though we only walked on the newly harvested wheat field, riding such a magnificent and vibrant horse was extraordinary. I could feel his eagerness to go faster, and his responsiveness to my every move. What a privilege!
Hiking in Shandur National Park
As foreigners, we were not allowed to camp in the Shandur National Park. Many shepherd trails dot the mountains and could offer hiking options in the park. There are no marked trails that we know of, and given that the park is in high altitude, you need to be prepared and experienced to hike properly in the remote areas of the park.
Hiking through the villages is, however, another option. With the elevation gain, we recommend walking in the Chitral-Gilgit direction to benefit from the way going down.
Day 1: Shandur Pass to Barsat
In theory, one could disembark at the Army checkpoint at the Shandur Pass and hike up to Barsat. The distance is about 13 miles (21 km) and is set at around 3,500 m elevation all the way. With no villages, limited transport and cars passing by, we would suggest only fit hikers with limited backpacks to set on that first section.
- Distance: 13 miles (21 km)
Day 2: Barsat to Teru
The river sits deep in the gorge with the villages on the higher grounds.
- Distance: 5 miles (8 km)
Day 3: Teru to Gulag Muli
With our heavy packs and the fact I was nursing a cold, we chose to start our hike at Teru. We had left Harchin Larkspur at 5:30 am and reached the small village of Teru at 9:30 am. The timing allowed us to hike our way down on that Day 1, reaching Gulag Muli in the afternoon.
- Distance: 4.5 miles (7 km)
Day 4: Gulag Muli to Phander Village
The road is somewhat flatter than the previous day and goes by a narrow gorge as you switched valleys. After passing the police checkpoint in Phander Village, you have the option of staying on the main road or taking the small path through the fields and across the river. We highly recommend this as a way to see the village life.
The Phander Village stretches quite long, and the last section is up to the hill. A bit of a leg killer towards the end of the day as you aim towards some of the budget guesthouses or the famous Phander PDTC.
- Distance: 9 miles (14 km)
Located in the Ghizer District, the Phander Valley is about 6 hours from Gilgit and is one of the most scenic valleys in Gilgit-Baltistan, and of Pakistan.
The valley sits at 10, 000ft (3,000 m), and is home to several villages developed along the road and Ghizer River (also called Gilgit River).
Phander Valley Villages
Phander Village is the better known given its name, but other villages in the Phander Valley include Shamaran, Dalomal, Napur, Chahche (or Chachi). As you enter the Shandur National Park, the new valley is actually the Golaghmuli Valley west of District Ghizer. That valley includes the villages of Pingal, Golagh Muli, Golagh Tori, Handarap Nallah, Herkush, Teru, Karim Abad, and Barsat. Barsat is the last village in Gilgit-Baltistan before headed to the Shandur Pass on your way to Chitral.
People in the Phander Valley and Golaghmuli Valley are mostly Ismaili and speak the local Khowar language, as well as Shina and Urdu. Different tribes live in the valleys, including the Kakakhel, Chorotay, Shumuray, Mukhay, among ten different ethnicities.
The lake is in Phander Village, nestled between two rocky sides, and sits at 10, 000 ft (3,000 m) from sea level.
Phander Valley Hotels
Several hotels and guest houses are spread along the Phander Village and are available in other villages like Gulag Muli. In Phander Village proper, the most Phander Valley PTDC is the most famous one given its location overseeing the Phander Lake but is on the pricey side. Note that the village is quite spread out, and you might have to walk a few miles (kilometers) if you have no reservation and checking different guesthouses. Budget rooms are around 700 to 1,500 PKR (8 to 12 US$)
Phander Valley Map
Make sure to download Maps.me or Google Map before heading to the Phander Valley. Google Maps is pretty accurate. If you are looking for a nice walk through the valley, you can take the bridge over the river right after exiting the Phander Bazar (after the Police Checkpoint). The road will guide you through fields, water canals, houses, and give you a glimpse of rural village life in Pakistan. We were there at the harvest, watching families sitting and cutting the wheat, packing the bunches together. Tractors and donkeys carried the heavy loads back to the villages. We were glad to be there at that vital time of the year.
How to Get to the Phander Valley & Shandur National Park
- From Gilgit
- Either on a daily NATCO bus from Gilgit, leaving at 6 am. The NATCO bus stops at every village, making it for a slow ride but highly enjoyable as you can take in the scenery.
- Or with a private jeep, which costs about 4,000 PKR (Pakistani Rupees) (30 US$) per day with driver
- The distance between Shandur and Gilgit is about miles (190 km) and takes between 5 to 6 hours.
- From Chitral
- The journey is somewhat long and challenging
- By public transport:
- Take a private Jeep from Chitral to Mastuj. Cost is about 4,500 PKR (35 US$) for the jeep, which you can share with other travelers. The ride over the very bumpy and dusty road takes about 4 hours
- From Mastuj, take a NATCO bus to Gilgit. The bus leaves at 5 am or 5:30 am so you need to spend a night in Mastuj. When we were there, a large rock blocked a portion of the road between Mastuj and Sol Larkspur, so we had to take another private car to reach Sol Larkspur where the NATCO would leave the next morning.
- NATCO bus from Mastuj (or which town is available at that time) to Gilgit. There is only one bus per day, and we recommend booking your tickets the day before. Note that some buses actually stop in Gakhuch, where you need to board another bus to Gilgit
- Renting a private car is most likely a more comfortable option, but the ride will be long regardless given the state of the road. Most likely you will have to spend a night along the way.
Read our other posts on Pakistan: Places to Visit in Islamabad, Guide to Travel in Islamabad, the unique culture of the Kalash people, and Machollo, a Traditional Pakistani Village in the Hushe Valley.
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