Pristine Beauty

Katpana lake in Cold Desert, also known as the Katpana Desert or Biama Nakpo, is a high-altitude desert located in Skardu.
Katpana lake in Cold Desert, also known as the Katpana Desert or Biama Nakpo, is a high-altitude desert located in Skardu.

There are abundant wonders to satisfy visitors to Katpana Desert, the world’s highest cold desert

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By Shazia Siraj

Published: Sun 14 Aug 2022, 12:00 AM

When you hear the word ‘desert’, you probably envision vast expanses of sand and blistering high tempera¬tures with no or low rainfall.

Think again.

Panoramic view of the Skardu Satpara Valley and lake
Panoramic view of the Skardu Satpara Valley and lake

Ever heard of deserts with low temperature, strong cold winds, clear blue skies and white sand granules?

If it sounds like something straight out of fiction, then you must not have heard of the mesmerisingly beautiful Katpana desert in Pakistan.

Lying within the magnificent Karakoram and Himalayan mountain ranges is the Katpana desert, also called the ‘Cold Desert’. The largest areas of Katpana Desert is found in Skardu and Shigar valleys in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan. In the local language, the area is also called Biana Naqpo or Katpana Biana.

Skardu Manthal Rock
Skardu Manthal Rock

At an elevation of around 7,303 feet (2,226 meters), Katpana Desert is one of the highest, most elevated, cold deserts in the world. The desert is bestowed with spectacular natural beauty due to its white coloured sand dunes — yes, the sand dunes of Katpana Desert are white and are of¬ten snow-covered in the winter months. The strong winds of the region result in frequent shifting of the position of the dunes, giving the desert a dynamic and ever-shifting landscape, which makes it attractive with a new view every time you visit.

The temperature of the desert falls to -25 degree Celsius (-13° F) in winters, making it extremely cold. While average temperature in summers remain 08°degree Celsius(46°F) at night and rises to 27 degree Celsius (81°F) during day time, some of the dunes remain covered in snow even during the summer season as well thus, making it a treat for snow lovers.

Snow during winter in Katpana Desert
Snow during winter in Katpana Desert

The surroundings of Katpana desert are another miraculous wonder. The desert is set amidst gigantic mountain ranges, the beautiful lakes of Sadpara and Kachura and vegetation. This natural setting of the world’s highest desert makes it a treasured destinations for nature lovers. Katpana offers the calmness of a desert with the beautiful views of sunset over the sand dunes. If you’re lucky and patient, you can even catch the milky way at night. The local food is organic and popular among visitors.

For reaching Katpana Desert, Skardu is the first stop. It is accessible by road and air transport. Road distance be-tween Islamabad, the capital and Skardu is about 600 kms. The journey takes around 12 hours, driving through beau¬tiful scenery that will take your breath away. The aerial distance between the two points is 292 kms and takes around one hour to destination. PIA, the national airline of Pakistan operates regular flights, when the weather permits. The driving distance between Skardu airport to Katpana desert takes only 32 minutes.

Shigar Fort
Shigar Fort


There is something for everyone as Skardu offers attractions for all. The region has history, mountains, lakes, waterfalls and delicious local food.

Skardu is a gateway to four peaks, towering 8,000 meters high, attracting mountaineers and trekkers from all over the world. These are K2, the second highest mountain in the world, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum and Nanga Parbat.

For history students, there is the iconic Shigar Fort and Manthal Buddha Rock. Shigar Fort is located about 44 km away from Skardu and is built on a rock. It served as a palace of the Raja of Shigar around 400 years ago. In recent times, it has been transformed to a 20-room guest house for tourists with a hall and a muse¬um representing, Balti culture.

Manthal Buddha Rock is a large granite rock with carvings of the Buddha dating back to the 8th century. It is located three km from Sadpara road in Manthal village in Skardu.

For nature lovers, apart from the wonder of Katpana, there is Sadpara Lake — a beautiful serene natural body of water located at a 2,600-metre altitude and spread over an area of 2.5 km. The lake is another popular attraction for tourists, located some 9 km north of Skardu.

The Gilgit-Baltistan region is known for its delicious fruits, both fresh and dried. The valley produces apricots, apples, almonds, pears, cherries, and walnuts. The people of the region are hospitable, kindhearted and helpful.

Pakistan remains a travel-lover’s dream, with the most diverse natural at¬tractions, a cradle of ancient civilisations, a heaven for mountain climbers and a region brimming with diverse religions and cultures. The British Backpacker Society (BBS) declared Pakistan as the world’s third best potential adventure destination for 2020. The year before, the BBS declared that: “Pakistan tops the list of the world’s best travel destinations,” describing it as ‘one of the friendliest countries on earth’. Pakistan is ranked number one on Condé Nast Traveller’s list of 20 best holiday destinations for 2020. Forbes ranked Pakistan as one of the ‘10 Coolest Places to go in 2019’. The World Economic Forum placed Pakistan among the top 25 per cent of global destinations for its UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A glimpse of almost everything from nature to culture to history is visible in Skardu. You most definitely will be in the abode of pristine beauty in this stunningly gorgeous part of the planet.

— Shazia Siraj is Press Counsellor at Consulate General of Pakistan, Dubai.

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