The trek from Skardu to the Baltoro Glacier gives the best close-up views of K2, and the trail along the Braldu and Biaho rivers takes hikers right into the heart of the Karakoram Mountains. The early part of the trek passes through green orchards, and summer visitors will be able to sample apples, apricots, peaches and cherries along the way. The terrain soon becomes rugged, however, and trekkers should be prepared to navigate trails covered with sharp stones and punctuated by glacial streams and steep gullies. The dark stone of the lower peaks provides a dramatic contrast to the glittering snow-capped peaks in the distance. Concordia, the base camp for K2 expeditions, offers spectacular views of some of the highest mountains on Earth, including K2, Gasherbrum, Masherbrum, and Chogolisa.
The Hunza Valley
The valley of the Hunza River was supposedly the inspiration for Shangri-la in James Hilton's famous novel Lost Horizon. According to local legend, the river water contains traces of gold and has life-prolonging powers, and the people of Hunza are noted for their longevity. Many of the Hunza kut, as they are known, have light-colored hair and eyes and claim to be descended from Alexander the Great's soldiers. Their dialect, Brushaski, has no apparent link to any existing language family.
The town of Hunza is the starting point for treks to the Batura, Hopar and Hispar glaciers. The trek to Ultar Canyon gives especially dramatic views of the surrounding glaciers and granite peaks. Trekkers can stay overnight in distinctive shepherds' huts built of piled stones. The sound of ice crashing down from the surrounding glaciers provides a unique lullaby.
The Swat Valley
Visitors who want a taste of northern Pakistan's historical variety should head for this lush valley.
Located in the monsoon belt, it receives more rain than most northern areas, so the land is particularly fertile and green. The Swat River and its tributaries gush through rocky gorges and are particularly known for trout fishing. The houses of the small villages in the area are stacked one on top of the other up the mountainsides, with the roofs of one level of houses used as a front street for houses on the next level. The hillsides abound with forts, a testament to the region's strategic importance.
Alexander the Great and his army marched through Chakdar, and subsequent invaders left their mark: the town still has remains of Buddhist monasteries from the 1st to 7th centuries, while Hindu forts from the 8th to 10th centuries loom on the hilltops. Worth visiting are the valley's graveyards, which have been used for 3,500 years. Mount Ilam (2,811m, 9,222 ft) has been considered sacred since prehistoric times.
A trek to the top brings visitors to a group of massive square blocks of stone, which archaeologists guess were used as an ancient altar.