"The Flight to Skardu through Heavens" Northern Areas Tip by Mozumbus
Northern Areas, Pakistan: 12 reviews and 17 photos
Skardu is one of the famous tourist hubs of the Northern Areas of Pakistan, and the gateway to K2 - the world's second highest peak after Mount Everest. Karakoram Highway, KKH, joins other parts of Pakistan to Northern Areas including Skardu. In summers, Pakistan International Airlines, PIA, also operates subsidized flights from Islamabad to Skardu. One Boeing 737 flies daily, subject to weather conditions, from Islamabad and this flight is truly considered as one of the most dangerous commercial flights in the world.
As soon as the plane takes off, one can feel the chill of the thrill to come, it takes no time during this one hour journey that the plane enters into the Himalaya Range of mountains with the plane cruising between snow covered peaks. Subject to clear weather, one can see the Naked Mountain "Nanga Parbat", the ninth highest mountain on Earth which is commonly known as Killer Mountain for obvious reasons, from inside of the plane enjoying a hot cup of coffee on a comfortable economy plus seat. The plane frequently goes in and out of heavy clouds creating a hustle and bustle throughout the plane. In order to have better views, sitting on right hand side seats is highly recommended, and fortunate ones like me get the window seat!
Climax of this adventure starts as the captain announces the arrival of Skardu and requests passengers to fasten their seat belts for landing. And then the plane starts descending without giving a slightest clue to those who start looking down, in panic, from the window in search of the landing strip, or the runway, as it is called in other parts of the world! Even smaller rocks can be seen with details as the plane tilts to either side in order to descend so much so that people who were not looking downward initially start making strange sounds, may be out of excitement. A river bed appears as the plane approaches the landing strip only to make the outside view more heavenly. And finally the wheels touch the ground with an eruption of clapping out of mixed emotions of being lucky to survive and the appreciation of undoubted proficiency of PIA pilots from the passengers who were holding their breaths tight for last several minutes.
Getting a seat on this flight is not less an adventure than the experience itself because of its virtually inelastic demand curve. Purchasing process is the same as of any other flight booking process but the voyage starts when one comes to know that the ticket needs to be reconfirmed otherwise it may end up as a useless piece of paper. It is not to mention that this painstaking job is more than worth it, provided the plane lands successfully. At times, the captain, upon arriving to the Skardu Valley, refuses to land because of host of reasons, such as lack of visibility, strong winds, thick cloud cover, etc and takes the plane back to Islamabad Airport. However, passengers are always given a choice to get 100% refund, if they do not wish to give it a second try, only the succeeding day. This 100% refund is applicable whenever one wishes to withdraw from their booking, but obviously before reconfirmation.
Now coming back to the Reconfirmation Ordeal; all the passengers are expected to reconfirm their ticket from Northern Areas Counter of PIA Rawalpindi Office, located at Mall, a 20 minutes drive from Isalmabad Airport. This reconfirmation needs to be done 24 hours in advance and this is not as simple as it sounds. The "ticket" needs to go there physically to get stamped, and without this stamp the staff at airport may refuse to even recognize this harmless piece of paper, unless one has special reasons and resources. To make things less simple, if not complicated, reconfirmation can only be done if the preceding flight would have landed successful at Skardu Airport. Otherwise, the passengers of the failed flight will get priority over next day's flight. Usually, the flight lands no earlier than 12 noon at Skardu, so going to Rawalpindi Office early may be futile and requires one more visit or one has to wait until the flight lands and the staff is done with their lunch and prayers. It is also recommended to confirm, via phone, if the preceding flight has been landed at Skardu Airport to avoid futile visits. There is no standard procedures at Northern Areas Counter and has to be continuously on the look for the right person and proactive.
There is only one plane allocated for this route, so the plane that had landed the day before at Skardu must have come back in order to take you to Skardu. Keeping in view the vagaries of weather, this kind of permutation can only tilt in favour of lucky ones, and I was one of them! On the day of flight, at airport, passengers are not given with the boarding cards, until the plane has come back from Skardu, and the pilot is convinced of flight-able and land-able weather conditions. Keep your calm once you get the boarding card until they announce that the flight is ready for boarding. And once you board-in and the flight takes-off you are not required to keep your calm at all!!!
This flight is a trip in its own capacity and in my humble opinion, it should be recognized by VT as a tourist destination!
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