The Deosai National Park is the second largest alpine plateau in the world covering an area of 3626 sq. km. The region is one of the few areas of the world to hold a vast natural expanse of exceptional natural scenery and wealth of wildlife. Deosai Park can be reached from Skardu directly and from Gilgit via Astore through a scenic road.
The park is located at an elevation of 13600 feet above the sea level, at the junction of 04 major mountain ranges – The Karakoram, Ladakh range (Trans-Himalaya), Zanskar range (Trans-Himalaya), and Himalaya in the rugged Northern region – between Skardu and Astore districts in Gilgit-Baltistan territory of Pakistan. The national park also serves as a major tourist attraction in Gilgit-Baltistan drawing hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.
Deosai, basically a combination of two words, Deo and Sai, literally means Land of Giants and also referred to as Roof of the Earth. For decades a myth prevailed that the region was haunted by giants and the name “Land of Giants” thus came into being. Local people of Baltistan, however, call this place ‘Ghbiarsa’ referring to ‘summer’s Place’ because it is only accessible in summer.
The park is a protected area and divided into several zones some of which are restricted. The core zone is a specially protected area for the Brown Bear. Tourists can only visit certain zones. Deosai being a prime tourist attraction visited by a massive amount of domestic and international tourists each year.
The park is abundant in natural beauty with its vast expanses covered by wildflowers. There are multiple streams and lakes teaming with trout fish and major spots to stay for overnight. some of the major attractions include:
Sheosar Lake is the mole on the cheek of Deosai Plains and the entire lake is surrounded by hills crowned with snow and its immediate surroundings have green patches covered with wildflowers.
Kala Pani or the black water is a major campsite by a stream called Kala Pani while driving from Sheosar lake towards Skardu. This water stream is called Kala ( Black ) Pani (water) because it looks almost black from a fair distance. However, the water is actually crystal clear and freezing. The campsite is located at a low altitude, surrounded by small green hills, ideal for camping by avoiding the chilly nighttime winds.
Bara Pani is a local name to indicate the Larger Water stream flowing from the top of icy mountains of Deosai. Bara Pani is located between Kala Pani and Ali Malik Mar Pass ( Deosai Top ). Bara Pani is an ideal campsite surrounded by a vast stretch of the park and snow-crowned mountains.
Ali Malik Mar Pass (Deosai Top) is about 30km uphill drive from Skardu town and is part of an adventurous half day excursion. While driving from Astore side, it is the end of Deosai plains before descending to Skardu.
Shatoung Nala is an uphill gorge leading up to Deosai from Skardu surrounded by snow-covered mountains. The freshwater stream flowing all the way is the primary source of water of the Sadpara Lake in Skardu.
There are a number of trails to explore but the best one is to walk along the jeep track and around the Sheosar Lake to explore the vast expanse of the park.
One can go fishing by acquiring a valid license. Nights are special when the sky is clear to observe Milky Way galaxy in a deafening silence.
Those who wish to spend a night at Deosai must carry tents and food unless there is confirmed arrangements for accommodation and food. Heavy rains sometimes make movement difficult and to be on the safe side careful planning and necessary arrangements must be made in advance.
Flora and Fauna
The Deosai National Park was established in December 1993 by the government of Gilgit-Baltistan with the prime objective to conserve the rare wildlife. The park makes up one of the last frontiers of natural habitat for the Himalayan brown bear – a rare species once roamed the mountains freely. The park currently has about 20-28 Brown bears. The population of the Brown Bear is growing since strict conservation measures were taken.
The national park is home to a variety of significant species of wildlife. Himalayan Ibex, Snow Leopard, Tibetan Red Fox, wolf, the Ladakh urial, the snow leopard and Golden Marmot are among the 18 different mammals exist. There are three types of fresh-water fishes and 209 bird Species (both resident and migratory) including Honred lard, Citrine Wagtail, Mountain Finch, Eastern Swift, and Craig Martin.
Deosai Plateau is poised between sub-alpine and glacial fields where only the shrubs and forbs are found and no tree can be sited at all. The park is also famous for its variety of medicinal and aromatic plant species. There are 342 species of plants belonging to 142 genera and 36 families. Notable plant species include Artemisia, Aconitum, Jurinea, Rheum, Mentha, Swertia, Valeriana, Verbascum, Viola, Potentilla, Ephedra, Thymus, Saussurea, and Bunium.
The park remains snowbound throughout most of the year and is only accessible for about four to five to six months from June to November. Its environment is characterized by extreme cold coupled with low atmospheric pressure and low oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. One must be cautious about aridity and intense and rapid solar ultraviolet radiation. The Deosai plain receives higher rainfall than adjoining northern and northeastern valleys of Baltistan due to its geographical location facing the monsoon affected outer Himalayas. The weather during the months of July and August remains pleasant. However, most times it is unpredictable as it even snows in July and August sometimes. Annual precipitation varies from 350 to 550 mm., mostly received during winter as snow. Average daily temperature ranges from -20C in winters and 12 C in July and August.
Deosai National Park is accessible both from Skardu district in the north and Astor valley in the west. It is about 9 to 10 hrs journey from Gilgit to Skardu via Astore and Deosai or vice versa unless there is an overnight stay plan either in Astor or anywhere at the National Park. While visiting Deosai tourists usually spend a night in Astore valley to visit Rama valley and Rama Lake. Others prefer to spend an additional night in Deosai, preferably at Sheosar Lake or other designated campsites. A 4WD is the recommended conveyance because of the altitude and road condition.