How to Visit Deosai: The Ultimate Guide

nomads in deosai national park

Pakistan is full of superlative locations.

K2, Hunza, Badshahi Mosque, Kashmir…

One that is worthy of being included in this list that maybe not a lot of people talk about is Deosai National Park.

Situated at 4300 meters, this soaring, enormous tableland is one of the highest plateaus in the world, second only to the Tibetan Plateau. This place will (quite literally) take your breath away and leave you dizzy from its beauty.

Deosai isn’t exactly easy to get nor comfortable to reside in at times. It’s frigid cold even in the summer and is only accessible by one terrible road.

But this is Pakistan: nothing comes easy in this country and we all know that by now.

This guide is intended to explain everything that you need to know about visiting the Deosai Plains. I’ll talk about where to stay, how to arrive, and what to do once you arrive. By the end, you should be well equipped to visit there yourself.

The effort is always worth the reward, folks. Let’s do the damn thing.

Why Visit Deosai?

The Deosai Plains are one of the greatest natural wonders of northern Pakistan. It can be described in a lot of ways – wild, desolate, lush, surreal, among many, many others – but there is one word that sums it up best…

BIG. 

Deosai is the epitome of vastness.

Once you’re here, all you can see is just endless grasslands and sky. The furthest landmarks are walls of mountains on all sides, leagues away guarding the plains. To me, the whole area feels like a microcosm of the universe as if the mountains hide the idyllic plateau away from the rest of the prying world. 

When translated, the name Deosai means “Shadow of the Giants.” Makes total sense if you ask me. 

pair of hikers standing on top of mountain at sunsetdeosai national park
Exhibit A.

In reality, Deosai has been a popular place to visit in Pakistan for some time. Lots of people, Pakistanis and foreigners alike, come here to decompress and feel the emptiness for themselves.

Deosai is unlike anything else you’ll experience while backpacking in Pakistan. Visit here for a few days and you’ll have the fortune of experiencing one of the most inspiring and dumbfounding places on Earth

When to Visit Deosai

Deosai is only accessible from June-September, which roughly coincides with summer. This is the only time of year when the road is usable – the rest of the time, it’s pretty much buried in snow. 

Of those 3-4 months, the absolute best time is towards the end of July. This is peak wildflower season on the plains, and when the bloom is good it’s a real sight. Get ready to see every shade imaginable as it can be a real kaleidoscope up there. 

deosai plains grass changing color
Grass won’t lass long past September.

But be prepared for A LOT of mosquitos in the summer. They are an absolute plague around the rivers and the major campgrounds. They’ll start to swarm in the late morning although, if it’s windy, you might get a moment of respite from them. Either way, bring really good mosquito spray with you.

It is still possible to visit Deosai in the winter but you’ll be doing so completely by foot. Make no mistake either: this is an expedition-style crossing of the plains and should not be taken lightly. It is extremely cold up here and somewhat desolate, akin to an arctic crossing. But hey, if Imran Khan can do it, so can you. 

Packing for Deosai

Deosai is one of the coldest places in Gilgit-Baltistan. Even in the summer, temperatures can be below freezing at night, and waking up to ice or snow is not unheard of. So, as is usually the case when visiting Pakistan, pack for every season.

Take warm clothes with you in addition to some light clothing. Layers are your best friends as the days can be warm but nights can be frigid. 

There are usually tents set up at the major camps so you might not need to bring your own. That being said, you should still consider bringing a tent anyways as the communal ones are pretty shabby not to mention a bit raucous at times. Having your own tent means you can set up a bit further away and get some peace and quiet. 

sheosar lake deosai plains
The days may be warm, but the night is dark and full of terrors…and by terrors I mean: Punjabi dance parties.

You should definitely pack a good sleeping bag and sleeping pad even if opt not to bring a tent.

You should also pack your own food with you although you might not have to cook it yourself. Camps have a mess team and they will cook your food for you if you stay in or near camp. 

In addition to all of the above, there are always a few items that I always take with me wherever I travel.

How to Get to Deosai

There is only one road going through Deosai and it runs from Chalam in Astore to Skardu in Baltistan. There are no other ways to enter the plains unless you organize a multi-day trek. 

The road through the plains is very rough and considered by many to be one of the worst in Pakistan. Having driven on the road three times now, I will say that the road is indeed not great – it’s littered with potholes, completely unpaved, and bumpy as hell. But it’s not particularly dangerous – there are no death-defying drop-offs or massive exposure (not counting the way up from Skardu, which is a bit hectic). 

Most people will visit Deosai via a private vehicle e.g. prearranged transport, tour, or rental car. 

rama lake sunset great place to visit in pakistan
Astore and Rama Lake are natural places to visit before or after Deosai.

A 2d/1n tour from Skardu to Astore, stopping in Deosai for one night, should cost around 12,000-15,000 rupees. You can add on an extra day and visit Rama Lake before/after Deosai for an extra 5,000 rupee. From Astore or Rama Lake, it’s just a few hours’ drive to Raikot Bridge and the beloved Fairy Meadows as well.

The best place to find jeep drivers is at the bus stations or by asking your hotel to arrange one for you beforehand. It will take about 3-4 hours to cross the entirety of Deosai.

Be very careful if you’re self-driving. This is not a good place to break down as you’re practically in the middle of nowhere. Make sure you have a car with high clearance – though some crazy Pakistanis like to take their sedans to the plains, it’s a real gamble and is hell on their cars. 

Note: all foreigners must pay 3100 rupees to enter Deosai. KEEP your tickets as you will need to show them when you exit.

Where to Stay in Deosai

There are three major campgrounds in Deosai: Bara Pani, Kala Pani, and Sheosar Lake. 

Bara Pani (meaning “Large Body of Water” in Urdu) is the most popular place to stay in Deosai and is probably the best. For one thing, it has the most facilities and, in my opinion, the best views. There is a hill behind the campground (300 meters altitude gain) that affords amazing views of the plains as well as Nanga Parbat. It is particularly great at sunrise. 

There are communal tents at Bara Pani that you can use but I wouldn’t stay in one of these though. Rather make camp somewhere a bit further away with your own tent. It’ll be quieter that way and you can still eat at camp. 

couple hiking to top of mountain while visiting deosai sunrise
That’s Nanga Parbat looming in the background. Bara Pani is just below.

Last time I was in Deosai (August 2021), it seemed like there was a new camp being built just up the road from Bara Pani too. No word if and when it is open to the public.

Kala Pani (meaning “Black Water” in Urdu) is much smaller and quieter than Bara Pani but isn’t quite as scenic. It’s about 45 minutes away from Bara Pani.

Sheosar is the most basic of the three and may not have any facilities at all depending on the year. If you intend to camp here, bring your own gear with you. 

Due to an active bear population, it is not advised to sleep away from the camps. The camps have guards that monitor the animals and either ward them off or tell you if they’re near. If you prepare or have food near your tent, you could also attract the bears – it would be best to avoid this situation.

Things to Do in Deosai

So what do you do once you’re actually in Deosai? The sky’s the limit! Here are a few things to get started…

1. Climb to the top Burji La

Burji La is famous for being one of the easiest ways to see K2. At 4800 meters, it is high enough to afford epic views of the surrounding mountain ranges, yet it is still relatively easy to climb (compared to other K2 viewpoints). 

You can make this trek while you’re inside Deosai National Park, or you can trek up from Skardu, making this a one-way trip. Starting from the plains is the easier and more popular choice as you only need to gain around 500-600 meters at most. Coming from Skardu takes several days and entails at least 2 km of elevation gain. 

Looking north from the pass (la means “pass” in Urdu), you will be front-row and center to one of the greatest mountain chains on the planet: the Karakoram. In the middle, dominating all the other peaks, will be the mighty K2, the second-highest and arguably most difficult mountain in the world to climb. Revel in the presence of it.

the karakoram range of pakistan
The crooked Karakoram mountains.

2. Hang out with nomads

Thanks to huge swathes of fertile grasslands, Deosai is a favorite spot for shepherds. Every summer, nomads – mostly Bakarwal, Gurjar, and Brokpa from the Kashmir region – bring their herds here for grazing. 

For the animals, Deosai is a veritable feast with plenty of food to gorge on. For the nomadic shepherds, it’s an active time of year as they must tend to and move the herds as much as possible before the bitter cold kills the grass.

When visiting Deosai, you will most likely come upon a group of nomads with their animals. Don’t be intimidated if you want to approach them – nomadic communities are generally hospitable and will host you as is customary. Consider gifting them with some provisions as they have a long journey ahead of them.

3. Visit Sheosar Lake

The eye of Deosai National Park, Sheosar Lake is a regular stopover on any visit to the plains. This relatively small, deep-blue lake is a great place to have a picnic and a cup of hot chai after what is usually a bumpy ride. 

You can also swim in the lake! Though it may seem like a frigid plunge, the water is actually quite warm. Be aware that most of the shoreline is marshy and that there will be less-than-scantly-clad locals around as well. Don’t worry: people stare more out of curiosity than offense.

4. Watch out for bears

In 1993, Deosai was made a national park in order to protect the local wildlife from poachers. The most endangered of them all is the Himalayan brown bear. After much regulation and protection, there are almost 75 brown bears now residing around the plains, up from only 17 in 1990.

Despite the odds being very low, you might be able to see a bear while visiting Deosai (if you’re lucky). After all, there’s only one bear for every four square miles of the park! But you never know if one might come poking around your campsite…keep an eye out.

himalayan brown bear in deosai national park
A rare bear sighting. | Photo: U.S. Embassy Islamabad (Flickr)

5. Spot marmots!

More likely than bears, you’ll probably see a local Himalayan marmot. Actually, you’ll probably see more like dozens of these guys as they are everywhere on the plains. 

If you’ve never seen a marmot before, they’re a gopher-like creature that burrows itself into the ground and lives in holes. They’re about the size of a cat although a bit huskier; the ones in Deosai are particularly chubby. 

It may seem frivolous, but watching the marmots waddle across the plains is all the entertainment I need at times. There’s just something satisfying about watching a bunch of furry creatures run around like fat kids to their little homes. 

Interestingly, the marmots here have historical significance as well. The mythical “gold-digging ants” of Herodotus are actually believed to be the Himalayan marmot – locals attest that when the animals dig their holes on the gold-laden fields of Deosai, they kick up the rare mineral in the process. Supposedly, for some people, it can even be a little payday.

6. Gawk at the stars

Complete emptiness in the middle of nowhere, devoid of almost any urban area or artificial light, you say?

You’re probably already thinking it so I’ll just go ahead and say it: the night sky in Deosai is absolutely ridiculous. Even by wild Baltistan standards, the stars here are extremely visible.

But the thing that makes Deosai a particularly great place to stargaze is the topography. Thanks to the open space and the lack of ultra-high mountains to obstruct the views, the night sky appears enormous. In places, it seems like it almost wraps around you completely. 

Be sure to bring a good camera with the proper lens to capture this majesty. Just remember to bundle up: it’s cold as hell up there at night!

camping underneath the stars in deosai
This photo doesn’t even do the place justice.

7. Go on a horse trek

An alternative way to cross the Deosai Plains is by horse. You can either do a roundtrip starting from Skardu or traverse one-way from Skardu to Chilam. If you really like to ride you can even continue on to Astore!

As someone who regularly rides horses on expeditions in Kyrgyzstan, I can confidently say that the terrain in Deosai is perfect for riding. There’s plenty of grass for the horses, relatively gentle passes, and plenty of epic views to drink in. Although I have not personally done a horse trek yet, it is very high on my list of things to do in Pakistan.

I suggest reaching out to local legend and all-around great guy, Zahid Hussein to help you organize this one. He’s based in Skardu and is well-versed in these sorts of adventures. You can reach him at +92 344 9850057.

Being Respectful at Deosai

Deosai is a sensitive ecosystem that hosts several endangered species. As travelers, it is our duty to maintain the places we visit and to leave them as untarnished as possible. That way, we and future generations can come back and enjoy it just as much.

Make sure to clean up after yourself, especially after breaking camp, and don’t leave any food scraps behind – human food is a poor addition to the local wildlife’s diet. On that note, avoid tramping into virgin areas and try your best to stick to the standard route, unless you know where you’re going. Just remember: leave no trace, take only photos.

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