Visit Guide to Sarfaranga Cold Desert

Sprawling from the Khaplu Valley to the Nubra Valley of Ladakh, in present-day India, the Katpana desert has been an enigmatic part of the Silk Road for centuries. Crossed by the Indus river and extending at an average altitude of 2,226m, it is the highest cold desert in the world – its tall sand dunes are covered with snow during the winter.

Getting There

The dunes of Sarfaranga can be explored from Skardu, the most important town in western Gilgit-Baltistan. Only 13km away from the town’s main bazaar, the road to Shigar cuts across a desert expanse.

Visitors just have to stop their vehicles and walk onto the sand. The best time to visit is sunrise or sunset, when the light paints the dunes in ethereal hues of red, shocking pink, and orange. Before making the trip, climb to the top of Skardu’s Karpocho Fort and enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the Indus.

What to Expect

Sarfaranga’s stunning, desolated area hemmed by barren ash-grey peaks is also perfect for adventure activities like camping, glamping, and ATV rides. Since 2018, the Sarfaranga Desert Jeep rally held in August and occasional marathons have attracted riders and runners worldwide. Sarfaranga is also the beginning of the journey for those who dare tackle the long trek to K2’s base camp, the second-highest mountain in the world.