Neelam valley is situated in Pakistan’s part of Kashmir. I had a chance to visit this valley first time in May 2017 with a group tour company “Trekkers Club” Pakistan.
Kashmir is a disputed region between Pakistan and India. After India-Pakistan partition in 1947, half of the Kashmir was held by India and half of the Kashmir was held by Pakistan.
Whether it is Indian side or Pakistani, the land of Kashmir is called the “Paradise on Earth”. The Neelam River stream acts as a border between India and Pakistan and no one is allowed to cross the river with proper visa. In the below Blog “Kashmir” will be meaning as “Pakistani Kashmir”.
GOVERNMENT OF KASHMIR:
Kashmir has their independent Governance system. It is not controlled under Federal Law of Pakistan. They have their own National Assembly, Prime Minister and Laws. However its security is controlled by Pakistani Army.
ABOUT KASHMIRI PEOPLE:
People living in Pakistan’s part of Kashmir have their relatives in Indian side of Kashmir. One of local Kashmiri Khawaja Shabir (which later became my friend) told that if they have to visit their relatives in Indian side of Kashmir, they submit their papers to Indian Army and it takes normally 12 months for verification and then are allowed to cross the River.
PRE-PLANNING A TOUR TO NEELAM VALLEY – KASHMIR
Safety First! Before you are planning to visit Neelam Valley, make sure that border security situation is normal as round the year there have happened many firing incidents from Indian side to Pakistan side depending upon the political situation between the two countries. You don’t need this info for security purpose only but also because road to many beautiful parts of Kashmir gets closed during this tense period.
ROADS IN KASHMIR
While driving towards Neelam Valley some of the roads are in very good shape. However after passing 3 hours from Muzaffarabad many roads are single track having a giant mountain at your one side and Neelam River on the other side.
At some places these roads are bumpy and rough with stones while at some places it has clean carpet road with sharp hair pin turns.
SHOULD YOU GO BY DRIVING YOUR OWN CAR?
Well ! Its a trade off between independence and risk of your car degradation. If you have Sedan shape cars (Like Toyota Corolla, Honda City etc) then you would end up with loss of shocks performance at the end of your trip, plus as these cars are meant to be driven on straight carpeted roads, so you should expect hitting of lot of stones at the bottom of your car.
The recommended drive is through Hiace Van, Coasters (through group tour companies) or SUVs (Vigo, Land Cruiser, Pajero, Fortuner etc) which have good road clearance and great shocks absorption capacity.
IS KASHMIR SUITABLE FOR FAMILY TRIP PLACE?
Lot of people takes Kashmir similar to other Northern Areas of Pakistan like Murree, Nathia Galli, Naran, Swat etc but traveling to Kashmir is little different. There are no such good facilities of Hotels, Food etc as found in other places. There is no such central Place in Neelam Valley like Mall Road in Murree, Bazaar in Naran and Swat valley. Locals have identified beautiful spots at different parts of Neelam Valley and have built accommodations on their own. So where ever you will stay it will be you and few other travelers and tourists with limited resources of food around you. The reason of these limited resources is probably because no Pakistani is allowed to buy a land in Kashmir. You have to be a local Kashmiri to invest in Kashmir. If Pakistanis are allowed to invest directly in Kashmir regions then situation could be better.
So there is lot of hectic traveling involved to visit all places in Neelam Valley and if you are traveling with family having kids and elders then visiting this valley can put you in trouble. The journey includes restless travel, bumpy and single roads with sharp turns. And even when you reach any point then it will always involve little hiking (ascending or descending) on a rough track. Also there will be no Bazaar and shopping areas where ladies could spend there time. It will be only You and the Landscape. In short, “Kashmir is not a Family Picnic Spot”
WHAT TYPE OF PEOPLE SHOULD TRAVEL TO NEELAM VALLEY – KASHMIR
Adventure Lovers ! Explorers ! Nature Lovers !
Yes, Kashmir is a place for those who love adventure. Who love to spend restless hours and hours to see a Landscape with a flowing stream of Neelam River, mountains around you just like you are sitting in bowl and experiencing a sunrise at the backside of the mountain. Kashmir is a place for Individuals, friends group, adventurous Honeymoon couples and adventure loving families.
I am referring the word “Adventure” again and again because you never know when there could be land sliding in the middle of the road and you have to wait hours to get the road clear. You never know that upon arrival, all accommodations are already full and you have to spend a night in a camp.
It should be kept in mind that you are not visiting Kashmir to relax and chill, you are visiting Kashmir to explore the Nature and during exploration, there could be any unforeseen situation. Although I would not recommend newlywed couples to travel Kashmir for honeymoon but if you both are adventurous then its a must-to-go. You should spend at least 7 to 8 “effective days” excluding travel days.
COMMUNICATION IN KASHMIR
You must be knowing that Kashmir is not a Pakistan’s Province and hence due to security reasons no Pakistani mobile company works beyond Muzaffarabad. They have their own mobile network named SCOM which is controlled by Pakistan Army. You have to buy SCOM 4G-SIM from the only one franchise in Muzaffarbad city.
SECURITY IN KASHMIR
All security in Kashmir is under Pakistan Army and there are multiple Check Posts where you have to show ID cards of your travel members. It takes a lot of time to stop the car, collect the ID cards and submit them to Army, who then write details of each traveler on a register. In order to avoid time wastage, it is recommended to write below details of all your travel members on a single page and take atleast 20 photocopies with you.
- National ID Card Number
- Address mentioned on ID Card
- Mobile number
You will have to submit this page at all the security checkposts and the process will be much quicker.
PLACES TO VISIT IN KASHMIR
Neelam Valley has scattered destination points where you can find “Hotels with a View”. You can spend minimum 3 days to visit famous Places however if you want to get a thorough experience of Kashmir Valley then you should plan atleast 7 days.
1. MUZAFFARABAD CITY
Muzaffarabad is the Capitol City of Kashmir. It is 120 Km from Islamabad which will take around 4.5 hrs of travel on car. You can find normal grocery shops, hotels, and everything you need take along further in your travel.
Moreover don’t forget to buy the SCOM 4G-SIM from Muzafarabad because you mobile network will not work beyond here.
2. DHANI WATERFALL
While going towards Kuttan, this is a beautiful stopover which is almost 1.5 hrs from Muzafarabad. I would suggest to take a long break here instead of Muzafarabad.
Just in front of the waterfall, there is a Tuckshop, Tea bar and Toilet Facility aswel. And yes don’t forget to Enjoy Fresh mouthwatering Pakoray while sitting on Chaarpai (Traditional Bed) and benches with your feet dipped in flowing water stream
3. KUTTON WATERFALL
After 1.5 hrs straight travel from Dhani Water fall, you will reach a point called KUNDAL SHAI. From this point, you would take left road which will take you towards Kuttan. On the way you will pass through Kutton Waterfall which is also called Mini Niagra Fall.
4. KUTTON VALLEY
Kutton valley 20 min from Kundal Shai and almost 2 hours from Dhani Water Fall. The best place to stay in Kuttan with family is Jagran Resort or Trekker Valley. On the other hand if you want to stay in a budget hotel then you can find cheaper options at a walking distance after crossing the metal bridge. You can stay 1 or 2 nites here.
Keran is 1 hour from Kutton and have beautiful sights with 4 to 5 good accommodation facilities around. Keran is a place where Indian occupied Kashmir is just in front of you and there is only a river stream between Pakistan and India
Sharda is one of the best point in Neelam Valley. It is 2.5 hrs further from KERAN. Although there are number of hotels in Sharda but you must select the one which is adjacent to the river.
Sharda has a small Bazaar and a 9th century Hindu temple called SHARDA TEMPLE or SHARDA UNIVERSITY.
1.5 hour long drive on Sharda to Kel is rough, bumpy and adventurous. It is recommended to hire a jeep from Sharda and visit Kel. Although mostly people come to Kel to visit Arang Kel but this is a peaceful valley and you can consider one night stay in Kel.
7. ARANG KEL
Arang Kel is a beautiful plateau where you can go by hiking. At the top there are tuck shops, few accommodations and camping options. There are two options to reach Arang Kel from Kel:
- OPTION-1: 10 min Hike + Electrical Lift + 30 min hike (one side)
If you are not a good hiker then you should choose this option however you have to stand in a long queue of Electrical lift because it has only one mini Gandola (called Dolly) which can take 5 persons only at time. This option is not hectic but on the other hand you will miss beautiful views and spots which will come in Option-2
- OPTION-2: Full time hike from Kel to Arang Kel :
It will take around 2.5 hours (one side) without using lift to reach at the top of Arang Kel. The hike is very hectic and you must come fully prepared for it. On the way you will pass through a beautiful bridge and two water falls
Things to take along on hike:
- A Day Backpack
- 2 water bottles
- Hiking Joggers (must not be flast because surface is quite slippery)
- Hiking Stick
- Chewing Gum/ Choclate Bars (for energy boostup)
- And obviously a Camera
8. TAOBUT and RATI GALLI
Taobut is almost last point in the valley where people usually go and stay in Kashmir. Rati gali is a 6 hours hike from Dawarian. Due to my short 3 days trip, i could not cover these places however I am planning to visit these places in late summers and will add these places in my blog aswel.