"Neelum Valley, Kashmir" Muzaffarabad by besal
Muzaffarabad Travel Guide: 15 reviews and 60 photos
For years, Neelum Valley has been a flash point between Pakistan and India, with both sides trading fire at each other across the border. It was quite difficult for transport to ply near the border, and tourism out of question. Life for local inhabitants was quite difficult, travelling almost non-existence on the roads between cities in the Neelum Valley, as shells and gun fire targeted anything that moved.
Alternate routes such as Rati Gali or Nuri top were developed, which took people across high dangerous mountain passes into Kaghan Valley and then to the main cities. Travelling was mainly at night. A journey which took approx 5-6 hours from Muzaffarabad to Kel (200 km), used to take days. Travelling mainly at night with headlights turned off, a man acting as guide walked in front of the convoy on the narrow passage. If morning fell, the vehicles hid behind forests or mountains to avoid being easy targets. One of our host mentioned that when the men used to leave this Valley to find work in Pakistan, UAE or elsewhere, they used to say farewell to all their family member and friends as they did not know if they would survive the journey or return in one piece.
2004 was the year when guns fell silent across the Line of Control (LOC) – LOC is a ceasefire line, a de-facto military border finalized in 1972 between Pakistan and India, splitting the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir. Roads and houses were rebuilt and life started to normalize. However on October 8, 2005 around 0900 am, tragedy struck. The infrastructure developed in 1-year of peace was destroyed by an earthquake which registered at 7.6. Collapsing buildings and landslides resulted in hundred thousands of lives, many of them children as they were all in school at that time. Because of the remoteness of several areas, aid reached at a snail pace, which resulted in higher tragedy as well.
I recall that day when watching the news; everyone thought that only Islamabad and some part of Lahore were hit. But slowly the news started pouring in and we realized the magnitude of the disaster.
However the people of northern areas have always lived a tough life and are quite resilient. With international aid, they have reconstructed their homes, and life is back to normal.
Neelum valley, bow shaped and running parallel to Neelum River (also known as Kishanganga) is considered to be the most beautiful valley in Kashmir. It is situated in the north, north east of Muzafarabad and stretches all the way to Taobat, the last hamlet, approx. 240 km away. The valley is also running parallel to the Kaghan Valley, separated with snow covered mountains, some 5000 m high on the west, and India-Kashmir on east. The valley is lush green with thick pine forests, surrounded with snow covered mountains, distant hidden high alpine lakes, and a rich cultural heritage which dates back 4000 years.
The valley is still not a tourist “must” destination as accessibility into the valley is difficult. Presently one need to have a 4x4 as the road condition as well as crossing rocky streams necessitates this. Although the road is being built, but not sure how long this will take. The other reason is that people are not aware of what lies there. Still popular spots for Pakistani travelers are Kaghan Valley or the Galis near Islamabad (Muree or Nathiagali). Swat, another tourist hot spot, has been closed due to army operations. This has increased some travelers to venture into Neelum Valley or other areas of Kashmir.
Distance chart is given below:
Muzaffarabad – Kundal Shahi (74 km) – Authmuqam (10 km) – Keran or Neelum (10 km) – Dowarian (13 km) – Sharda (30 km) – Kel (19 km) – Taobat or Halmat (49 km)
Unfortunately, the valley is only open to local tourists, not to foreigners.
UPDATE: The valley has been opened up to foreigners; however they need to obtain permission prior to visit. Check AJK Tourism office for details.
Our journey to the Neelum Valley was the climax of our road trip from Karachi. And it was a bit difficult to plan as we did not know anything about the road condition, how to get there or what we would see there. I spent hours on the net downloading information, maps, or calling up people who might know something. Despite our family members discouraging us to go there (due to security conditions in Swat at that time), we decided that we had to get away from the summer heat.
Early morning we left Islamabad, stopping at a Dunkin Donut for breakfast, and a bakery shop to purchase bread and other items we knew would be difficult to procure. Taking the new Muree road, we snaked our way up the mountain till we reached the hill station. Than the road started its decent into Kashmir. The valley below was picturesque with River Jhelum flowing below. My cousin had gotten in touch with someone who would have made arrangements for our onward journey, but when we reached Muzaffarabad; we were unable to contact him. I made a quick decision to approach AJK Tourism department, and got our arrangements made. But our move came to a quick halt when we were informed about the road condition. Roads had been destroyed in the 2005 Earthquake and were being currently built. The road in several places were nothing more than a dirt track. This meant I couldn’t take my sedan any further. Luckily my cousin had a 4x4 and immediately we loaded our stuff in his jeep, and started our journey. I left my car in care of AJK tourism in their office.
With absence of any road signs, and various detours, we had to stop every 10-15 minutes to get directions, and to give our self assurance that we were heading in the right direction. Our first stop was Kutton, 10 km above Kundal Shahi. At Kutton there is an AJK rest house, and the valley goes west into the picturesque Jagran River. A 30 MW hydel project is also built on this river, and was the source of electricity in Kundal Shahi. Because of the poor road condition we had experienced reaching Kutton, we decided that we will leave my cousin 4x4 and rented a local jeep for our onward trip to Sharda, Kel, and Taobat and later into the Jagran valley. When we left Kutton, we discovered that the road ahead was in much better condition than the one we came from.
- Pros:Untouched, raw, beautiful, friendly people
- Cons:Accessibility, road conditions, lack of information
- In a nutshell:Difficult to plan, but worth visiting anyway
AJK Tourism has some very decent accommodation available in Kutton, Keran, Sharda and Kel. Booking has to be done in... more travel advice
A 19 kilometers journey from Sharda upstream takes one to Kel. It is a small valley at a height of 3000 meters. The... more travel advice
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