Valley of Neelum:
Valley of Neelum is a land of forests, rivers, fountains, springs, waterfalls, high-lands, snowy mountain peaks, wildlife treasures, hidden assets of precious gemstones, minerals and rare species of plants. Nature bestows upon its best of attributes to the mesmerizing Neelum valley. Neelum valley, the Paradise on the Earth is in the North and North-Eastern side of Muzaffarabad, the Capital of Azad Kashmir.
It lies parallel to the Kaghan valley of Pakistan. High altitude mountain peaks of the valley, at 4,000 metres (13,000 feet) above sea level are looking majestic and wonderful. The valley consists of 370 villages and its topography is mainly hilly and mountainous with lush-green sub-valleys, thick forests, clear water streams and above all meandering river Neelum which gives a spectacular view to its landscape.
The valley can be approached from two different points; one from Kaghan valley and another is from the Noori-Nar Top, the Ratti Gali Pass as well as many other big and small Passes. From Dowarian it takes two days for hiking/trekking, with a night stay at Dowarian. The elevation of Dowarian is 12,000 feet above sea level. The starting point of the valley is Nouseri which is ahead of Patika in Muzaffarabad. The other specific places are Chilhana Crossing Point (height: 3,200 feet), Jora, Salkhala, Kundal Shahi, Athmuqam, Sharda, Kel, Arrang Kel and Taobat.
The official language is English and national language is Urdu. Urdu is widely speaking in the valley while other regional languages are Kashmiri, Pahari and Hindko. Furthermore Punjabi and Pashtu are spoken as well. Shalwar-Kamees is the favourite dressing code for both men and women. However men usually wear waist-coat, cardigan and jacket along-with this dress. While women mostly wear a Burqa (veil/cloak) or pullover and cover their heads with Dopatta (Scarf).
The popular handicrafts of the valley are Hand-Woven Carpets, Namda, Gubba, Silken & Woollen Embroidered Shawls, Wood Carving, Rugs, Basketry, Embroidered Pherans and Papier Mache Art etc. The cuisines of the valley are very delicious and rich in taste. These include Gushtaba, Tabakh-Maaz, Harissa, Ristey, Kofta-Curry, Yakhni and Kebabs. Let’s try to explore the beautiful areas of the Neelum valley.
- Chelhana Crossing Point:
The territory of Muzaffarabad ends after crossing the Nouseri Bridge by travelling on the Neelum valley road. Nouseri is a famous place mainly for its marble mines. The marble transports to other cities of Kashmir as well as Pakistan. There is a crossing point of Chelhana which is connected by a bridge. It is the meeting point of the people of the two separated parts of Kashmir with their relatives.
The meeting takes place twice in a month. This rendezvous can only be possible after a proper documentation process, carefully approved by the governments of Pakistan and India. It happens after the earthquake of 2005. The other side from Chelhana is Tittwal. There are many worth-seeing places between Chelhana and Kundal Shahi which are Barian, Bandi, Leswa Bypass, Mirpura, Jura, Islampura and Chambher. Leswa Bypass is 18 kilometres away from Kundal Shahi. The Leswa Bypass is a link road which leads towards the Chugali Top.
Jura is the most populated area in the District Neelum. It is 18 kilometres away from Nouseri which is the starting point of the Neelum valley. It is famous for its beautiful bazar, surrounding places and the highest mountain peaks. Accommodation facilities are easily available in Jura.
3. Kundal Shahi:
Kundal Shahi is 74 kilometres (46 miles) away from Muzaffarabad and 26 kilometres from Nouseri. Its elevation is 1,357 metres (4,452 feet) above sea level. To access Kundal Shahi there is a link road leading through Muzaffarabad to Neelum valley which takes about two hours to reach there. The meeting point of river Neelum and Jagran stream is also at Kundal Shahi where a trout fish Hatchery is working. There is a small bazar. Accommodation facilities are also available.
Salkhala is the place where a trout fish Hatchery has been established by the Fisheries Department of Government of Azad Kashmir. The Hatchery is accessible by a boat from the river Neelum. Salkhala is almost 3 kilometres away from Kundal Shahi and to visit it, a proper permit i required which will be issued by the relevant authorities. Accommodation facility is available there.
Kutton is in the lower Neelum valley where Jagran stream (Nullah) adds charm and novelty to its beautiful landscape. It is at a distance of 80 kilometres (49.7 miles) from Muzaffarabad and 16 kilometres (10 miles) from Kundal Shahi. It is the starting point of the Himalayan Mountain Range which stretches to Kaghan Valley, Skardu, Chilas and even farther to these areas. There are some private hotels and Rest Houses which provide accommodation facilities to the tourists. The most reliable accommodation facility is the Rest Houses of AJK Tourism & Archaeology Department and WAPDA.
Jagran is a famous place of Neelum valley and a link road leads from Kundal Shahi to there. Jagran stream is bifurcated by a forest from Kundal Shahi. The Jagran Nullah (stream) is in fact a mini-river which flows nearly all the year round. Its crystal clear water is a good source of hatching trout fish. It has a thick forest and there is a tunnel-like trek with bushy patches.
Greenish gushing water of Jagran Nullah (stream) plays a significant role in the formation of beautiful landscape and charismatic richness of the area. Its surroundings are scintillating with beauty, in the shades of the snowy mountains. The river reflects a spectacular view with icy cold water and reservoirs of trout fish which attracts the attention of the anglers, almost throughout the tourist season. In the suburb of Jagran, there are worth visiting places like Kutton, Thunian, Ghainsi and Pittlian-Sar. Jagran is an ideal place for mountaineers and trekkers as well where the lush-green thick forests stretches over the vast plateaus with the the abundant wildlife. A mega hydro-electric project generates electricity, which is available for Muzaffarabad and adjoining areas.
Athmuqam is a District Headquarter of Neelum valley. It is at a distance of 73 kilometres (45 miles) from Muzaffarabad and 36 kilometres (22 miles) from Nouseri. The journey to Athmuqam from Muzaffarabad takes two and half an hour by the Neelum valley road. It is at an elevation of 1,371 metres (4,498 feet) above sea level. Athmuqam has a special significance since pre-partition time that the Line of Control (LoC) begins from this very place.
It is called Athmuqam because, it was once the 8th station from Muzaffarabad to Neelum valley. The architecture of the valley is prominent of Kashmiri origin. The structure of the houses is almost wooden. The construction is mainly in a double-storey structure with the wooden logs. Hiking treks to the adjacent mountain areas attract a large number of tourists towards the valley. Neelum Campus of AJK University is also established there. All the basic necessities of daily life are easily available in the town. Rest houses and private accommodation is easily available.
7. Neelum Village:
Neelum village is at a distance of about two and half a kilometre from Keran. It is merely 9 kilometres (5.6 miles) ahead of Athmuqam, on the right-hand side of the river Neelum. On the other side of river is Keran village of IHK (Indian Held Kashmir). It is accessible by a jeep track through Keran Bypass. Neelum village is at an altitude of 1,524 metres (5,000 feet) above sea level. Neelum is on the right bank of river Neelum. It is hardly two kilometres above Kutton which is at an elevation of 1,524 metres (5,000 feet) above sea level. Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) is clearly visible from this place. There is a small bazar where items of daily use are available. Accommodation facility for the tourists is available there.
Keran is a beautiful tourist place in Neelum valley. It is 46 kilometres (29 miles) away from Nouseri and 10 kilometres (6 miles) away from Athmuqam. It is about 95 kilometres (59 miles) away from Muzaffarabad. Keran is on an altitude of 1,524 metres (5,000 feet) above sea level. It lies along the bank of river Neelum. The village on the other side of the river is namesake of Keran which is in the Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). A number of Government/private hotels and Rest houses provide accommodation facilities to the tourists.
There are mountains and numerous Conifer trees around the town of Dowarian. Its height is almost 1,615 metres (5,299 feet) above sea level. It is 58 kilometres (36 miles) away from Nouseri and 13 kilometres (8 miles) ahead of Neelum village. Ratti Galli Pass, which connects the Neelum valley and Kaghan valley, is about 30 kilometres upward, in the West of Dowarian. It is accessible through a narrow mule trek. Accommodation facility for the tourists is also available there.
Dudhnial is 68 kilometres away from Nouseri. It is a very beautiful town of the Neelum valley. There is a small market where all the daily use items are available. Accommodation facilities are also available in Dudhnial.
Sharda is at a distance of 136 kilometres (85 miles) from Muzaffarabad. It is 95 kilometres (59 miles) away from Nouseri and 30 kilometres (19 miles) away from Dowarian. Sharda is a serene, scenic and picturesque tourist spot. It is such an attractive place due to its breathtaking splendid landscape. The ruins of Sharda University and ancient Buddha/Hindu monuments are worth-visiting spots in Sharda. The historical background of these relics provides a unique learning opportunity to the people, who are interested in the Archaeology and history of the valley.
Sharda is one of the two sub-divisions of District Neelum. The travelling takes two and half an hour from Athmuqam, along the river Neelum. Its elevation is 1,981 metres (6,499 feet) above sea level. Two famous and historical peaks of the Kashmir valley which are Shardi Nardi are clearly visible from Sharda. The historical places of Sharda other than remnants of Sharda University, are the Temple of Sharada Peeth (a Hindu goddess), Sharda Fort and the Kishan Ghaati.
Tehjian is a small but a beautiful village of the Neelum valley. It is a highly populous village yet there is no facility of a Post Office or Basic Health Unit. A few private hotels and a tourist hostel of AJK Tourism Department is available for an overnight stay.
The distance of Kel is 117 kilometres (73 miles) from Nouseri and 19 kilometres (12 miles) from Sharda. This small valley is at the height of 2,097 metres (6,879 feet) above sea level. Furthermore it is on the confluence of the Shounter Nullah (Ravine) and river Neelum. A jeep track from Kel leads to Gilgit via Shounter Pass (4,420 metres) above sea level. It serves as a basecamp for the mountaineering activities towards the Sarwali Peak (6,326 metres) above sea level and Sarwali Glacier (25 kilometres long).
Sarwali Peak is the highest peak and Sarwali Glacier is the biggest glacier of Azad Kashmir. Tourists can hire a jeep from Athmuqam for their convenience and for saving time. Horses and mules are the other means of transportation which are convenient especially for the narrower treks. There lies a small but beautiful tourist place of Arrang Kel which is away of Kel and accessible only through trekking or by a electric-lift.
14. Arrang Kel:
Arrang Kel is a small lush green village. It is a hill station and a popular tourist spot of the Neelum valley, Azad Kashmir. It is merely 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) away from Kel. Its elevation is almost 8,379 feet (2,554 metres) above sea level. The distance of Kel from Muzaffarabad is about 155 Kilometres (96 miles).
It is a bordering village. Halmet is at a distance of 49 kilometres (31 miles) from Kel. The distance of it from Nouseri is almost 154 kilometres (96 miles). Janawai and Sardari are the most beautiful areas between Halmet and Kel. These areas are accessible only by a rough jeep track and it takes approximately four hours to reach Halmet from Kel. Accommodation facilities are available for the tourists.
Taobat is the last prominent settlement in the Neelum valley which is at a distance of 200 kilometres (120 miles) from Muzaffarabad. It is 159 kilometres away from Nouseri and 39 kilometres (24 miles) away from Kel. Taobat is at the brink of LoC, except some other smaller villages. It is the place where Kishan Ganga turns into river Neelum on entering into the Pakistani soil. Accommodation facilities are available through some public/private hotels. The Rest houses of AJK Tourism & Archaeology Department provide a reasonable accommodation to the tourists.
Chitta Katha lake is a beautiful lake in the Shounter valley of Azad Kashmir. Its elevation is 13,500 feet (4,115 metres) above sea level. Chitta Katha is a local name which means “White Stream”. The origin of the lake Chitta Katha Sar is Chitta Katha stream which is flowing from the Mount Harri Parbat. This Mountain is a sacred place for the Hindu devotees who relate it to the Lord Shiva and the eternal abode of their Lord “The Kailash”. Shounter valley is in the Sharda Tehsil (Sub-Division) of District Neelum in Azad Kashmir.
Chitta Katha lake is accessible through a rough but beautiful and scenic trek. After reaching there, captivating beauty and mystic charm mesmerizes the tourists. The jeep track starts from Kel to Domail Bala. It is a rough shingle road of 20 kilometres (12 miles) in length. The hiking trek starts along-with a 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) long lush green beautiful patch. Kel is the base-camp for the lake.
Ratti Gali lake is majestically beautiful and famous glacial lake in Neelum Valley of Azad Kashmir. The altitude of the lake is 12,130 feet (3,697 metres) above sea level. The water source of the lake is the streams which are flowing from the surrounding glaciers and melting of snow from the nearby mountains peaks. The lake is accessible through a shingle and unpaved jeep track from Dowarian. It is merely a 19 kilometres (12 miles) long track. Then there is a hiking trek full of awesome and breathtaking scenery. Dowarian is the basecamp of the lake.
19. Sarwali Peak:
Sarwali Peak is between Neelum valley and at the verge of Shounter valley. It lies in the foothill of Nanga Parbat (8,126 metres). This peak resembles with Nanga Parbat in its appearance. The other names of Sarwali Peak are Toshe-Ri 1 and Dabbar Peak. It is the highest peak of Azad Kashmir. It is at the altitude of 20,754 feet (6,326 metres) above sea level. The Sarwali Glacier surrounds the Sarwali Peak, which is also the largest glacier in the Neelum valley of Azad Kashmir. Sarwali Peak remains un-captured even after so many attempts. Numerous climbers and mountaineers lost their lives while attempting to scale it.
Mountaineers and climbers call the Sarwali Peak as “Virgin Peak” due to its deadliest trek. The basecamp of the Peak is Domail Bala. Mazeno-La Mountain is behind this peak which is just on the right side of IFJAMU Pass. No one could succeed in crossing the Pass from this angle until now. The mighty Nanga Parbat is visible after crossing the last tough ridge-line of the Peak.
20. Shounter Top:
Shounter valley spreads from Upper Neelum valley and it is accessible through a jeep track from Kel. The route remains open hardly for a few months in a year. From Shounter valley which is approachable from the Shounter Pass, opens in the mouth of Astore valley at Rattoo. Since it is a basecamp of the Sarwali Peak and Chitta Katha lake as well as the crossing point of the Shounter Pass into the Astore valley. The elevation of the Shounter Pass is almost 4,420 metres (14,501 feet) above sea level.
Shounter lake is a gem of the Shounter valley and one of the high-altitude lakes of the region. Its elevation is 10,200 feet (3,100 metres) above sea level. The source of the lake is the glacial water of the streams which are flowing from the nearby snowy mountain peaks. The lake is accessible from Kel in Neelum valley, by a jeep track.
21. Machiara National Park:
The Machiara National Park flecks between the sub-valleys of Neelum valley. This area is full of amazing flora and fauna as well as rich natural resources such as rivers, glacial springs, forests, minerals and gemstones. Machiara National Park has been established to protect the endangered species of wildlife of the Gurase valley. Since illegal hunting, deforestation and inhabitat degradation badly affects the area, hence Government of Azad Kashmir decided to declare the Gurase valley a National Park. This step proves beneficial for the protection and conservation of natural resources of the valley for next generations.
The Park is covering an area of 52,817 acres. Its elevation is almost between 2,017 metres to 4,345 metres above sea level. Neelum river flows in the centre of the park and divides it into two parts. Line of Control (LoC) surrounds the park from the East, while Qamari Peak is on the Northern side towards Astor. The park is in the custody of the Forest Department of Government of Azad Kashmir.
Author: Fehmeeda Farid Khan