Neelam Valley - Paradise on Earth

Location:
About 240 km long bow-shaped deeply forested picturesque Neelum Valley dipped in beauty  is situated at North and North-East of Muzaffarabad in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan, running parallel to Kaghan Valley. These two valleys are only separated by snow-covered peaks, some over 4000m above sea level. Excellent scenic beauty, panoramic views, towering hills on both sides of the noisy Neelum river, lush green forests, enchanting streams and attractive surroundings make the valley a dream come true.

Description:
Neelum Valley lies on both sides of the river Neelum. The geographical features enhance the natural beauty of the Valley. Its elevation, a mere 2,000 feet at the start, gradually rises till it attains a respectable height of 8,000 feet. On both sides there are high mountains and peaks. Nearly all the forest wealth of Azad Kashmir is to be found in this part of the State.

Neelum Valley is formed by the Neelum river that flows in Azad Kashmir. Running through the Lesser Himalaya, the 200km Neelam River is Azad Kashmir’s main attraction. The Neelam river and a side valley, the Jagran Nala, are stocked with trout. Trails cross several 4000m passes into the Kaghan Valley.

The valley is characterized by beautiful grass covered hills with sparse tree cover upto Pateka. However, as the Neelum river flows alongside the road from Muzzafarabad leading along the valley upto Machiara, the sceneries in this area are exhilarating but the scenic beauty of the Neelum valley is paralleled by no other place in the world. It is a valley of fountains, springs, waterfalls, flowering trees and plants. Geographically too, it is a hospitable valley. The swaying lush green forests, snow capped mountains, streams singing songs of joy and fast flowing river Neelum, all go together to make it naturalist’s wonderland.  This area is also ideal for mountain tourism. A part of Nanga Parbat Massif falls in this area which is dominated by "Sarwaali Peak" (6326 meters) the highest mountain in Azad Kashmir. Shunter Hill tops are covered with green forests and the fields are lush green with crops.

On a number of places, the local population has built rope crossings on the river. It is a very dangerous device and the very thought of crossing these points is horrible but thrilling. 

The forest wealth abounds in the Neelum Valley. Deodar, pine, fir, wild walnut, strawberry and hosts of other high stature trees and other types of wild growth and herbs are the treasure of the valley. Besides being invaluable in economic terms, the variety of natural growth offers a captivating scenery. 

Climate:
Traveling during May to October from the scorching heat of plains to the high land basin of Neelum Valley is indeed an escape from hell to the cold breezes of paradise. The temperature remains in between 65°F to 90° F during the summer. The upper portion of the area normally receives first snow fall in the month of October and at some times even during September.

Places To See:
Chelhana:
The starting point of district Neelum about 46 km from Muzaffarabad just after crossing the Nosairee Bridge by the route of Neelum road. It is famous for its marble mines, from where marble is transported to Muzaffarabad and cities of Pakistan.  Here is also a crossing point where people on both sides of LOC meet there relatives by crossing the bridge twice in a month.This meeting is possible after a long documentry process which is started with the concensus of both sides governments after the earth quack of 2005. On the opposite side of Chelhana is Tetwal under Indian occupation.Kerna the famous historical place is near Tetwal which is also told the capital city of ancient Kashmir by folks and even bit historians.Important stations in the way from chelhana to kundalshahi are barian, bandi ,leswa, mirpura, jura, Islampura and chembher(Army Hospital).


From kundalshahi about 18 km forward is a link road Leswa By-pass that leads to the top chugali and many more beautiful mountains.

Kundal Shahi:
Kundal Shahi is a village that is located in the Neelam valley, at an elevation of approximately 1,350 meters above sea level, at the point where the Jagran Nallah joins the Neelam River. The distance from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, to Kundal Shahi is some 74 kilometers by road. The Line of Control (LoC), which separates the Indian-administered part of  Kashmir from the Pakistani-administered part, runs through, or close to, the Neelam valley, at some points right along the river and at other points across the mountains on the left side of the river. At Kundal Shahi, the LoC is removed by a few kilometers from the bank of the Neelam River. This makes Kundal Shahi a relatively safe place as far as cross-border shelling is concerned, and for this reason the tehsil headquarters, formerly in Authmuqam 10 kilometers up the valley, have been shifted in recent years to Kundal Shahi.

Kundal Shahi, also a small commercial centre and being the commericial centre of the area it is congested and over crowded .Kundal Shahi is also operational centre of the Azad Kashmir. Kundal Shahi station has a rest house manned by the logging and saw mills at the Western bank of river Neelum adjacent to metalled road. From this place a visit can be planned to the loveliest part of the Neelum Valley, commonly known as Jagran Valley

Jagran:
From kundal shahi a link road leads to kutton, jagran and  other tops. A forest range bifurcates from Kundal Shahi to Jagra Nullah which is a mini river running all the year round. Its water is glass-like limpid having good potential for trout fish development. The forests are so thick in the range that a trip to the range would be like going through a tunnel. It is tunnel of forest indeed.

Jagran Nullah (stream) is indispensable and plays pivotal role in the formation of its landscape beauty and charm which reveals the richness of the area. On the side lane of the impressive Tourists Resort the ever flowing greenish and surf gushing waters of Jagran Nullah add to its peculiar character. Jagran Nullah, rushing downwards all along the tall grooves of trees is almost small river. Surrounded by scintillating beauty under the shades of the majestic snow-clad mountains the river is freezing cold. The snowmelt of these sky heights named “Jagran Nullah” is also know for trout fishing attracting angles all over the seasons.In Jagran places like kutton, Thunian, Ghansee and Pattlian Sar are worth-seeing and inviting everyone to visit and enjoy. Jagran is ideal for mountaineers and takers too. Here the mountains are ranging from 4000 feet to 1400 feet above sea level. The ever green forests are stretched in the far flung lush green plateaus with abundance of wildlife. Gradual and fathering of uphill distance is encountered with the pleasant and soothing environ which never fades into memory.

A small hydro electric power is installed on the right bank of Jagra Nullah stream in Jagran which  provide eletricity to kundal shahi and Athmuqam.  At the end of  jagran hilly tops reflect amazing scenes and are worth to see.

Salkhala:
About 5 kilometers ahead of Kundal Shahi, Salkhala is another secluded spot of tourist interest located across river Neelum. Here a trout hatchery has been established. A Tourist Rest House and 3 huts are available for accommodation.



Kutton:
Kutton is situated 10 km from Kundal Shahi. A road going west follows the Jagran River and climbs up to Kutton. There are some rest houses belonging to Azad Kashmir Tourism department, and rest houses belonging to the hydro project management. A hatchery for Trout fish is established by the fisheries department. The rest house is built over the Jagran River, and there is a constant roar of river flowing below. The rest house is surrounded by lush green forest, surrounded by snow covered mountains. The October 8, 2005 earthquake totally devastated this area, and most houses we saw were rebuilt. The Jagran River is said to be filled with trout, and several trout hatcheries have been built near Kuttan and Kundal Shahi.

The bewitching beauty of Kutton permeated in the radius of 10 kilometers, makes Jagran Valley. From here 16 Kms onward, Thunian, Ghainsi and Jagran are located which are worth seeing spots for nature lovers and adventure seekers.

A long a beautiful series of Himaliya's mountain starts from here to Kaghan, Skardu and Chillas. In winter season is very chill and heavy snow falls but in summer the weather becomes charming and Cool.

Bhateeka:
The valley is accessible by an all weather road metalled up to Kundal Shahi and well maintained up to Kel. At the gateway to the Valley lies a sprawling town of Bhateeka with a dependable commercial centre. For a tourist, Bhateeka can be the first journey break. This town has a modest bazaar with day-to-day activity. All essential items are available in the bazaar which feeds a fairly large number of villages behind it. On its back runs the forth-emitting river Neelum. The village and bazaar are connected by a suspension bridge crossable by jeep alone. This old bridge is being replaced with an RCC one enabling it to afford heavy traffic.

The running streams, water channels and water falls across the Bhateeka village presents another heart winning scene. It is fully electrified.

The quality of life here is full of emotions despite its simplicity. It is perhaps due to verdure. Financially, it is an affluent town. Majority of the village folk is engaged in profitable business abroad especially in the Middle East. A number of scheduled banks  are operating in the village on the strength of remittances from abroad.

The serene atmosphere shrouded into lush greenery and milky-white waterfalls and water courses and their rhythmic flow totally absorbs the visitors. Added to the general plant fragrance is the sweet smell of menthol plants along the banks of the nullah, it cuts its way across the crop-fields in such wavy manner that it looks as a white ribbons over green head of damsel Nature. Bhateeka is linked by ancillary roads with other surrounding areas uphill and downhill.

Athmuqam:
Athmuqam is situated at a height of 1371m, it is the sub-divisional headquarters of the area. It is located at a distance of 80 Kms from Muzaffarabad and connected by metalled Neelam road with Muzaffarabad. It is named Athmuqam because it is 8th station from Muzaffarabad to upper valley. It is an attractive place known for its variety of fruit. All necessary facilities via bazaars, post offices, banks, hospitals, and telephone exchanges are present.

The rest house, built at the foot of the Western hilltop which tapers towards Balakot in the NWFP, is accommodative. It has been built in such a way that its lawns face the river below it. A daily bus service ply between the town and Muzaffarabad. From here upwards, emerges typical Kashmiri living pattern with houses built of wooden logs, most of them double-storeyed.

Curd, cheese, maize and bread along with the Chutney is the palatable diet, the other major diet is rice.   Most people are government employees,rest are in different fields. A large number of government and private institution is working here including one high standard private and two government colleges. 

Athmuqam in its geographical structure is a cup like valley with green hills on the four sides. There are also some folk stories about its being a most advanced city, and then its destruction in pre-historic era. It is also narrated that people from different parts of India migrated and inhibated here after abolish of mughal empire. Hiking tracks for surrounding mountains are traced by peoples and tourists.

Lower Neelam (Keran):
At a distance of about 9 Km from Athmuqam, Keran is situated on the right bank of the river Neelum at 1524m above sea level with fascinating scenery. The panoramic lush green valley is profound in fruit and wildlife.

Keran is another beauty spot on the river side with a neat and clean wooden flooring rest house. Its lawns slope down towards the wester bank of the river. The bazaar consists of over a dozen shops with a post office and telephone call office. Commodities are transported to the bazaar from Athmaqam by trucks. The physical feature of Keran resort resembles a broad forehead of a person with thick hair on the head. Stay is more comfortable here.

The main attraction for this place is that India is visible on the other side of the river. There is also a small military bridge that connects the two divides, and one can see both Pakistani and Indian soldiers patrolling. AJK Tourism department has a rest house built here as well.

Upper Neelum (Neelum village):
Upper Neelum or Neelum Village is located at a distance of about two and a half kms from Keran. From Karen a link road leads to Neelum village which is one of the most beautiful villages of Neelum Valley.  Neelum villages is also accesable via karen By-pass starts from Athmuqam. 


This panoramic lush green village, profound in wild fruit and wildlife, attracts the tourists from every nook & corner of the country. A zoo and park is under construction. Another remarkable feature of this spot is that one can view the entire area of occupied Kashmir from here. Owing to its tourist attraction AJK Tourism Department has launched a development project to convert both the Upper  and Lower Neelum in to a Resort. Due to its importance from Tourism point of view, AJK tourism Department is giving special attention to it.

Nikron valley:
Nikron valley is the name given to Neelum Valley at Nikron.It is the place one worth visiting and is far away from the commercial tourism destinations and relatively save from deforestation thats make it so special for a nature love. It is deep into the upper Neelum valley. It appears that, especially on the other side of the river that no human ever walked there. The only transport that gets there are the local jeeps.


Dowarian:
Dowarian is situated about 13 kilometers from Neelum at an altitude of 1615 meters. It is surrounded by mountains full of pine trees. About 30 km from here, a track goes deep inside Rattigali Pass, which connects Neelum and Kaghan Valley. A high alpine lake (4000m), Rattigali Lake, also exists in this pass. To get there you need to track or hire mules for the journey. The pride of valley is the large fresh water lake nestled in the mountains. Vast plain is surrounded by the small yet beautiful lake and gushing water. There is a Forest Rest House on the top of the hill and an Angler’s Hut.


Sharda:

Sharda is a breath-taking scenic green spot at an altitude of 1981m .Located at a distance of 30 kilometers from Dowarian. Shardi and Nardi are two mountain peaks overlooking Sharda in the valley, reputedly named after legendary princess Sharda. On the right bank, opposite Sharda, the Neelum is joined by the Surgan Nallah along which a track leads to Nurinar Pass and through it to the Kaghan Valley. Here in Sharda in 9th century the Sharda script was developed.


Sharda is one of the most beautiful places with its lush green planes, smooth flowing river which frozes in sever cold season and serves as passage for people of both sides of the river. The landscape of the valley consists of several small streams, hill side covered with green forest, cultivated land around it. AJK Tourism dept has a modest rest house. Do note that there is no electricity in this area. To reach Sharda, one has to cross a magnificent suspension bridge over Neelum River.  


Kel:
A 19 kilometers journey from Sharda upstream takes one to Kel. Kel  is a small valley situated at a height of 2097m. This is another picturesque place in the Neelum Valley. The Shounter Nallah joins river Neelum at this place and leads to Gilgit Agency (Northern Areas), Astore and Deossai plains, over the Shandur at 4420m. The Neelum River flows beside it. 

Kel is also a base camp of mountaineering activities up to “Sarawaali Peak” 6326 meters above sea level and biggest Glaciers (about 25 kms long) which are said to be the highest peak and biggest glacier of Azad Kashmir.

There are some very beautiful high alpine lakes accessible from Kel, which involves 4x4 off-roading and hiking – maybe even renting mules. Buses ply daily on this route in good weather but It is advisable to hire a jeep from Athmaqam for a trip into the Valley. Horses and ponies can also be hired locally for travel to the interior of the Neelum Valley Banks. College, Hospital, Bazar, PCO and a Tourist Motel are available here. The border village about 38 km ahead of Kel, is a fascination yet unexplored. Halmat, Tao Butt. Janawai, and Sardari are the most beautiful places around here.


Arang Kel:
Arang Kel is situated at the hill top near Kel, about 1500 feet ascend from River Neelam It is also a village full of beautiful sceneries. Beyond this mountain, the next mountain is a part of Indian occupied Kashmir. It is a piece of utmost beauty, one can find in Kashmir.

Chita Khata Lake:

Chita Khata Lake is located at an altitude of 3,800 meters. Chitta Katha Lake is only accessible in the months of July and August. Common route followed by the tourists is through kel. There is a road from Kel to Shounter Valley. It is better to reach the village UTLI DOMEL at night and stay there. You should proceed forward early in the morning. There is climbing of 5 to 6 hours to reach the lake. You can also make arrangements of horses for travelling from UTLI DOMEL.

Shounter Valley and Lake:
Shounter valley lies in Upper Neelum valley. It can be accessed through a jeep track from Kel which only gets opened for a few months of the year. From Shounter valley, one can cross the Shounter Pass to enter into Astore valley at Rattoo. Shounter lake is a small but very beautiful lake in the Shounter Valley. From this point, one can go to Sarveli peak base camp, chitta katta lake or cross the Shounter pass into Astore.

Sardari:

A beautiful village comes while going from kel to taobut.
Helmet:

The border village about 49 kilometers ahead of Kel is a fascinating but unexplored sight. The area from Kel to Taobat is called the Halmat. Janawai, Sardari and Halmat are the most beautiful places of this area. A tourist rest house has been constructed at Halmat to provide accommodation facilities to the visitors. The drive itself is slow as the road is a dirt track, crossing streams and waterfalls. It almost takes 4 hours to reach this place from Kel. You can also start seeing some glaciers melting into the Neelum River. This is the last hamlet before you reach the LOC.

Tao Butt:
Tao butt is the last station and end point of Neelum valley. Tao Butt is an example of vegetation generosity of the liberal nature. The spot is donned with all delicacies and niceties. Nature flirts here with fantastic environment.

It has a sever season and heavy snow in winter, and winter season continue  about 6 months strarting from October to April end. Often there is no signs of path due to land sliding and flooded water streams. In summer it is a worth place for tourist to visit. Neelum river emerges from here in the valley and continue its journey till Domail. People of this area are hard working, they store their food and food for animal for 4 months and passed their time in homes or go to other areas for working, usually male members of this area go to other areas for winter and earn there and come back in summer to cultivate thier crops.

Tao butt has few red roof huts comprise this town which when seen from a high ground remind you of the calendar pictures of Switzerland.
The area itself is in LOC zone (Line Of Control) which has been created during the ongoing dispute between Pakistan and India. To get here you need to get permission from the Pakistan Army and Original CNIC must be submitted at the Check Post and then on your way back you will collect it.

Gurase Valley:
Gurase Valley in District Neelum Azad Kashmir is the most captivating but remote and backward area of the Neelum valley situated in the north-east of the Muzaffarbad, the capital city of Azad Kashmir. This area is the heart of  sustainable tourism in Azad Kashmir because of its lush green natural beauty.
It is stippled in many sub-valleys from the Kail to Taubutt. The area is situated at line of control(LOC) between India and Pakistan. The area is full of marvelous flora and fauna and enriched with natural resources like rivers, natural springs, forest and minerals. There is a number of rare species in Gurase Valley which are now at the last breath due to illegal hunting, deforestation and habitat degradation. Govt. of Azad Kashmir has declared the valley as a national park to protect and wise use of Natural resources for the conservation and income generation of local community. 

The Park is located in district Neelum, covering an area of 52,817 ha, lying between 2,017m to 4,345m elevation. Neelum River divides the park into two parts while the human population resides on both side of Neelum River in the park area. The park is surrounded by Line of Control in the east, peaks of Qammary heights in the north Astor, Northern areas. The park falls under the Sharda division and Guraze Range of AJK Forest Department. Each of the Range is further divided into Blocks.

The area harbor a number of endangered species like Himalayan Musk Deer, Marmot, Brown Bear and black bear including a number of birds and plants species. Similarly the endangered plant Bermi (Taxus baccata) the source of cancer medicine, Taxol, and a number of medicinal plants like Kuth(Sassuria lappa) are found in the area.

The communities residing in the Park area are mostly depending upon agriculture for their livelihood. But due to heavy snow in winter they could grow the crops only in summer and often they have to found other source of income for them. 

They depend upon livestock to fulfill the requirement of meat and milk. After agriculture and livestock, timber logging is the Major industry for local people. Sometime they use to hunt different wild animals and birds to earn their livelihood.

Majority of the people above then 30% is uneducated as there not have been sufficient educational facilities in Gurase Valley in past whereas Government have provided primary, middle and high schools in the valley, while the students have to go outside the valley for college and university education.

Health and hygienic condition of the valley is even much worse the any part of life. There are just two BHUs (Basic Health Units) in the whole valley to provide medical aid to the population of the valley. In winter season when the whole valley is ice-covered and temperature falls down from the freezing point, people could not reach to these BHUs and they have to use local herbs for treatment. And many people especially women and children die during winter because of absence of medical facilities. Lady Doctor and gynecologist are still not appointed by the government even in the whole district so a number of the women have to die during pregnancy complications.
How To Reach:
A paved road runs halfway up the valley, and a 4WD track continues for much of the rest. Buses go from Muzaffarabad at least to Athmaqam, and passenger 4WDs go as far as Kel. In the past the valley has been open up to Kel, but at the time of research foreigners could go no further than Patikha (Pataka), 17km northeast of Muzaffarabad. The following information may be useful when/if travel restrictions for foreigners ease.

From Paticka forest near Muzaffarabad one reaches Nosari, 24 miles ahead of Muzaffarabad. Next come Chaliana (height 3,200 feet), Qazi Nag, Barian, Salkhela, Kundal Shahi, Athmaqam on this road.

There is an other approache to the valley. From Kaghan Valley which is linked with it at two points, the Nuri Nari Hali (Pass) and the Ratti Gali and many minor Passes. From Dawarian it takes two days for hiking or riding and night stay at Dharian at 12,000 feet.

6 comments:

@kon@ said...

gr8 share

Treks - Pakistan said...

Its beautifully and amazingly excellent description of the prettiest parts of AJK! I really appreciate the skills, aesthetics and presentation used developing such a great contect!

So nice of you providing such userfull information.

David Miller said...

Great information about the beautiful valley which is located in Pakistan. There are also many exquisite valleys in Pakistan and the charm and magnetism of these valleys attracts people throughout the world. If you want to see more beautiful places in Pakistan then you'll must visit to Pakistan and for this you can hire services from flights for pakistan

Amy Alex said...

Pakistan is one of the beautiful country in the world although very few tourists explore it i recommend you to book flights to islamabad by which you can plan to visit the piece from heaven Kashmir.

yasir qayyum said...

Wow all the pictures are very beautiful with mind blowing scenery and information is also very helpful thanks.
Trekking in pakistan

Muhammad Imran said...

Thanks a Lot for sharing such a comprehensive details.