Here are 8 things you must know before visiting Neelum Valley Kashmir (Pakistan side).
Kashmir is a disputed region between Pakistan and India. After the India-Pakistan partition in 1947, half of Kashmir was held by India, and half of Kashmir was held by Pakistan.
Whether it is the 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 a proper visa. In the below Blog “Kashmir” will be meant as “Pakistani Kashmir”.
GOVERNMENT OF KASHMIR:
Kashmir has an independent Governance system. It is not controlled under the Federal Law of Pakistan. They have their own National Assembly, Prime Minister, and Laws. However, its security is controlled by the Pakistani Army.
ABOUT KASHMIRI PEOPLE:
People living in Pakistan’s part of Kashmir have relatives in the Indian side of Kashmir. One of the local Kashmiri Khawaja Shabir (who later became my friend) told that if they have to visit their relatives in the Indian side of Kashmir, they submit their papers to the Indian Army and it takes normally 12 months for verification and then is 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 the border security situation is normal as around the year there have happened many firing incidents from the Indian side to the Pakistan side depending upon the political situation between the two countries. You don’t need this info for security purposes only but also because the 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 one side and Neelam River on the other side.
In some places, these roads are bumpy and rough with stones while in 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 the risk of your car degradation. If you have Sedan shape cars (Like Toyota Corolla, Honda City, etc) then you would end up with the 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 a 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 shock absorption capacity.
IS KASHMIR SUITABLE FOR A FAMILY TRIP PLACE?
A lot of people take Kashmir similar to other Northern Areas of Pakistan like Murree, Nathia Galli, Naran, Swat, etc but traveling to Kashmir is a little different. There are no such good facilities for 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 in different parts of Neelam Valley and have built accommodations on their own. So where ever you will stay it will be you and a few other travelers and tourists with limited resources of food around you. The reason for these limited resources is probably that no Pakistani is allowed to buy 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 the situation could be better.
So there is a 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 their 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 loves to spend restless hours and hours seeing a Landscape with a flowing stream of Neelam River, and mountains around you just like you are sitting in a bowl and experiencing a sunrise at the backside of the mountain? Kashmir is a place for Individuals, friends groups, adventurous Honeymoon couples, and adventure-loving families.
I am referring to 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 Nature and during exploration, there could be unforeseen situations. Although I would not recommend newlywed couples to travel to Kashmir for their honeymoon if you both are adventurous then it’s 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 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 Muzaffarabad city.
SECURITY IN KASHMIR
All security in Kashmir is under Pakistan Army and there are multiple Check Posts where you have to show the ID cards of your travel members. It takes a lot of time to stop the car, collect the ID cards and submit them to the Army, which then writes the details of each traveler on a register. In order to avoid time wastage, it is recommended to write below the details of all your travel members on a single page and take at least 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 checkpoints 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 a minimum of 3 days visiting famous Places however if you want to get a thorough experience of Kashmir Valley then you should plan at least 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 by 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 taking a long break here instead of in Muzafarabad.
Just in front of the waterfall, there is a Tuckshop, Tea bar, and Toilet Facility as well. And yes don’t forget to Enjoy Fresh mouthwatering Pakoray while sitting on Chaarpai (Traditional Bed) and benches with your feet dipped in a flowing water stream
3. KUTTON WATERFALL
After 1.5 hrs straight travel from Dhani Waterfall, you will reach a point called KUNDAL SHAI. From this point, you would take the 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 is 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 within walking distance after crossing the metal bridge. You can stay 1 or 2 nites here.
Keran is 1 hour from Kutton and has 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 points in Neelam Valley. It is 2.5 hrs further from KERAN. Although there are a number of hotels in Sharda 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 from Sharda to Kel is rough, bumpy, and adventurous. It is recommended to hire a jeep from Sharda and visit Kel. Although most people come to Kel to visit Arang Kel 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 hiking. At the top, there are tuck shops, a 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 at the Electrical lift because it has only one mini Gandola (called Dolly) which can take 5 persons only at a 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 the lift to reach 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 waterfalls
Things to take along on a hike:
- A Day Backpack
- 2 water bottles
- Hiking Joggers (must not be flat because the surface is quite slippery)
- Hiking Stick
- Chewing Gum/ Chocolate Bars (for energy bootup)
- And obviously a Camera
8. TAOBUT and RATI GALLI
Taobut is almost the last point in the valley where people usually go and stay in Kashmir. Rati Gali is a 6 hours hike from Dawarian.