Neelum Valley

Neelum valley starts from Muzaffarabad and goes along the river Neelum up to the point where Kishanganga river becomes Neelum after entering the Pakistani Kashmir. The official Neelum district starts from Chaliana. Unofficially, whole valley is divided into Lower and Upper Neelum where upper Neelum starts from Athmuqam. Neelum Valley is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating  alpine valleys in Pakistan. Because of the Indo-Pak tension at Line of control, this area has remained a virtual no-go-area for tourists for a long time. I do remember my first visit to Neelum Valley back in 2000 when you often hear artillery sounds and Zero Point (point under direct Indian Army gun range) had to be crossed in night with jeep’s lights switched off. It is just after a few years of ceasefire, people started coming to this area and now they can go all the way up to Taobutt on a metalled road. While whole of Neelum valley is attractive, the area beyond Sardari up to Taobutt and beyond is unmatched in its beauty. If you have come to Neelum all the way and go back from Sharda or Kel, you certainly have missed a lot.

Upper Neelum Valley near Halmat

Languages:

It is interesting to study the spoken languages of this area as people from different parts speak different languages. From Muzaffarabad up to Dhudial, people speak Hindko or local kashmiri language. From Dhudial to Kharigam, people speak the actual Kashmiri language spoken in the occupied Kashmir. From Sharda then to area a little beyond Kel, people again speak Hindko. People of two villages Janawai andd Phulanwai speak Chillasi language. And then in the final stretch,  people in and around Taobutt speak Shina language that is spoken in Astore and Gilgit areas.

Transport:

Buses are only available mode of public transport available for whole of Neelum valley. These buses (which are often known as Rocket buses) leave on regular intervals from main Muzaffarabad bus stop in Baila Noor Shah and go all the way to Taobutt. Hiace vans go only up to Athmaqam (as of 2009). The road from Muzaffarabad to Athmaqam is currently being repaired and widened. Once it is done completely (somewhere by 2011) it is expected to reduce the fatigue and travel time of travel. For off-road valleys like Jagran and Shounter, public jeeps are available from Kundal Shahi and Kel respectively.

Accommodation:

Azad Kashmir government rest houses are available at Kairan, Sharda and Kel and are pretty reasonable. They should be booked from the tourism office in Muzaffarabad. Budget hotels can be found at every main town along the road all the way to Taobutt. An official list (not always reliable) of accommodation options in whole of Azad Kashmir including Neelum Valley can be checked here.

Trekking Options:

For alpine trekkers, Neelum valley offers a lot. One can reach Naran via Noori Nar top from Sharda. Ratti gali lake is a beautiful lake that can be accessed from Dowarian and one can continue further to Naran. Chitta Katha lake can be reached from Domail village in Kel (1-2 days). An exciting opportunity is to cross the Shounter pass from Shounter village and reach Astore (2-3 days). From Taobutt, an excellent trekking option is to reach Astore via Kamri top or Dadgai forest (3-4 days). This area has been very rarely explored by the trekkers and is certainly promising. Syed Javaid Sherazi has written an excellent travelogue on a trip to this area with Tarrar here. Best time for trekking in these areas is in the months of July and August. There are some trekking options from Jagran as well including a trek to Baboon valley which can be explored. In lower Neelum, one can go to Makra and down to Shogran from Bhairi (2 days).  From Bhairi, an alternate is to try the Blue Mountain (Neela Pahar) or Bald Mountain (Ganja Pahar) in the area that falls under Machiara National Park.

Shounter Valley

For more information about Neelum Valley,  see Khalid Saeed’s excellent article here or a blog post by Muhammad Shahid here.

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5 thoughts on “Neelum Valley

  1. We friends are actually planning to visit Neelam valley, 25th Dec.onward.actually.
    Knew the weather conditions would be challenging.
    Now i want to know that should we go now?
    Because we want to experience winter there seriously.
    Tell me something about it.

  2. @Hasan: People do travel to Neelum valley in winters too. The area beyond Kel might be difficult to access but rest should be doable. Go well prepared for the chilly weather however.

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