Does this name bring an image of a fully armed cruel infidel pathan in your mind? Err, it is nothing like that. Kafir Khan is rather the name of a peak in Leepa valley we explored last weekend. The word khan is not the pathan one rather pronounced as khan as in makhan (butter) and is used in local language for top. Kafir Khan is the highest peak between Muzaffarabad and Leepa and has an altitude of around 3600 meters. One can spot it and get an idea about the terrain and surroundings by locating it on Google earth through the coordinates 34° 16′ 30 N and 73° 46′ 0 E. On a clear day, the peak offers some of the very captivating panoramic views of the whole area including areas of Indian occupied Kashmir. One can see Shamsbari and Qazinag peaks towards south and southeast in the Indian occupied Kashmir, Ganga Choti in Bagh and Pir Panjal range in Indian occupied Kashmir towards west and southwest and Miranjani, Makra and other peaks from Kaghan valleys towards North and northwest.
There are in fact two adjacent peaks in the same vicinity. Locals know more of Sheesha Mali which is at a height 3450 meters. Name Sheesha Mali it is referred to as is because of the mirror it used to have in British era through which signals were sent to Mushkpuri in one direction and a peak above Srinagar in the other direction.
There are four potential routes that we have identified from where it can be accessed…
1. From Pir Hassimar: Staring from Pir Chinasi above Muzaffarabad, it makes a very interesting trek via Pir Hassimar and Kafir Khan where one can ultimately descend to Leepa from Muji side. In total it becomes a very interesting and scenic 3-4 day trek and is highly recommended. I personally know of at least one group who has done this trek and have heard from them a lot about the beautiful lush green meadows above Hariala. At some places, this trek comes dangerously close to the Line of Control and thus extreme care should be taken. Depending upon the latest border situation, it is also possible that army guys don’t let you go beyond a certain point. If one happens to descend all the way to Muji, visit to Mithan Baba shrine is a must external wall of which touches the barbed wire that separates Pakistani and Indian controlled areas.
2. From Kaimanja/Hariala: From Garhi Doaptta on main Muzaffarabad – Srinagar road, a metalled cum jeep road can take one to the village of Hariala. From here, the ascend to Kafir Khan is extremely steep and is not recommended to do without a night on the way.
3. From Reshian: This is the route we followed. Reshian is around 70 kilometers from Muzaffarabad and can be reached through Hattian Bala on a metalled road. From here, while the main road continues towards the main Leepa valley through Reshian Gali (3200 meters), a jeep road turns left towards Muji. Four kilometers from Reshian is a forest rest house at Daokhan where night can be spent with advance booking from DFO office. Continuing from the rest house, one can reach a little settlement just a little below the ridge. From here the trek starts that passes through dense forest at some points before emerging at the ridge. Trek time till the base near the shepherd huts is 4-5 hours. From those huts, it takes an hour to reach Sheesha Mali and around an hour further to the Kafir Khan top. From the top, one can descend to Hariala from where local transport and jeeps are available that can take one to Garhi Dopatta and Muzaffarabad
4. From Lamnian: Lamnian comes before Reshian on the main Muzaffarabad-Leepa road. From here a jeep road goes left towards some villages. From the end of road, a trek climbs up which is supposedly steep but can be explored.
Water is not apparently available above 10000 ft height around the top so one should not spend the night there. People of the area speak Kashmiri language and area also fluent in Hindko and Urdu. This whole area is not generally known in the trekking community and is worth exploring. Best time to visit this area is from June – September.