A Majestic Journeyto Neelam Valley Azad Kashmir
Dr. Muhammad Akram Zaheer
Neelum Valley, being a border area, experiences significant mobile service issues. Only SCOM SIM services are available in this region, providing coverage to most areas, including 4G internet. However, Ufone SIM cards work on roaming but do not offer internet facilities. Therefore, it is advised to obtain an SCOM SIM when traveling from Muzaffarabad to Neelum Valley. Apart from Muzaffarabad, SIM cards can also be obtained from Nausiri on the way, as well as from Kandalshahi, Kattan, or Athmaqam within Neelam.
For tourists planning to visit Azad Kashmir, it is recommended to travel to Neelam Valley from any city in Pakistan via the express highway from Islamabad through Murree. At the end of the express highway, continue on Murree Road to reach Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir (guests coming from Hazarashould use Hazara Motorway).
Approximately two hours from Islamabad, there is a business center called Neelum Point situated on the bank of the Jhelum River. It should be noted that this place has no association with Azad Kashmir or Neelum Valley, and tourists should be cautious of potential scams. After crossing the Kohala Bridge near this location, the state of Azad Jammu and Kashmir begins. Muzaffarabad city is around an hour away from Kohala. Depending on their schedule, tourists should decide whether to stay overnight in Muzaffarabad or proceed to Neelum Valley. Generally, traveling to Neelam Valley at night is considered unsafe for tourists. If arriving in Muzaffarabad in the evening, it is advisable to stay overnight in the city.Muzaffarabad offers a range of accommodation options, including hotels and guesthouses, with prices varying from Rs. 2500/3000 per room to PC-Hotel. If arriving in Muzaffarabad during the day and planning to continue the journey, take the main highway or the NalochhiGujra bypass road towards ChehlaBandi. The journey to Neelam Valley commences from ChehlaBandi. Along the way, visitors can explore various tourist attractions such as Panjgaran Waterfall, Dhani Waterfall, Neelum Jhelum Dam, and Lion of Control Chalhana. After approximately three hours, Kundalshahi will be reached. Tourists can choose to stay overnight at Kundalshahi Waterfall or proceed to Kattan. These locations offer several guesthouses for accommodation, with prices ranging from 2500 to 8000. Depending on their budget, visitors can select suitable accommodations. If there is no availability in these places, Athmaqam or Keran can be considered for overnight stays. Athmaqam is a 35-minute drive from Upper Neelam, which holds a special significance in Neelum Valley tourism due to its picturesque beauty and proximity to the Line of Control.
After an overnight stay, tourists can embark on a mesmerizing journey to Patlian Lake, located approximately 20 minutes from Cairn via the link road LuatBala. The jeep track leading to Patlian Lake offers a breathtaking view and takes around three and a half hours to traverse. Typically, the jeep fare for this route ranges from 14 to 15 thousand. The jeep can take travelers almost to the last point, and there is also a base camp at the top, which requires a 10 to 15-minute walk. After spending the day exploring the area, then return to Kairn for the night.
An overnight stay, the next morning, after having breakfast, if your intention is to visit Ratigali Lake, there is a link road that leads to Ratigali Lake from Dawarian village, which is approximately 30 minutes away from Cairn. In case you do not have your own 4WD vehicle, you can rent a jeep from Dwarian at a cost of around 10 to 11 thousand rupees. If you plan to trek on foot, it is advisable to carry energy foods such as energy biscuits, instant powder juices, milk, etc. Additionally, souvenirs from Azad Kashmir can also be useful. Even if you have your own 4WD vehicle, it is recommended to hire a local driver from Dwariya at a suitable time. Inexperienced individuals should avoid self-driving on the Ratigli road.
The distance between Dwarian and Ratigali Base Camp is approximately 18 km, which marks the limit for vehicle access. This 18 km stretch typically takes around 2.5 to 3 hours to cover. Visitors have the option to stay overnight at Ratigali Base Camp and can either bring their own tents or rent them at reasonable rates. From Ratigali Base Camp, a morning trek of about 40 minutes leads to Ratigali Lake. After enjoying a memorable day at Ratigali Lake, visitors should assess the weather conditions for the day and aim to return to the base camp by 12 o’clock. From there, they can begin their journey back to Dwarian, followed by a two-hour drive to Sharda. It is important to note that the road conditions beyond the roundabouts are suboptimal, so caution must be exercised while driving. Sharda offers various hotel and guesthouse accommodations, and visitors can also engage in activities such as motor boating and a visit to the ancient Sharda University by crossing the Sharda Bridge. If time permits and one wishes to venture further, it is possible to reach Kiel after approximately 1.5 hours of careful driving from Sharda. Upon arrival, visitors can park their vehicles in the designated parking lot and take a chairlift from Kiel to Urang Kiel. Following the chairlift ride, a hike of about 35 to 40 minutes awaits. It is worth noting that the chairlift often ceases operations before sunset. Visitors can spend the night in Urang Kiel, waking up early in the morning to relish the scenic beauty of the valley. Subsequently, they can return to Kiel and depart for Taubat via a jeep or a private 4WD vehicle. The distance from Kiel to Taubat spans roughly 40 km and takes approximately 3 hours to traverse. The jeep booking fare typically amounts to around 12 to 13 thousand rupees. It is advisable to spend the night in Taubat; however, if the plan is to return, visitors should aim to be back in Kiel by 2 o’clock in the afternoon. KundalShahi or Kattan can be reached by nightfall.
After an overnight stay, visitors should depart the following morning for Baboon Valley via Jagran. It is possible to drive one’s own car to Jagran or, alternatively, take a 4WD vehicle from KundalShahi or Kattan, which generally costs between 10 to 12 thousand rupees. The journey from Jagran to Baboon Valley takes approximately 2 hours, and upon arrival, visitors will undoubtedly be captivated by its awe-inspiring beauty, prompting exclamations of admiration. After spending the day marveling at the wonders of nature, it is advised to return to QiyamKundalShahi or Kattan in the evening.Neelam Valley is a mountainous region, so exercise extreme caution while driving, especially considering the risks of drowsy driving.When visiting Neelam Valley, it is essential to carry warm shawls, clothing, jackets, hats, gloves, and socks according to personal requirements.
Given the limited accessibility of hospitals and medical facilities in Neelam Valley, it is advisable to carry emergency medicines such as fever, cold, diarrhea, vomiting, and constipation remedies, as well as bandages and antiseptic solutions.Due to the high altitude of RatiGali and Baboon Valley, it is recommended to use high-quality sunscreen creams to protect the skin from harmful ultraviolet rays.The currents of Neelam River are powerful and dangerous, so it is imperative to avoid entering the river or streams. Taking selfies or photographs on canals or wooden bridges can be fatal. Protect yourself and your loved ones.While visiting any area, appreciate the natural beauty and ensure responsible behavior by collecting food and drink wrappers in a shopping bag and disposing of them in designated areas. Be a conscious citizen. Respect the local people and their privacy while visiting any area. Seek permission before taking photographs of houses or individuals to avoid conflicts and resentment.Driving vehicles other than 4WD vehicles on dirt or gravel roads is hazardous and should be avoided.Jeep fares may vary, so the aforementioned fixed rates should not be considered as definitive.
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