The Kaghan Valley
Kaghan Valley is the most popular summer destination for domestic travelers in Pakistan. The valley located in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa region of Pakistan is some 96 miles (155 km) long and rises from an elevation of 650 m (2,134 ft) to its highest point called Babusur Pass 4,170 m (13,690 ft) above sea level. Major spurs and mountains surrounding the valley are above tree line and hence the valley is recognized as an alpine valley. The valley is formed by Kunhar River and its smaller tributaries and is characterized by glaciers, ice cold crystal clear springs, ravines, world famous lakes and waterfalls. The valley is formed by the spurs of Lower Himalayan Range and has routes leading to Neelum Valley to the East and Gilgit-Baltistan region to the North. Kaghan Valley with its natural scenic beauty, calm and serenity and landscape is a popular summer resort.
The valley is accessible from Garhi Habib Ullah, a small town located on road from Mansehra to Muzaffarabad. You can get to Garhi Habi Ullah from twin cities of Rawalpindi-Islamabad using two different routs: (1) Rawalpindi-Murree-Muzaffarabad-Garhi Habib Ullah (2) Rawalpindi-Abbottabad-Mansehra-Garhi Habib Ullah. Buses ply on both the routes on regular basis. The other mode of transport could be to use your own transport or take a taxi ride. It is possible to get to the valley via a mule track from Ratti Gali Neelum Valley but it’s a difficult route and would require special guides and support.
The best time to visit Kaghan Valley is during summers, that is, May to September. In winter the roads are blocked due to snow and landslides. Babusar Pass remain open during summer. A new tunnel that has been recently constructed is likely to keep the valley open major parts of winter as well.
4x4 vehicles are available for hire at most tourist points and fares are usually affordable except during the peak tourist season is summer when transport companies charge modestly higher fares. Drivers are usually local who have accurate knowledge of the area thus eliminating the need for a dedicate travel guide.
The entire Kaghan Valley is sprawled with picturesque views, mesmerizing panoramas and scenic beauty. Some of the major tourist attractions in the valley are as follows:
Located on the right bank of River Kunhar, Balakot has a picturesque landscape and is the first tourist attraction in Kaghan Valley. The lower valley below Balakot is called “Nain-Sukh Valley” and with its hamlets and huts presents a beautiful view. The areas above Balakot that are part of Kaghan Valley are part of the alpine Kaghan. Balakot has a number of small to medium sized lodging places like hotels, inns and guest houses. Food and common user items are generally available in local markets. People are very friendly and respectful towards outsiders. Balakot has humid subtropical climate. Summers are usually hot with winters being fairly cold. Balakot gets a much higher rainfall than most parts of Pakistan.
Kunhar River is the main tourist attraction of Kaghan Valley. The river with glacier cold and clear water has variety of trout. Fishing permits are issued by the local administration. Commercial fishing is not allowed here. River banks are accessible at several places. To avoid any untoward situation, it is advised not to get into the water as levels can suddenly rise.
Naran is a small mountain town located about 120 Kilometers from Mansehra City. The valley is set along the banks of Kunhar River and is characterized by its greenery, spectacular view and streams that join Kunhar in this area. The town is self-contained with most of the civic amenities to include telephone, internet, and postal services. Regular coach service is available between Naran and Mansehra and is not expensive at all. A great number of hotels, resorts, guest houses and motels are available as lodging options. Food is economical and usually prepared fresh. Precooked meals can also be bought from different grocery and food stores. There are a number of trekking options available locally. You can also find for hire 4x4 vehicles to travel further into the valley to areas like Lake Saif ul Malook and Babusar Pass and Top. Please keep in mind that weather in winters can suddenly change and the roads may be blocked by snow and landslides for up to 24 – 48 hours. So if you are travelling to Naran in winter, please be prepared accordingly in terms of clothing and availability of funds. A lot of local businesses and organizations are always forthcoming to help the stranded tourists in case of road blockade by offering free stay and food.
Lalusar Lake, sometimes also spelled ‘Lalusir’ is amongst the main tourist attractions of Kaghan Valley. The lake is located at a height of 3,410 m (11,190 ft) and is the main catchment reservoir feeding River Kunhar that flows throughout the length of the valley until it joins River Neelum close to Muzaffarabad. The lake is located about 287 km from Naran is accessible by any reliable vehicle. A day trip and picnic on the lake would be a dream comes true for a traveler. A shared ride is usually the cheapest option. Please do check the weather forecast before you leave for Lulusar especially on a cloudy day.
No mention of Kaghan Valley would be complete without a mention of Lake Saif ul Muluk, a lake with innumerous fantasies, legends and here say associated with it. The lake is one of the most beautiful and magnificent feature not only of Kaghan Valley but also of Northern Areas of Pakistan. Located at an altitude of 3,224 m (10,578 ft) the lake is surrounded by snow-covered mountains. Beauty of Saif ul Muluk Lake is hard to describe in words.