The Neelum Valley
Neelum Valley is indeed one of the most picturesque and serene valleys of Pakistan. Characterized by the burbling and oft noisy Neelum River, formerly called “Krishan Ganga River” and its several tributaries the valley is a popular tourist and trekking attraction for local and global travelers. The valley starts at Muzaffarabad , the capital city of Azad Jammu and Kashmir region of Pakistan and extends to Shauntar Pass in the North and Taobat-Nikron in the North-east traversing along Neelum River as it moves up between offshoots of Pir Chinasi, Pir Hassimar, Pir Panjal Range and Kundal Shahi Ridges in the East and Lower spurs of Nanga Parbat Massif of the the Great Himalayas in the West. Travelling along the famous Neelum Valley Road the valley presents a romantic aura mixed with a natural sense of hospitability despite the drive being fairly challenging and adventurous especially in the landslide prone areas. The valley is very popular among bikers in early summer and early fall. The area is prone to landslides in rainy and monsoon seasons of mid July to mid September. The upper areas like Sharda and kel get fair amount of snowfall in winter.
The valley is accessible from Muzaffarabad, the capital city of Azad Jammu and Kashmir region of Pakistan. Getting to Muzaffarabad is very easy. It is approximately 3 hours drive from twin cities of Rawalpindi-Islamabad by own car or a taxi. Regular bus and coaster service is available from Pir Wadhai Bus Station, Rawalpindi via Murree Hills. Another route to get to Muzaffarabad is via Abbottabad-Mansehra-Gari Habibullah. A number of cheap to economy to luxury hotels are available at Muzaffarabad for overnight lodging and local joints make good spicy and non-spicy food.
Regular bus service is available between Muzaffarabad -Kel and Muzaffarabad-Athmuqam from Muzaffarabad General Bus Stand. Taxis and 4x4 vehicles are also available and are not expensive especially if you are OK with a shared ride. A number of inns, hotels and hotels are available at kiran, Sharda and kel to suit different budgets. Food is no expensive at all. People are usually very friendly to the outsiders but you are advised to exercise the usual precautions that you would as a traveler.
Neelum Valley is literally brimming with picturesque views, mesmerizing panoramas and scenic beauty. Listed below are some of the major tourist attractions in the valley:
‘Domail’ is a popular tourist spot located right within the city of Muzaffarabad. This is the confluence where River Neelum joins River Jhelum and become one River Jhelum. You can have glimpses of surrounding mountains and hills from this spot and make some good clicks if you are into photography.
Muzaffarabad Fort also known as “Red Fort” or “Ratta Qila” was built by the Chak Rulers of Kashmir in the 16th Century and is an archeological wonder. The fort is surrounded by River Neelum from three sides and must have been a strategic fortress of its time. The fort is located close to the entry point to Neelum Valley on the northern tip of Muzaffarabad.
Dhanni is a small village located approximately 45 minutes drive from Muzaffarabad. Dhanni Waterfalls are a popular stopover for the travelers in Neelum Valley. The water is very clean, hygienic and tested for human consumption. You may like to fill your bottles or cans here as mineral water is expensive and scarcely available.
Noseri is a small town located on River Neelum at approximately One and a half hour drive from Muzaffarabad. Noseri Hydropower Project is an engineering wonder designed to tunnel away River Neelum Water to River Jhelum for electricity production.
Kundal Shahi is a small town and a popular tourist spot in Neelum Valley. Kundal Shahi Nullah, a tributary of River Neelum, falls into Neelum at Kundal Shahi. Many public service offices and headquarters are also located at Athmuqam. It’s a popular place for anglers trying to catch a trout which is fairly abundantly available in the river water here. The water in Kundal Shahi Nullah is glaciated and chilled even in summer.
Athmuqam is a small town with its local attraction like open fields, streams, waterways, and historical buildings including a several centuries old mosque. It is a town with a population of about 20,000 and has farmer markets, workshop facilities, and several guest houses, hotels and inns for overnight stay. Meals suiting to all budgets are available. Being the district headquarters of Neelum District, it serves as tourist hub interested in hiking and exploring the inner valleys. Besides, banking, telephone, and postal facilities are available at Athmuqam
Kutton is a small village in Jagran Valley that can be accessed from Kundal Shahi via road network. Areas inside and adjacent to Jagran Valley are worth exploring. You can also access Thunian, Ghainsi, Baboon Hill, Patlian and Rati Gali from this direction using a 4x4 reliable vehicle.
Keran, also known as Neelum, is a village located in the Neelum Valley. The valley is fairly open here and the view all around is spectacular. Keran ia popular tourist attraction with smooth flowing River water, sitting places and open patches. A number of guest houses, lodges and hotels have come up in the last two decades that make it a popular overnight transit point for travelers to Neelum Valley.
Upper Neelum is a village located at a distance of about 2 km from Karen. Located at an altitude of 1824 m (5984 ft) above sea level the village presents an outstanding panorama and is rich in wild fruit and animal species like monkeys, baboons, tigers and other wild animals. Upper Neelum with its tourist huts and natural habitat is a popular tourist destination in summers.
Dawarian is a small village located between thick conifer trees at an altitude of 1615 m (5,299 ft), approximately 13 KM from Keran. The area presents lush green view during summer and has unmatched natural beauty and serenity.
Rati Gali Lake is one of the most famous and visited tourist spot in the Neelum Valley. Rati Gali is located about 18 Km from Neelum River and is accessible during the period from May to October. The lake with its surrounding panorama is a captivating spot that attracts lot of local and global tourists.
Sharda is a medium sized town located approximately 140 km from Muzaffarabad. It’s a major tourist attraction not only because of its scenic beauty but also because of its significance in ancient Hindu scriptures. It is believed to be the birthplace of Hindu godess and princess Sharda. The two mountain tops Sharda and Narda are named after the godess Sharda and her sister Narda. A foot track from Sharda, along Surgan Nullah, via Nar Pass connects Neelum Valley with equally famous Kaghan Valley. Sharda has several facilities for the visiting tourists including hotels, motels, guest houses, lodges, telephone and postal services and tourist information centers.
Kel, a famous mountain town and a popular tourist destination is located about 160 Kilometers from Muzaffarabad at an altitude of 2,097 m (6980 ft). Kel is also a small military cantonment and hence very secure and safe for tourists. The Shounter Nullah descending from the North joins river Neelum at Kel. A foot track from Kel via Shauntar Pass (4,420 m or 14,501 ft) links Neelum Valley with Gilgit-Baltistan region. Kel is also a base camp to Sarwaali Peak (6326 m or 20,755 ft) and Sarwaali Glacier. From Kel you can take cable car for a day trip to and back from Arang Kel. You could also plan a more hardcore exploration of Gurez Valley.
Gurez Valley also called Gurais Valley is located 38 kms from Kel within high mountains of the Mighty Himalayan Range. The valley is located at a height of 8,000 feet above sea level and is not fully explored as yet. The valley is characterized by snow covered mountains around it and has diverse fauna and wildlife species like Brown Bears and Snow leopards. The valley is located close to the Burzil pass which leads into Astore district of the Gilgat Baltistan. The valley remains cutoff from Kel during winter. The valley has traditional panorama with wooden huts and nomadic culture. Some of the famous tourist villages like Janawai, Pholawai, Saonar, Sardari, Halmat, Nikro, Cream abad, and Tao Butt are located in this area. Tao But is the ultimate tourist destination with its calm, greenery, pastures, meadows and water bodies.
Additional information, if required, may be obtained from the Directorate General Tourism and Archeology, Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Their contact information is as follows: