TREK GUIDE TO SHOUNTER LAKE

shounter trekking

Neelum Valley is situated in the North & North-East of Muzaffarabad, on the elevation of 4,000 metres above sea level. Marvellous scenic beauty, panoramic view, sky-high hills located on both sides of the noisy River Neelum, lush green thick forests, enchanting streams and attractive surroundings make the Valley a dream place to visit and spend a time in leisure.

Shounter valley spreads in Upper Neelum Valley and it can be accessed through a jeep track from Kel which remains open for a few months of the year. From Shounter Valley, one can come across the Shounter Pass which opens into Astore Valley at Rattoo. A small sized Shounter Lake is a beautiful Lake, situated in the Shounter Valley and from this is base camp of Sarvali Peak, Chitta Katha Lake and crossing point of the Shounter Pass into Astore Valley.

Shounter Pass is elevated on 4,420 metres (14,501 feet) above sea level, in Neelum Valley, Azad Kashmir, Pakistan.

Shounter Lake is a famous lake in Shounter Valley, which is a sub-valley of Neelum Valley in Azad Kashmir and located at an elevation of 10,200 feet (3,100 metres). The water resource of the lake is the inflow of the glacial water of the surrounding mountains. The lake is encircled by snow-capped mountains, greenery and specimens of Iris hookeriana, which are dispersed around the lake. The lake is accessible through Kel, Neelum Valley, by a jeep track.

The best time to Shounter Valley is from May to August, because it mostly remains snow-stricken. It is accessed by a jeep track in the open month in the summer otherwise trekking is the only option left to get there. The valley is famous for its beautiful lakes, not only in Pakistan but all over the world. The landscape and scenery is so enchanting and breathtaking.

For the alpine trekkers, Neelum valley offers a lot of trekking opportunities. Tourists can be reached Naran through Noori Nar Top from Sharda. Ratti Gali Lake is another beautiful lake that can be accessed from Dowarian and the trek reaches further to Naran. Tourists can be reached to Chitta Katha Lake from the Domail village in Kel. There is an exciting opportunity to cross the Shounter Pass from Shounter village and to reach Astore Valley in 2 to 3 days. This area has been very rarely explored by the trekkers and it is very promising to explore it. Its beauty is well narrated in the Travelogues and the peak time for trekking in the valleys is, in the months of July and August. There is another trekking passage from Jagran as well as a trek to Baboon valley can be explored. From the Lower Neelum Valley, tourists can reach to Makra and from there down-ward to Shogran from Bhairi in 2 days. Another alternate trek reaches to the Neela Pahar and Ganja Pahar from Bhairi area of Neelum Valley, where Machiara National Park lies, for the protection of the vanishing wild-life species.
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NEEL FAIRY MEADOWS KAHUTA AZAD KASHMIR

neel fairy

Neel Fairy Meadows are found in Forward Kahuta, District Haveli in Azad Kashmir. Forward Kahuta is a beautiful village, located 250 kilometres (155 miles) away from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Formerly it was a part of District Bagh but it was the July 2009 when it became a separate District, of the State of Azad Kashmir.

Neel Fairy Meadows is one of the most beautiful places of Kahuta (District Haveli) in Azad Kashmir and its distance from Muzaffarabad (capital of AJK) is about 162 kilometers (100.7 miles). The total area of the District Haveli is 598 Square kilometres (230.89 square miles).

The District has two sub-divisions, Haveli and Khurshid Abad and it is famous for brave and diligent tribes. Farming is the basic source of earning because the land is very fertile and productive which gives a good deal of produce. Somehow most of the people are associated with the white collar jobs. A major segment of the population belongs to expatriates, living in Middle Eastern and European countries and their remittances help the economy to boost. There is a Hydro-electric Power Project, with the production capacity of 4.MW at the Nullah (stream) Battar at Chanjel. The region has a very impressive historical background, mainly because of providing a safer route between Poonch and Srinagar during the Mughal Era.

District Haveli consists of high mountains like Bedori Peak (17,000 feet) above sea level, where Neel Fairy Meadow are in the vicinity and many other beautiful places such as Hajji Peer Pass, Hillan Valley, Ali Abad, Plangi, Khurshid Abad, Kalali,  Sungulla Sharif, Jabbi Syedan, Sheru Dahara and Las Danna.

The most magnificent and panoramic place is Neel Fairy Meadows which are situated in Forward Kahuta, in the foothill of Bedori Mountain Peak. It is the popular tourist spot, which is easily accessible through the metalled road from Islamabad and Muzaffarabad. Tourists and visitors come to enjoy the natural beauty and serenity of the place in the particularly in the summers. This is a majestic valley and its mystic charm grips over the attention of the tourists. It produces nearly all kinds of fruits, crops, dry fruits & nuts and above all pure natural Honey.

Its adjoining areas like Forward Kahuta, Plangi, Hillan, Bedori peak and Qaim Abad are the prominent places to visit. Qaim Abad is a famous for the Shrines of Sufi Saints, Baba Qaim Din and Baji Alaf Din. The other adjoining places of Neel Fairy Meadows are:

  • Haji Pir Pass
  • Ali Abad
  • Sheroo Dahara
  • Las Danna
  • Mehmood Gali

It is a suitable place for the day long visit because it is easily accessible from Islamabad and Muzaffarabad and gives a real retreat for the lovers of nature, trekking and hiking.

Author: Fehmeeda Farid Khan

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THE STORY OF SAIF-UL-MALOOK

Lake Saif-ul-Malook is a famous tourist spot and it is located about 8 kilometers (5 miles) North of Naran, in Kaghan Valley, in District Mansehra, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is located at an altitude of 3,224 metres (10,578 feet) above sea level. It the place, where the story of Prince Saif-ul-Malook and Badi-U-Jamal was started.

Story of Saif ul Malook

The legendary story of Lake Saif-ul-Malook is penned by the Sufi poet Mian Muhammad Bakhsh, in the form of poetry.

SAIF 10

The story describes the tale of an Egyptian Prince, Saif-ul-Malook, who fell in love with a fairy, Badi-u-Jamal. He saw her in his dreams and after waking up the prince at once set out in search of his beloved fairy Badi-u-Jamal. Until he met a Saint, he was clueless regarding his journey. The Saint told him how and from where he could find the fairy. He informed him about the hurdles which he would face before he could find and marry Badi-u-Jamal, because she was a fairy and the prince himself was a human being.

Hence the prince started the journey in the name of love for a fairy, but after facing many challenges and with his courage and valiance, his journey turns into the spiritual explorations.

The prince, Saif-ul-Malook lived in Egypt. He was a handsome man after Joseph, on the face of the earth; tall, lean, gleaming skin, sharp eye-brows, dark-black deep eyes and jet-black hair that billowed over his shoulders. He was brave, a skilled hunter, rider and trained swordsman, true to his Arabic name the “Sword of the Kings”. Prince Saif-ul-Malook was born in riches. He had never asked for anything in his life; until he saw a dream of a fairy that had changed the whole course of his life and his peace of mind was stolen by her.

saif 1

He saw a lake, which he had never seen before, surrounded by sky-high mountains that they seemed to touch the sky and the shimmering water of the lake looked emerald-green in the silvery moonlight.  In the lake seven fairies were taking bath, tender, slim and delicate creature, with creamy skins, golden eyes, and curly blonde hair. Beauty of all the fairies outmatched to one another but the glamour of the seventh one surpassed the charm of the rest with her black hair. Her face was as glooming as the full moon (badr). It was her laughter that seized the heart of the prince, even on waking up it still rang sweetly in his ears. He did never see such a spell-bounding dream in his whole life.

He went out in search of fairy and kept on wandering to and fro. One day while he was in the outskirts of the Cairo city, the prince happened to meet a Saint who sitting under a shady olive tree. He thought the Saint might be helpful to him. As soon as he approached him, the old man looked at him expectantly and a smile lit up his face. He informed the prince that he was waiting for him. He narrated the story of the prince and revealed his predictions of coming life the prince. He warned the prince of the obstacles in the way towards Badi-u-Jamal. He guided Saif-ul-Malook about the direction to access the fairy.

SAIF 14

The prince reached at the Lake Saif-ul-Malook after intense hardships and barriers. At last he saw his beloved, Badi-u-Jamal in the emerald-green water of the lake. There she entered the Lake in the last, gliding into the water effortlessly, with her long black hair spread over her back, her face was as radiant as the full moon and her eyes were twinkling. Prince Saif-ul-Malook felt himself in the heavens after undaunted and tiring struggle for consecutive six years and forty days. He was right there to see the palpable fairy, whom he could touch, feel and to live with!

Author: Fehmeeda Farid Khan

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BEST PLACES/HOTELS FOR HONEYMOON

Honeymoon has become a custom in Pakistan. It is originated from the West and gains popularity all over the world. It is a private and secluded holiday trip of the newlyweds to celebrate their marriage. Honeymoons are celebrated with great zeal and zest now-a-days, in the places which are considered calm, quiet and romantic. Here we are going to provide a list of best accommodating destinations.

Pakistan is really a beautiful country and a wonderful place for honeymoon. The peace, serenity and beauty of Northern Areas is matchless and it has resorts with a lot of natural tourist attractions, highest mountains of the world, hills, rivers, valleys, plains, meadows, greenery, parks, waterfalls, hiking tracks etc. Kaghan-Naran and Swat are most amazing areas of the country; especially the beauty of the famous lake Saif-ul-Malook. Murree Hills, also called Queen of Hills is also a popular tourist resort of Pakistan.

  • Islamabad:

Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan is a magnificent place and adjoining spots like Pir Sohawa, Monal, Daman-e-Koh, Rawal Lake, Shakarparyan, Margalla Hills etc. Saidpur Village depicts a true reflection of the traditional heritage of the country. Furthermore it is hub of restaurants, cafes, parks, wonderful, shopping malls and diplomatic enclaves. Islamabad is the first destination for travelling around; to Murree, to the Northern Areas and to Azad Kashmir.

Faisal Mosque Islamabad

Marriott Hotel Islamabad:

Marriott Hotel Islamabad is the best choice for the newly-wed couples, on the eve of their married life. Marriot is a five star hotel and a central accommodation, located in the foothill of the Margalla, near the Rawal Lake. The town centre, Presidential & Premier Residences, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Senate, Parliament House, Foreign Missions, World Bank, Government Offices, corporate sector, Print and Electronic Media Offices are in the vicinity of the hotel.

The Hotel is a first and foremost choice of the politicians, diplomats, businessmen and tourists. It is just half an hour journey between the Hotel and Islamabad International Airport.

marriott hotel muzaffarabad

  • Gilgit-Hunza:

Gilgit is the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan, located at an elevation of 1,500 metres (4,921 feet) above sea level. It is best known for its cold weather, warmhearted people, dry-fruit, fabrics, chinaware and handicrafts. Gilgit-Hunza is a wonderful destination for the couples who are intending a fantastic honeymoon in the fabulous Northern Areas.

gilgat hunza

Gilgit Serena Hotel:

Looking forward for a serene and romantic destination, the honeymoon couples should opt for the Gilgit Serena Hotel. It is situated at the Brig. Sherullah Beg Road, Jutial in Gilgit. Emplaced amidst the bewitching landscape of Karakoram Mountain Range, the Serena Hotel is truly a spot for the love-birds.

It is accessible from all the directions of Gilgit and it is about 3 kilometres away from the Silk Route (KKH). Gilgit Serena Hotel represents a modernized symbol of comfort and luxury surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of nature. Although it is a 3* hotel yet it is equipped with all the latest facilities and amenities, which makes the stay pleasant and memorable.

Gilgit_Serena_Hotel

  • Kaghan-Naran Valley:

The beautiful valley of Kaghan is a prominent among the alpine-climate valleys of Pakistan. It is situated in Mansehra District of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in Pakistan. The valley spreads over 155 kilometers (96 miles) and rises at an elevation of 2,134 feet (650 metres) above sea level. Its highest point is the Babusar Pass, which is elevated at 13,690 feet (4,170 metres) above sea level.

naran-kaghan-trekking-saifulmalook

PTDC Motel, Naran:

There lies the PTDC Motel, which is considered the pioneer in the Naran Valley and among the finest hotels of the town. The PTDC Motel is located on the bank of the Kunhar River, which is famous for its meandering cool water and Trout fish. The Motel spreads over 20 acres. It offers standard rooms, huts & economy rooms and 3 VIP cottages. The restaurant serves continental and Pakistani cuisines and aromatic and trout fish to the anglers.

ptdc-naran

  • Skardu-Shigar:

Skardu is the capital of Skardu District of Gilgit-Baltistan Region. Skardu valley spreads over 10 kilometres (6 miles) wide and 40 kilometres (25 miles) long, at the confluence of the Indus and the Shigar Rivers. The altitude of the Skardu is about 2,500 metres (8,202 feet) above sea level. The town is surrounded by greyish brown coloured mountains, which are in the front of the above 8,000 metres high peaks of the nearby Karakoram Range.

Shigar-Fort

Shangri-La Resorts:

Shangri-La Resorts is a part of the Shangri-la Lake (Lower Kachura Lake) and it is located at the 20-minute drive from Skardu (elevation: 2,500 metres or 8,200 feet) above sea level. It is a popular tourist Resort and has a unique texture in the fuselage of an aircraft that was crashed here. Shangri-la was established in 1983 with the opening of the first Resort Hotel in Skardu, Baltistan. Shangri-la Resort Hotel was founded by late Brigadier Muhammad Aslam Khan.

It is the best destination for the newly-wed couples and time spent here at Shangri-La Resort is a lifetime experience that one would want to relive again and again. The area is commonly known as “The Roof of the World” and because of its natural beauty, the first impression of Shangri-La is of a Fairyland.

Shangrila-Skardu11

  • Murree-Galliat:

Murree is located in the Pir Panjal Range, some 60 kilometres (37 miles) away from Rawalpindi/Islamabad in the North-East. It is located on the Southern slopes in the foothill of the Western Himalayan which are ascending North-Eastwards. Its average altitude is 2,291 metres (7,516 feet) with pleasant summers and cold-snowy winter.

Pearl Continental Bhurban:

Bhurban is a small town and a hill station in Murree and a resort. It is located about 9 kilometres away from Murree. It is named after the nearby forest. Pearl Continental Hotel Bhurban is located in the vicinity of the magnificent Himalayas at the elevation of over 2000 metres. The Hotel is 4.5* with 200 luxurious and comfy rooms.

pc bhurban

  • Chitral-Kalash:

The elevation of Chitral Valley is 3,700 feet (1,100 metres) above sea level and it is situated on the Western bank of the River Chitral (also Kunhar River), in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. The town is located in the foothill of Tirich Mir, the highest peak of the Hindu-Kush Mountain Range, at the elevation of 25,289 feet (7,708 metres) above sea level.

Kalash Valley is situated in Chiral District and comprises of three valleys of Bumburet, Rumbur and Birir. The valley is famous for the oldest tribe of Kalash in the South Asia and its unique culture, religion, language, festivals and the way of living.

Pamir Riverside Inn:

Pamir Riverside Inn is located at the bank of Chitral River with a view of Tirich Mir, ideal for the couples, who want to live in seclusion and quiet environment. It is surrounded by the mountains and the spectacular scenic beauty of nearby areas.

  • Azad Kashmir:

Azad Kashmir (AJK) means The Free State Jammu and Kashmir is the territory which lies in the West of the Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). It is blessed with rivers, mountains, forests, streams, waterfalls, meadows and passes. It has one of the oldest civilizations and rich culture. Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir, is 138 kilometres away from Islamabad, Pakistan and it takes about 3 hours journey to reach Muzaffarabad. Muzaffarabad city is connected to Pakistan from Murree and Abbottabad. Its popular tourist resorts are Neelum Valley, Jhelum Valley, Pearl Valley, Bagh, Leepa Valley and other adjoining areas.

Pearl Continental Muzaffarabad:

Pearl Continental Hotel Muzaffarabad was inaugurated on June 29, 2007. It is situated on the hill-top of Muzaffarabad,  the land of green plateaus, enchanting lakes & water-falls and conjoining of two rivers; blue icy River Neelum and aggressive River Jhelum. It is also the capital city of Azad Kashmir, which is the hub of social, political and all kinds of art activities, yet keeping an alluring beauty in its territory. The panorama of the city and the junction point of Neelum & Jhelum Rivers DOMEL, present a exiting grandeur from MAKRA hills, which adds captivating magnificence to the beauty of Muzaffarabad.

  • Swat Valley:

Swat is an historical valley of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan. The upper Swat valley rises in the foothill of Hindu-Kush Mountain Range and its capital is Saidu Sharif yet the main town is Mingora. It is a place with high mountains, green meadows and lakes of clear water. It is called “the Switzerland of the East”.

Swat is surrounded by Chitral, Upper Dir and Lower Dir in the West, Gilgit-Baltistan in the North; Kohistan, Buner in the East and Shangla in the in the South-East.

White Palace Marghzar:

The White Palace of Marghzar is an oldest hotel and it was the residence of the first king of Swat, Miangul Abdul Wadud (Badshah Sahib), built in 1940. It is located in the small town of Marghzar, about 13 kilometres away from Saidu Sharif. It was given the name because it built with white marble and now it serves as a hotel. It remained the summer residence of the Wali of Swat, Miangul Jehanzeb. Its elevation is about 7,000 feet, above sea level, on the Marghzar Hill. It was later converted into a tourist resort and it is a perfect choice for honeymooners.

  • Neelum Valley:

Kashmir is called a Paradise on Earth and Neelum Valley is the jewel in the heaven. It is one of the most beautiful places. Neelum Valley is located in the North and North East of Muzaffarabad, it’s a bow-like valley and it lies parallel to the LOC. It is a high-altitude valley and its elevation is over 4000 metres (13,123 feet) above sea level. It consists of 370 villages in total. The valley comprises of thick forest, clear water streams, rivers, treasure of gem-stones and minerals.

Keran Motels/Resorts:

Keran is situated on the right bank of the River Neelum at an altitude of 1, 524 metres above sea level with fascinating scenery. Fruits and wildlife is abundantly found in the Neelum Valley. There are beautiful, comfortable and luxurious Motels, called Keran Motels in Neelum Valley.

Sharda Lodges:

Sharda is a breath-taking tourist resort in Neelum Valley, at an altitude of 1, 981 metres. It has a captivating landscape with springs, water-falls, and hills covered with lush-green trees. On the right bank, opposite to Sharda, the River Neelum is joined by the Surgan Nullah along with which a track leads to Nuriar Pass, which is connected to the Kaghan Valley.

Remains of an old Buddhist University are also found in Sharda in Neelum Valley.

Kel Guest House:

Kel is a small Valley, situated at a height of 2, 097 metres. This is another picturesque place in the Neelum Valley. The Shounter Nullah joins River Neelum here and it leads to Gilgit Agency over the Shandur, at an elevation of 4, 420 metres. From Kel, tourists can visit Shounter Valley & Taobat, Neelum Valley.

Author: Fehmeeda Farid Khan

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TIPS FOR FOREIGN TOURISTS TO PAKISTAN

Tourism in Pakistan gets flourished during 1970s when a large number of foreign tourists thronged the country. The choice was limited as the tourists opted to visit the Khyber Pass, Peshawar, Karachi, Lahore, Swat and Rawalpindi. A few of them were interested in the ruins of the Indus Valley Civilization such as Mohenjo-daro, Harappa and Taxila while the others were attracted to the Himalayan hill stations.

Pakistan is blessed with the highest mountain peaks such as K2, Nanga Parbat, Rakaposhi etc. which are the major attractions for the adventurers and mountaineers from all over the world. The Northern Areas of Pakistan are the home of old civilization, models of ancient architecture, the valleys of Hunza, Chitral & Kalash, a small pre-Islamic tribe. In the Punjab province, there are sites of Alexander’s battle on the bank of River Jhelum, the historical city of Lahore & its Mughal architecture such as Badshahi Masjid, Shalimar Gardens, Tomb of Jahangir and the Lahore Fort. Last but not the least, to explore the beautiful, mystic and breathe-taking places of Azad Kashmir fills the charm in the life.

Tips for foreign tourist in Pakistan

Hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists come to Pakistan every year before the instability in the country as many countries of the world declared Pakistan an unsafe and dangerous place to visit. The situation is under control now but still tourists should take some precautionary measures before going to the below mentioned areas, to avoid any mishap. Travelling to Pakistan is mainly safe yet there are some suggestions for the foreign tourists, which are issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

  • Tourists should avoid some areas of Karachi.
  • Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
  • Districts of Charsadda, Kohat, Tank, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Dera Ismail Khan,Buner and Lower Dir in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
  • The city of Peshawar and Southern Districts of the city, including travelling on the Peshawar-Chitral road via the Lowari Pass.
  • Northern and Western Balochistan.
  • Travelling on the Karakoram Highway (KKH) between Islamabad and Gilgit.
  • The Kalash Valley, the Brumbret Valley.
  • Arandu District in the South and West of Chitral in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
  • The city of Quetta.
  • The city of Nawab Shah in Sindh Province and area in the North of Nawab Shah.
  • Interior Sindh.
  • Travelling to Azad Kashmir is quite safe yet the journey requires an NOC to get there, due to the sensitive nature of the area.
  • Pakistan is prune to natural disasters such as earthquake, land-sliding and floods. Tourists should aware of the necessary safety measurements and security procedures.
  • There might be a risk of terrorist attacks, kidnapping and sectarian violence in some areas of Pakistan. Western nationals should beware of these acts and be vigilant enough to take appropriate security precautions. Tourists ought to contact the concerned authorities before visiting to such places and should follow the advice of the authorities and refrain from going to the crowded areas.
  • World Health Organization has warned of Polio Virus presence in Pakistan, so it recommended, before departing the tourists who have spent more than 4 weeks in Pakistan, will produce a valid vaccination certificate to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  • The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for Tour Operating Companies on how to cope with all kinds of political, economic and business related security risks.
  • Take out comprehensive travelling and medical insurance before leaving for the destination.

By taking above mentioned steps, you are secured to travelling anywhere in Pakistan. Have a safe and enjoyable journey.

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BEAUTIFUL WATERFALLS OF AZAD KASHMIR

Geographically Kashmir valley lies between the Great Himalayas and the Pir Panjal Mountain Ranges. It consists of four territories;

  • Jammu and Kashmir (Jammu, the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh)
  • Azad Kashmir
  • Gilgit-Baltistan
  • Aksai Chin

Azad Kashmir means “The Free State” is an independent state between Pakistan and India. It was established in 1947 and its foundation day is celebrated on 24th October.

Azad Kashmir is the part of the greater Kashmir region and it shares the borders with Gilgit-Baltistan in the North, Punjab Province of Pakistan in South and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in the West and in the East, Azad Kashmir is separated from the Indian held Kashmir (IHK) by the Line of Control (LOC), the de-facto border between India and Pakistan. Total area of Azad Kashmir is 13,297 square kilometres (5,134 square miles).

Kashmir is a very beautiful country and it is referred a “heaven on the earth”. Its marvellous landscape and scenery is so eye-catching and charismatic that everyone feels spellbound to it. The lush green meadows, snow-capped sky-high mountain peaks and entwined springs, mighty River Jhelum and meandering River Neelum, thick forests with treasures of wild animal species, and sweetly singing waterfalls, enhance the mystic charm of the valley manifolds.

Although all the valley is worth visiting and worth watching, but the enchanting glimpses of the waterfalls are very captivating and spell bounding. Here is the brief description of the water falls in the valley:

  1. Tilni Waterfall:

It is located in Baithak Baloch in Sudhnuti District of Azad Kashmir. Sudhnuti is 110 kilometres away from Islamabad. The waterfall is located is near High School and still unexplored.

Tilni waterfall

Picture by Saqib Shafiq of Tilni Waterfall

  1. Jamgar Water Fall:

Jamgar Water Fall is a magnificent waterfall in the Neelum Valley in Azad Kashmir. It is surrounded by hills in the backdrop and abundant trees. The whole track is thickly forested and the scenery is awesome. It is the best tourist spot while visiting Neelum Valley.

jamgar waterfall ajk

jamgar waterfall ajk

 

  1. Gulpur Waterfall:

Gulpur Waterfall is located in Gulpur town of Kotli District of Azad Kashmir. Kotli is 124 kilometres away from Islamabad. Gulpur water fall provides a very good summer retreat and it is a perfect picnic spot, especially with the family and friends.

gulpur waterfall

  • Cham Waterfall:

Cham Waterfall is situated in Chinari, a beautiful village in Hattian Bala District of Azad Kashmir. Chinari is situated 51 kilometres (32 miles) from Muzaffarabad. It is connected through the metalled road, which is called Jhelum Valley Road or Muzaffarabad-Srinagar Road. Accommodation is available for the tourists.

chamwaterfall

  1. Amra Sawan Waterfall:

Amra Sawan Waterfall is located between Sawan and Chinar, in Hattian Bala District. A metalled road leads there. Sawan is beautiful place in vicinity of Chinari, 6 miles (9.5 kilometres) away from Hattian Bala. Another unexplored waterfall is located 2 kilometres away from Chinari, at Jaskul.

  1. Narh Waterfall:

It is located in a small village of Narh of District Haveli. Narh Waterfall is only 60 kilometers away from Islamabad. It takes much less time to access it and ideal for a day long picnic with family and friends, especially in summers.

Author: Fehmeeda Farid Khan

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BUDDHA TOURIST SITES IN SWAT

The arrival of Buddhism in Pakistan is a phenomenon of some 2,300 years ago, through the Mauryan King Ashoka, who was known as “greater than any other king or emperor”. Buddhism is deep rooted in Pakistan and remained under the Bactria, the Indo-Greek Kingdom, the Kushan Empire, the Mauryan Empire Ashoka, the Punjab Region and the Indus River Basin Civilization.

It is believed that the Buddhist scholar Padma-Sambhava has been born in a village near the town of Chak-Darra, located in the present day Lower Dir District (it was the part of Uddiyana State). Padma-Sambhava, known as Guru Rinpoche in Tibet, had introduced the Vajrayana, a branch of Buddhism in the Tibetan Region.

There are numerous of Buddhist monuments, like Stupas, Monasteries, Viharas, Settlements, Caves, Rock-Carvings and Inscriptions, scattered here and there in the Swat Valley. This is our own ancient cultural heritage and should be protected, preserved and renovated.

Fa-Hein, who came to Swat Valley in 4th century A.D, wrote about the 6000 Monasteries, found in the valley. Sung-Yun also visited the valley in the 6th century A.D and he reported 6000 images in the sacred Monastery of Talo (Butkara). A Chinese pilgrim, Hsuan-Tsang, who came in the valley in the 7th century A.D, wrote about 1400 monasteries in Swat, which clearly indicated of the remains of the Buddhist monuments. We could find ruins of over 400 Buddhist Stupas and monasteries in Swat even today. Let’s find out a few of them.

Butkara:

Butkara was a Buddhist holy place in Swat, ruins of a Monastery are still found here at Ta-Lo, which was mentioned by Sung Yun, who visited the area in 520 A.D. 9t was also described by the Buddhist pilgrims from China in the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries A.D. It lies in the East of Mingora, the ancient capital of Udyana. The main Stupa stands tall in the middle, surrounded by other Stupas, Viharas and columns. The main building is on its Northern side and inhabited area is in the North and West. The Great Stupa was renovated and extended for several times, from 3rd century B.C down to 10th century A.D.

butkara stupa Mingora Swat

Nemogram Stupa and Monastery:

The place of archaeological importance, Nemogram is in the Shamozai Valley of Swat, which is located about 45 kilometres in the West of Saidu Sharif and 22 kilometres from Birkot, on the right bank of Swat river. It was discovered in 1966.

It consists of three main Stupas in a row, from North to South. There is a courtyard with 56 consecrated Stupas and a Monastery, adjacent to the West of the main Stupas. The definite history of Nemogram Stupas could not be revealed till date yet the coins found there, indicating towards the period of Kushana, dated back to the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. Besides the coins and pottery of Scytho-Parthian period, there are a large number of stone-carving and Stucco sculptures, which illustrates the Buddhist Mythology. These sculptures are now exhibited in the Swat Museum.

Elephant Paw:

The place where one can examine the Elephant Paw is Shahkot Pass, which exists between Mura Pass in the East and Malakand Pass in the West. There are vast plains and a small Hamlet (Shahkot Banda) in the North-East of this beautiful valley. In the South-West of the valley, there lies the famous Hathi Darra (the Elephant Paw) near the village Zalam Kot. It is at the distance of about 10 miles from the village Thanra.

It is called Hathi Darra because of 20 feet wide and 6 miles long road which joins both the sides of the Pass. It was constructed for the caravans of elephants, during the Kushan Empire and became popular as “The Elephant Paw”. The “Queen’s Throne” is also located there, on the top of a hill near Hathi Darra.

Statue of Buddha Ghaligay Swat:

This colossal statue of Buddha is found near the village of Ghaligay, at the distance of 18 kilometres from Mingora, on its left side a main road leads to Mardan. The Buddha Statue is situated about a kilometres away from the left bank of the River Swat.

Gumbatuna Stupa:

Gumbatuna (singular: Gumbat) is a Pashto word for “dome”. This is a Buddhist establishment, located on the right bank of the Swat River, 6 kilometres away in the West of Barikot village, along the metalled road leading to Nimogram Valley. The sites of archaeological interest are scattered on a large area of 1500 metres from North to South and 1000 metres from East to West and known as Shamozai Range.

Amlok Darra Stupa:

The track to the Stupa of Amlok Darra is situated a couple of kilometres away, in the North of Nawagai village, a beautiful small valley of Amlok Darra, near Buner.

Tokar Darra (Najigram) Stupa and Monastery:

The Buddhist site of Tokar Darra is situated near Karakat Pass, about 5 kilometres away in the South of Barikot. It lies on the side of a small picturesque valley, which is about a kilometer away from the present day village of Najigram.

The site consists of a large Stupa, which is attached with a Monastery, Quarters, Assembly Hall, and an Aqueduct Cave.

Janabad Seated Buddha:

It is a high rock-carving, the image of the seated Buddha. It is a reddish-brown coloured cliff that rises on the hillside to the South-West of Janabad (Shakhorai) village. It is at a distance of 5 kilometres from Manglawar. This huge illustration of the Buddha can be seen from the road, on the way to Malam Jabba.

Author: Fehmeeda Farid Khan

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FIVE HARDEST PLACES TO REACH NEELUM VALLEY (Part One)

Neelum Valley is a land of forests, rivers, fountains, springs, waterfalls, high-lands, snow-capped mountain peaks and wild life treasure, hidden assets of precious gem-stones and minerals and plants. Neelum Valley is a 90 miles long bow-shaped valley, loaded with pine, fir and deodar trees. It lies in the North-South of Muzaffarabad (the capital of Azad Kashmir). It is elevated at the height of 8,000 feet approximately. The valley is connected from the Kaghan Valley; linked via the Nuri-Nar Pass, the Ratti Gali Pass and many other minor Passes. From Dowarian it takes two days for hiking/riding with a night stay at Dharian (elevation: 12,000 feet) above sea level. The alternative route is from Muzaffarabad, at the distance of 65 miles (105 kilometres), accessible only in the tourist season. The valley starts from Nouseri, next to Patika 24 miles ahead of Muzaffarabad. The Chilhana Crossing Point (height: 3,200 feet), Barian, Salkhala, Kundal Shahi and Athmuqam, Sharda and Kel can be reached through the same route. There are a few places of the Neelum Valley, which are accessible through rough and difficult routes only. Let’s try to explore these places.

  1. Salkhala

It is another difficult place to access and situated at 3 kilometres away from Kundal Shahi, across the river Neelum. A Trout fish-hatchery has been established by the Fisheries Department of Government of Azad Kashmir. Accommodation facility is available here.

  1. Neelum

Neelum Village lies on a difficult track though situated merely 9 kilometres ahead of Athmuqam, on the right hand side, on the bank of River Neelum, opposite to the Keran village in IHK (Indian Held Kashmir). Neelum Village is located at the altitude of 1,524 metres (5,000 feet) above sea level.

  1. Sharda:

Sharda is located at a distance of 136 kilometres from Muzaffarabad and 30 kilometres from Dowarian. It is a serene and picturesque tourist spot. The place attractive and marvellous yet the road condition often remains deteriorating, due to weather, rain and land-sliding. The remains of Sharda University and other monuments of Buddha/Hindu eras are also found there. The historical background of the relics, provide a unique learning experience to the people, who are interested in Archaeology and History.

  1. Kel:

Kel is 19 kilometers away from Sharda and this small valley is located at the height of 2,097 meters. Kel is located on the confluence of the Shounter Nullah and River Neelum. A track from Kel leads to Gilgit Region via Shounter Pass (4,420 metres) and it is also a base camp of mountaineering activities to the Sarwali Peak (6,326 metres) above sea level and Sarwali Glacier, which are said to be the highest peak and biggest glacier of Azad Kashmir. It is suggested to the tourists to hire a jeep from Athmuqam for their convenience. Horses and mules can also be hired, for travelling to the narrower tracks of the Neelum Valley. There is a small and beautiful tourist resort, Arrang Kel, which is difficult to access and reachable through trekking or a lift.

  1. Halmet:

It is a bordering village and located at a distance of 38 kilometres from Kel. Janawai and Sardari are the most beautiful places but they can be reached through rough tracks. Accommodation facilities are available for the tourists and visitors
(to be continued)

Author:Fehmeeda Farid Khan

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HOW TO PLAN A TRIP TO NEELUM VALLEY

The Valley:
Kashmir is called the Paradise on Earth and Neelum Valley is the jewel of the heaven. It is one of the most beautiful places in Azad Kashmir. Neelum Valley is located in the North and North Eastern side of Muzaffarabad because of its bow-like shape and it lies parallel to the LOC. It is connected to Kaghan Valley from the other side. It is a high-altitude valley and its elevation is over 4000 metres (13,123 feet) above sea level. It consists of 370 villages in total. The valley comprises of thick forest, clear water streams, rivers, treasure of gem-stones and minerals.

District Neelum is situated 43 kilometres away from Muzaffarabad and the area is famous for its minerals & gem-stone treasures, fertile land, fruits like Apples, Apricots, Cherry, Walnuts and Plums are famous for their different taste and aroma.

The Sarwali Peak (elevation: 6,326 metres/20,755 feet) is considered the highest mountain-peak in Azad Kashmir. Some of the famous places of the Valley are; Shounter Pass, Chitta Katha Lake, Ratti Gali Lake, Baboon, Nuri-Top, Sharda, Kutton-Jagran, Kundal Shahi, Athmuqam, Kel, Arrang Kel, Surgan, Tao Butt etc.

The Plan:
The basic purpose of itinerary plan for visiting any place is to enjoy the trip with a relaxed mind; healthful and soulful journeying around. There are three basic rules for an excellent end-to-end pleasant tour;

  1. Discover
  2. Plan
  3. Enjoy

Once you have discovered your destination, it’s time for making arrangements for the finances and a well-organized packing plan of some specific duration (3/4/5/6/7 Day packages are available). Let me try to sort out each and every detail for your trip to the picturesque and breathtaking Neelum Valley.

Suppose it is a three-day visit to the valley that would be full of adventures, trekking, hiking, fishing, hunting, spontaneous events and exploration. The schedule must be over-viewed with all the possibilities to keep in mind. In the tourist season, there must be a scarcity of accommodation availability but there should be a Plan-B under your belt, that is camping and you need to address it with extra-preparedness.

Ample research is also mandatory before your journey has started. Check out the detailed information of climate of the valley (usually it remains cool even in the summers). Search out the weather forecasts/updates and put the clothing accordingly, road condition of the valley. It is better to consult a tour-planner, who will arrange the the tour with best of his expertise and amenities.

The Budget:

A three-day tour to Neelum Valley in Azad Kashmir might include;

  • Total Expenditure: (in PKR/per package)
  • Hotel Expenses: (Prior booking of Three-Nights)
  • Transportation Fares
  • Eating Out Charges
  • Sight-Seeing Ticketing Charges
  • Camping Apparatus Expenditure
  • Miscellaneous Expenses

The Luggage:

(for camping & trekking)

  • A large Rucksack: (to carry all the trekking apparatus)
  • Sleeping Bag: (for the protection, in harsh weather)
  • A folding mattress
  • Shoes: (for trekking, with durable rubber sole)
  • Sandals: (for walking during camping)
  • Water Proof Jacket & Trousers
  • Pairs of Trousers & full Sleeves Shirts
  • Pairs of Socks: (Woolen Stuff)
  • Sun Hat & Woollen Cap
  • Pair of Gloves: (Woolen & water-proof)
  • Walking Stick
  • Water Bottles
  • Emergency Light
  • Pocket Knife

Other Items (optional):

  • A light-weight water-proof Tent
  • Small Stove with Fuel
  • Plastic Cane of Water
  • Cooking Utensils
  • Food Stuff: (per-head menu/trip duration)
  • Match Box
  • Map and Compass
  • Binoculars
  • Camera

Some Extra Suggestions:

  1. Luggage Bags: Back-packs are ideal. Do not carry fancy bags (these are inappropriate for the hilly areas).
  2. Clothing/Shoes: Hiking-shoes and sneakers are strongly recommended.
  • Umbrella: the weather of these areas is always unpredictable.
  1. Sun Glasses: (the sun is often glittery).
  2. Sweaters, Cardigans and Jackets: (the weather gets harsh).
  3. Medicines: tourists are advised to bring all the necessary medicines because these could seldom available there.
  • Miscellaneous: all toiletries especially the sun-block cream.

Medication:

  • Allergy Medicine
  • Eye Drops
  • Aspirin & Pain-Killers
  • Band-Aids
  • Sickness Medicines
  • Tranquillizers

The Plan:

Some of the places of the Valley are really worth-mentioning to visit to, such as Shounter Pass, Chitta Katha Lake, Ratti Gali Lake, Baboon, Nuri-Top, Sharda, Kutton, Jagran, Kundal Shahi, Athmuqam, Kel, Surgan, Tao Butt etc.

Itinerary Packages for Neelum Valley Trip

Day 1

Journey starts at Islamabad, in a vehicle of the company from the Airport/Hotel/Home on the given time.

Sightseeing: Murree, Kohala, Kashmir Waterfall and finally Pearl Continental Hotel, Muzaffarabad.

Day 2

Beginning of a joyous journey to Neelum Valley in Azad Kashmir, from PC Hotel Muzaffarabad.

Sightseeing: Patika, Neelum-Jhelum Hydro-electric Project, Titwal, Kundal Shahi, Kutton/Jagran.

Stay: Kutton/Jagran Resort, Neelum Valley.

Day 3

Keran Tourist Resort and pack-up to go back to Islamabad via Muzaffarabad.

Stay: Muzaffarabad

Note: Food is not included in the Packages.

color ful pictures of neelum valley

Author: Fehmeeda Farid Khan

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KHARI SHARIF MIRPUR AZAD KASHMIR

Khari Sharif is a famous place in Mirpur, Azad Kashmir. It exists between Mirpur and river Jhelum and an agricultural land. Khari Sharif consists of about 80 villages. Its distance from Mirpur city is 8 kilometres and it is famous for the Shrines of two renowned Sufi Saints; Peer-e-Shah Ghazi (Qalandar Dumriyan Wali Sarkar) and Mian Muhammad Bux. Mian Muhammad Bux was not only a Sufi Saint of Qadri descendant but also a prominent poet of Punjabi and Pahari Languages, particularly he is an acclaimed poet of the legendry folklore “Saif-ul-Malook”. Din Muhammad was Khalifa of Dumriyan Wali Sarkar and in the downstream his Khalifa was Mian Shams-Ud-Din, who had three sons, namely Mian Bahaval Bux, Mian Muhammad Bux and Mian Ali Bux. The ancestors of Mian Muhammad Bux migrated from Gujarat, Pakistan to Mirpur, Azad Kashmir and got settled there. He belongs to the Gujjar Tribe and his sub-cast was Poswal. “Poswal” is the origin of the Arabic word “Boswal”, which means “one who asks questions”.

Mian Muhammad Bux, who wrote the famous folklore Saif-ul-Malook, is buried there in Khari Sharif. Saif-ul-Malook is a tale of a Prince who fell in love with a fairy called Badi-U-Jamal whom he saw in a dream. It is a series of chronicles of his journey, in search of the fairy and the spiritual lessons as well. Saif-ul-Malook is widely read and appreciated in all over Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Pakistan. A Council is working for the progress of Mian Muhammad Bux Poetry, specifically the Saif-ul-Malook.

Author: Fehmeeda Farid Khan

khari Sharif Mirpur

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