Mesmerizing Escape to the Snow Clad Neelum Valley
It was Kashmir Day! A long weekend. My favorite Tour Company Discover Pakistan was going to ‘Neelam Valley’, the north most region and district of Azad Kashmir in Pakistan. We haven’t seen that yet. It was the perfect time. We said yes! There was excitement in the air, guests in the house and work over-load in office. Yet, we were so eager. We had to go. We found ourselves packing till 1 am and catching up on sleep on the road.
Overall the trip was enchanting. The views were stunning. The camera can never do justice. It’s the whole out-of-this-world experience.
I don’t think I have seen a more beautiful place in my life. And I have traveled a lot. I could easily compare it to my trips to Austria and Switzerland but I would rate this better than the Swiss Alps! Its breathtakingly gorgeous, plus it’s our own Pakistan!
One of the most interesting parts of visiting Neelam Valley is that you are driving on the edge of Line Of Control. The LOC is the gorgeous and spectacular Neelam river. We are on Azad Kashmir and right after the river is Jamu (Occupied) Kashmir. We could see Indian flags right across the river. Security was on high alert. We had to be careful with our cameras and were asked for our CNIC cards at every check post. It is the most beautiful and the cleanest river I have seen in Pakistan. The reason is that on LOC, no one is allowed to throw sticks, stones or garbage. It is a security threat and therefore it is sparkling clean and turquoise blue.
We instantly clicked with most of the group mates. We were 21 (6 couples and equal single men and women). I have already traveled with this tour company about 8 times before so I’m friends with the owners. Despite the strenuous itinerary, we didn’t feel exhausted. The journey was comfortable as the roads were smooth. I slept in the bus… a lot!
2nd February 2018: Friday
- 5:45 pm: Straight from office, we took Daewoo bus from Lahore DHA to Rawalpindi.
- 11:25 pm: Reached and spent some hours of the night in my Islamabad home.
3rd Feb 2018: Saturday
- 7 am: Started from home for I-8 meet-up point. Had the yummiest Aloo Paratha.
- 8:20 am: Started the journey towards Keran in coaster. We had our first tea stop at Kohala.
Our lunch break that day was at Patika Marco polo hotel and restaurant. It was very windy but the views were gorgeous. There was music, Daal, Chicken Karahi and an impatient river. We reached our destination Keran resort at 6 pm. The night was freezing cold. For dinner, we had chicken tikka, roti and salan. The Bon fire after dinner was magical and huge. Everyone enjoyed a cup of tea in the garden next to bon fire afterwards. Called it a night at 11pm.
4th Feb 2018: Sunday
- 6:30 am: Woke up.
- 7:30: Had Anda & Paratha for breakfast.
- 8:30 am: Started our bus journey towards Sharda.
- 11:00 am: Reached Sharda covered in snow where we shifted to jeeps.
The jeep ride was so dreamy!
- We played Antakshari and took turns to stand in the jeep so we could enjoy the view.
- 12:45 pm: Reached Kel city. Started trek towards Arung Kel.
Chair lifts were closed which we weren’t happy about. The river was beautiful surrounded by snow. Relaxed. Had a snow fight. Trekked back to Kel city center where we enjoyed sumptuous chicken Qorma, daal, roti and Pepsi in a hotel with the most stinky bathroom.
- 4-6:60 pm: Jeep ride back to Sharda. Played Antakshari and a lot of gup shup.
- 6:30 – 9:30 pm: Bus ride back to Keran. Slept throughout.
- 8:50 pm: Reached our Keran resort.
- 9:30 pm: Had Chinese dinner with chicken tikka.
- 10:00 – 12:15: Bonfire and loud music.
Interesting gup shup with group members about their experiences in northern Pakistan. The tour owner Ashur told us about a time when a major unforeseen event happened on a tour and how he handled difficult travelers at such a challenging time.
Haaris then asked everyone around the bonfire what part of the trip they enjoyed the most. I then asked everyone about their fears. It was an interesting conversation, from claustrophobia, hydrophobia, lizards, young grave, darkness, unpredictability, cats, change, to uneven dots… it was interesting to know the kinds of things that can make people afraid.
5th Feb 2018: Monday
- 8:00 am: Woke up.
- 9:40 am: Departed Keran.
- 11 am: Tea stop at Putan colony, Jagran Powerhouse. Such an amazing place. Discovered Jacuzi, dart and snooker rooms inside the resort.
- 12:00 pm: Started journey again.
- 2:15 pm: Reached Marcopolo restaurant at Patika for lunch break. Full village menu with Makai ki roti, Makai ka paratha, mooli achaar, Saag, Lassi, green beans and plain curry salan.
- 4:30 pm: Crossed Muzaffarabad.
- 8:45 pm: Reached I-8 Islamabad and said our goodbyes.
- 9:30 pm: Reached Daewoo station Pindi.
- 10:00 pm: Journey to Lahore started.
6th Feb 20018: Tuesday
- 3:40 am: Reached Home in Lahore.
- 3 pm: Had to go to office with a miserable face, a lethargic body but a very fulfilled heart!
- Be mentally prepared for the worst toilets whenever traveling Pakistan up North. Keep tissues, wipes, paper soaps and hand sanitizers.
- Leave your Nakhras at home when traveling up north. Don’t expect Geezars, clean bathrooms, heaters or even water in all hotels you stay at. Be mentally prepared for the worst.
- Inform your family not to expect signals up north. Tell them you’ll yourself message whenever you have signals about your safety. They should not be expecting a call.
- When you travel with a tour company, you don’t have to worry about nitty gritties. It’s all sorted. Make the most out of whatever they have planned. Trust them.
- Prepare a day bag which stays with you all the time and a backpack which is checked in (on bus rooftop which you can’t access till you reach your hotel.
- A paper soap I purchased from Daewoo Station Rawalpindi (Rs. 30) was perfect for this trip.
- Portable mobile charger and earphones are a must for such trips.
- Inflatable neck pillow is vital for long journey.
- Remember to download your favorite songs and audio books for the journey on your phone. There will not be any signals for your Saavn or Soundcloud apps.
- A scarf/shawl is a must have. it can be used as a muffler, pillow, sweater, bed-sheet or even a towel. It serves many purposes.
- A small foldable umbrella to protect you from rain, snow or sunlight.
If you haven’t been to Neelam Valley yet, you most definitely should. Kel, Arung Kel and beyond is where you need to get to. It is heaven!