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Kaghan Valley: There's no place like it


Kaghan is one of the most beautiful valley of the world, in the Mansehra District of Hazara in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan. This 160 kilometers long valley is most popular summer holiday spots for both Pakistanis as well as foreigners
tourists. The valley features pine forests, alpine meadows, crystal clear lakes and cool mountain streams. Kunhar River, the main feature of the valley, is famous for its trout. Nestled along the banks of the river are the towns of Balakot, Paras, Mahandari, Kaghan and Naran.
The local people are friendly and simple. Gujar nomads are one of the most interesting features of the Kaghan Valley. They take their herds of cattle to the high pastures of the upper Kaghan Valley in spring and bring them down again in autumn. While going to Kaghan you will find them camped along the road in their traditional tents or moving up and down the valley with their herds of pack animals, sheep and goats. A vacation in Kaghan Valley is an unforgettable experience so let's go Kaghan this summer.

How to Reach Kaghan Valley
It takes four hours to reach Balakot, the gateway town of Kaghan Valley traveling on good black top road via Abbottabad and Mansehra. The road beyond Balakot was once fit only for four wheel drive vehicles. Visitors would have to leave their cars in Balakot and rent jeeps for the onward journey. Today, the road is suitable for all kinds of vehicles, up to Naran and Jalkhad, adding a little flavor of the old days however, are a couple of glaciers that have not yet lost their snow pack in the early tourist season, and are difficult to cross with cars. From mid May onward the road to Naran is open for regular cars, vans and coaches. If you are driving, always start early in the morning to safely reach your destination well before dark. For those preferring public transport, travel by air conditioned bus service is an option. There are several bus companies with regular direct service to Balakot from Lahore and Rawalpindi. PTDC operates daily air conditioned bus service to Naran from Flashman's Hotel in Rawalpindi at 9.00 am. Bookings can be made by calling at 051-9272017 and 9272004. There are plenty of private jeeps for hire at Balakot, Kewai, Shogran, Kaghan, and Naran to go on various day trips.

Where to Stay
There are many hotels at Balakot, Shogran, Kaghan and Naran. There are more than 100 hotels of different categories at Balakot, Shogran, Kaghan and Naran are fully operational during summer season. The room rent range between Rs 1000/- to 3000/- . Items of daily use such as grocery, fresh fruits and vegetables, snacks and drinks etc. are all available in the bazaars of Balakot, Kewai, Paras, Mahandri, Kaghan and Naran. Also, there are restaurants and road side tea stalls in these areas, where visitors can stop for lunch, tea and cold drinks.

When to Go
Tourist season in the Kaghan Valley begins in mid May and closes in mid October. The summer climate (June to September) is ideal, with maximum temperatures of 20 C and minimum temperatures of 5 C. The road beyond Naran is snowbound in winter, yet from late June to late October, it remains open all the way to Babusar Pass. The best time to cross the Babusar Pass is late July or August. Mid July to Mid August is monsoon season and vehicle movement is sometimes restricted due to landslides and rains in the lower Kaghan Valley.

Where to Go Balakot
At a distance of 72 km from Abbottabad, Balakot is the gateway of the Kaghan Valley. It takes about one and half hours to reach Balakot from Abbottabad, passing through the busy city of Mansehra. The journey between Mansehra and Balakot is a charming experience. The black top road winds through beautiful green hills and the thick forest of Batrasi. Views from Batrasi towards Kaghan Valley are spectacular. Balakot is a town located on the bank of Kunhar River yet has tremendous historical significance. A famous battle was fought here between the Sikh Army and Muslim freedom fighters in 1831. It is here that Hazrat Syed Ahmed Shaheed and Hazrat Shah Ismail Shaheed sacrificed their lives here while fighting for the liberation movement. Balakot has faced more recent turmoil as well, as it was badly hit by the earthquake of 8th October 2005. Almost all the houses, hotels and shops were destroyed in this devastating tragedy, but because of its strategic location, Balakot has once again become a leading trading centre in Kaghan Valley. PTDC Motel and few other hotels are open to provide boarding and lodging facilities throughout the year.

Shogran
Shogran, one of the most  beautiful plateaus in the valley, is situated 34 kilometers from Balakot via Kawai. To reach this quaint place, take a side road on the right after passing through Kawai. From here it is a steep 8 kilometers to Shogran. The road is metalled and normal cars and vans can easily make the drive. Surrounded by thick pine forests and with an altitude of 7747 feet, the summer climate of Shogran is very mild and pleasant. One of the nicer places to visit is Shoran's Forest Rest House. From the rolling grassy lawns of the rest house, one can become immersed breathtaking panoramic views of snow covered mountains. Kaghan Valley's highest peaks, such as Musa Ka Musalla (4419m), Makra (3885m) and Malika Parbat (5290m), are visible from here. For those wishing to stay the night or have a meal, there are a number of hotels in Shogran.

Siri and Payee
A wonderful excursion from Shogran is a visit to Siri and Payee. A rugged eight kilometer road climbs 
9500 feet through thick pine forest to the top of Paya ridge, a lush green meadow with spectacular view of Malika Parbat. One can also see varieties of wild alpine flowers on the rolling grassy slopes of Payee. Visitors can then hike up Makra (Spider) Mountain, which is 12743 feet from see level.
Siri Lake
A small lake in Siri, on the way to Payee. It is located an altitude of 8500 feet or 2590 metres approximately.
Payee Lake
Payee Lake is also a small lake located in the centre of meadow in Payee at the altitude of 9500 feet or 2895 metres approximately
.

Khanian

Khanian is a small but attractive, peaceful village on the right bank of the Kunhar. It is the starting point for a trip to Kamal Ban Forest and Dana Meadows. A ten kilometers jeep track winds up the hillside to picturesque Dana Meadows which are located at an altitude of 10,000 feet with a view of a number of snow covered peaks over 15,000 feet. It takes an hour to reach here by jeep, and about three hours on foot. Another jeep track to the south from Khanian climbs up the ridge to the Kamal Ban Forest. The forest rest house at Kamal Ban is at an altitude of 6500 feet and was built in 1924, being one of the oldest in the area. It also offers a beautiful view of surrounding mountains. The Pine Park Hotels operates a small but comfortable hotel at Khanian. Two other budget hotels are also located on the main road.

Kaghan
Kaghan is the town which gives the valley its name. It is a permanent settlement and is located at a distance of 61 kilometers from Balakot. Kaghan has a hospital, post office, police station and a small bazaar where items of daily use are available in the shops. There are a few budget hotels and restaurants which provide accommodation and meals to visitors passing through, on their way to Naran. Especially, during the early tourist season, when reaching Naran on normal vehicles is not possible, visitors leave their cars in Kaghan and hire jeeps for the onward journey to Naran. Local hotels offer parking facility to tourists.
There is also a hydro power station and a potato research station. Kaghan offers several short hikes for those who have some time to spend here.

Naran

At 7,888 feet above sea level, Naran is the main centre of tourism in the Kaghan Valley. It is located 82 kilometers from Balakot. The town is situated on the bank of the Kunhar River at a point where the valley widens. The river is also quite smooth here and ideal for trout fishing and easy grade river rafting.
With more than 100 hotels of different categories and a 60 beds capacity Youth Hostel, Naran is without doubt the main base for most tourists. There is one central market where all the shops, restaurants and hotels are situated. Naran becomes alive only in summer starting in late May, when the snow melts and the road to Naran become passable.  
Most visitors stay in Naran for a few days while enjoying the various day excursions to Lake Saiful Muluk, Lalazar, Lake Lulusar and Babusar Pass. There are also several short walks and treks around Naran.
In winter, a majority of the population descends to the warmer climates of Balakot and Mansehra.

Lake Saiful Muluk

No trip to Kaghan Valley is complete without a visit to the legendary Lake Saiful Muluk. The lake is named after Prince Sauful Muluk, who fell in love here with a fairy from the mountains. At 10,500 feet, Lake Saiful Muluk is surrounded by impressive snow clad mountains and crowned by the summit of Malika Parbat (Queen of the Mountains). The highest peak in Kaghan Valley, the majestic Malika Parbat has a height of 5291 
metres.
Words cannot describe the beauty and serenity of the setting and picture postcards do no justice. The crystalline waters of Lake Saiful Muluk reflecting the surrounding snow peaked mountains is an image that must be seen in person. There are several ways to reach the lake. Along the side of the valley to the east of Naran, a 10 kilometer track leads through a picturesque valley. A jeep can be rented in the bazaar and driven up in one hour, or the more adventurous can walk to a small glacier about 3 km up and hire a pony for about Rs 200/- one way. Walking the entire way is also an option, and takes about three hours for the 8 km trek. This option is only for those who are fit enough to climb about 3000 feet in eight kilometers.

Lalazar
Lalazar is an extremely picturesque pasture at an elevation of 3200m. It is linked to Naran by a 21 kilometers jeep track via Batakundi. Lalazar is a scenic spot with thick forest of pine and fir. The grassy mountain slopes are full of wild flowers. A rest house and two very small hotels provide food and drinks to day visitors from Naran. Limited accommodation facilities are also available here. Adventurers may prefer to camp at Lalazar as a base to ready themselves for the trek to Lake Saiful Muluk via Hans Gali.

Naran to Babusar Pass
For the thrilling experience of Babusar Pass, one must wait until mid July, when the road from Jalkhad onward become accessible. With a height of 13,687 feet (4,173 
metres) Babusar Pass creates the border between the Kaghan Valley and the Chilas regions. From the top of Babusar Pass one may behold a panoramic view of snow-covered peaks and sweeping valleys.
The British built a pony track across the Babusar in 1892 to give access to Gilgit. Before this, the only route to Gilgit was from Srinagar across the Burzil Pass; until the building of Karakuram Highway, the track was the main route to Chilas and Gilgit. Today, jeeps to Babusar can be hired from Naran. For those who want to make it a day excursion from Naran, it is advisable to leave early morning. The best option, however, is to enjoy an overnight stay at Basil or Burawai. Babusar Pass is the end of Kaghan Valley. Along the way, Gujar nomads spend the summer months on this high pasture with their herds of sheep and goats. The last 7 kilometers to the top is a steep climb. A stone cairn marks the highest point of the pass. From the stone cairn marking the highest point of the pass, many take the time to enjoy the gorgeous vistas surroundings Kaghan and Babsar Valleys and the white topped snowy mountains in the backdrop. Chilas town is 50 kilometers from here. From Chilas one can go towards Gilgit, Hunza, Skardu and other valleys of Northern Areas.