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
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, 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.
A small lake in Siri, on the way to Payee. It is located
an altitude of 8500 feet or 2590 metres approximately.
Payee Lake is also a small lake located in the centre
of meadow in Payee at the altitude of 9500 feet or 2895 metres
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 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.
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
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 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.