Kaghan valley is considered to be a jewel amongst the beautiful valleys of the Mansehra district in Pakistan. The valley is approximately 160 kilometers long and is a popular summer holiday resort for tourists from both within the country and abroad.
Following are the salient features of Kaghan valley
- Kunhar river – the main feature of the valley
- Gujar nomads with their cattle
- Honey sellers
- Potato farms
- Trout fish
The popular languages spoken in the valley are Hindko and Gojri while the national language Urdu is also widely understood. Kaghan valley is situated at an approximate distance of 250 kilometers from the capital, Islamabad. The road that leads to the valley passes through different towns and cities, notably Taxila, Abbotabad, Mansehra and Balakot. The last city/town that comes before the start of Kaghan valley is Balakot.
Balakot was the place of an important historical battle between the Sikhs and Muslims in the early 19th century and is also home to the grave of Syed Ahmed Shaheed, an important Muslim leader. Tourists coming from far flung areas usually prefer to stay at Balakot for the night before officially venturing into the scenic valleys of Kaghan.
After entering into Kaghan, the first town that comes our way is Kawai. Kawai is situated at a distance of 24 kilometers (15 miles) from Balakot and is home to a small number of people. The track that passes through Kawai winds through thick forests of pine and can be extremely prone to landslides in wet weather.
After crossing Kawai, visitors find themselves in Shogran, a heavenly place with beautiful views. Shogran is situated at an altitude of 2400 (7500 feet) meters above sea level. At this altitude it stands well above the valley. Shogran has a number of guest houses that can be used as an abode for the night. Most well-known is the forestry department rest and guest house.
Shogran offers magnificent views to three beautiful snowcapped peaks, namely:
- Musa ka Musalla
- Malika Parbat
Once you cross Shogran, a steep climb leads you the stunning plateau of Siri and Paya. Siri and Paya is a plateau right above the scenic Shogran. Paya is instantly recognized for its beautiful lake that reflects the greenery around it. Further ahead, at Siri the plateau is situated. Siri Paye can be reached through a jeep drive or a 2.5 hour hike from Shogran.
Paya is situated at a height of 11,200 feet or3414 meters. The distance between Siri and Paya can be bridged in 15 minutes via jeep. There is a forest rest house situated at Siri.
Manna Meadows are situated at an altitude of 8000 feet above sea level. It takes approximately 4 hours from Paya to reach Manna meadows via a hike. The best time to visit Manna Meadows is July/August because it is this time of the year when the flowers are in full bloom. There is also a 3hour hiking track from Manna Meadows to Shogran.
A 16 kilometer jeep track from Paras which is situated at the opposite bank of river Kunhar leads to Sharan. Sharan is situated at an altitude of 7872 feet.
It is part if the mountain range which boasts Musa ka Musalla as its highest peak at 13,372 feet.
Another town in the vicinity of Sharan worth mentioning is Shinu. The town is well known for its Trout hatchery which is a rich source of trout fishes. Tourists can purchase a fishing license at Shinu which allows them to fish in the well-stocked river.
Jared is a small town known for its handicrafts. The handicraft business is run both privately and in collaboration with the government. The government also runs a handicraft development center at Jared. The handicrafts sold at Jared mainly comprise of:
- Carved furniture
- Handmade woolen shawls
At a little distance from Mahanderi, comes Khanian. Khanian is situated at the right bank of river Kunhar and serves as a base camp for people venturing into the Kamal Ban forest and Danna Meadows.
A ten kilometer jeep track from Khanian leads to Danna Meadows. Despite the track being only 10 km’s long it still takes about an hour. Danna Meadows are situated at an altitude of 10,000 feet and present views to a number of snowcapped peaks that are well above 15,000 feet.
However, the jeep track is currently inaccessible which requires around three hours on foot to reach Danna Meadows.
Malkandi forest is a densely populated forest abundant with black bears and leopards. It also serves as home to a small number of cattle farmers. Black bears often venture into areas of human population and damage crops, therefore shooting down a bear is thought to be a big thing in Malkandi. Shooters are often rewarded by forest officers.
Apart from black bears and leopards, a small number of red bears, musk deer, and Ibex’s can be found in Malkandi forest.
Naran is the most visited and densely populated tourist attraction of the valley. It is home to a number of hotels, restaurants and tent villages. Naran is situated at an altitude of 2427 meters or 7693 feet above sea level. The approximate distance from Balakot is 82 kilometers (51 miles).
Naran is the center of tourism in the Kaghan valley yet there is no bank in Naran.
10 kilometers east from Naran is Lake Saif-ul-Muluk. It is situated at an altitude of around 3,212 meters or 10,537 feet above sea level. In winter, the lake is covered by sheet of ice, while in April, when the ice begins to melt; miniature icebergs can be seen floating on the surface of the lake. The mountain right behind the lake is called Malika Parbat.
From the lake one can trek up to the Saif-ul-Muluk glacier which is located southwards. Once can also trek over a 4300 meter pass and reach the settlements on the other side of the lake.
Aansoo Lake is situated near Malika Parbat in the Himalayan mountain range. The word Aansoo in Urdu stands for ‘teardrop’. The lake has been named so because of its tear-like shape. Aansoo Lake has been said to be discovered by Pakistan Air Force Pilots in 1993 while flying at a relatively low altitude. Before this, the lake was unknown even to the locals.
Aansoo Lake can be reached via a strenuous trek from Lake Saif-ul-Muluk. However there is an alternate route to reach the lake from Mahanderi but this route is not preferred as it is a less trodden route and the difficulties are unknown. The best season to visit Aansoo Lake is from May to July.
Moving towards the Babusar pass, the first town that one stumbles across is Batakundi. The altitude of Batakundi is 2,624 meters or 8607 feet above sea level. It is situated at a distance of 16 kilometers from Naran. A PWD rest house and three other hotels are situated at Batakundi. Batakundi is the last village in the valley to stay open all winter.
A jeep track about two kilometers from Batakundi leads to Lalazar. Lalazar is famous for its meadows full of blooming flowers during the spring season. There are also numerous potato fields situated in Lalazar.
Burawai is situated at a distance of around 13 kilometers from Batakundi. The road from Naran to Jalkhad also known as the Manshera-Naran-Jalkhad highway is one of the best roads in the country.
Further up the road is Jalkhad. It is at a distance of 12 km from Burawai. This is the place where the Jalkhad stream flows into the mighty river Kunhar. From Jalkhad, the MNJ highway bifurcates.
- One part leads to Chilas and joins KKH.
- Whereas the other goes to Sharda and ultimately reaches Muzafarrabad in Azad Kashmir.
Pyala Lake is situated about 1 kilometer east of Jalkhad. The water of this lake is of bluish hue. Pyala stands for ‘bowl’ in Urdu. The lake has been named so due to its bowl like shape.
Noori Top/ Noori Lake
Noori Top is situated at an altitude of 12900 feet above sea level. It remains snowcapped throughout the year. From Noori top two hiking tracks to Ratti Gali and Saral Lake originate.
Noori Lake lies at the border of Kaghan Valley and Azad Kashmir. It is at an altitude of 12,780 feet above sea level. The lake can be reached by a Jeep via Jalkhad in 1.5 hours.
The road north of Jalkhad steeply rises and reaches Besal, a wilderness with treacherous terrain. In stark contrast with the lush green forests of the Kaghan Valley, Besal offers mere views of jagged rocks.
It also serves as a base camp for Lulusar Lake.
The lake is situated at an altitude of 10,000 feet. The water flowing out of the lake flows into the river Kunhar further contributing to its strength. Lulusar Lake is wreathed in blue and gold wild flowers.
Dudipatsar is another beautiful lake encircled by snow clad peaks. It is at a height of 3800 meters. The word “dudi” means white and “sar” means lake. This name has been given to the lake because of the white color of snow at surrounding peaks.
Dudipatsar Lake is one of the hardest places to reach in the valley. A tough trek of around 6 hours from Besal leads to the lake.
The Kaghan Valley is blocked at the end by high mountains but a pass lets the jeep-able road snake over into the Chilas Valley. This is the 4,173 meters high Babusar Pass. Babusar pass is the end of the Kaghan valley which commands the whole Kaghan panorama. Babusar Pass is 161 km from Balakot and 75 km from Naran. A minaret here points to the highest point of the pass as 13,690 ft.
Babusar pass is the gate between Kaghan and Gilgit valley. Road at Babusar Pass is remained closed from October to June, also restricted during monsoon season.