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Muzaffarabad is the capital of Azad Jammu Kashmir and is located at an altitude of approximate 2400 ft. The meeting point of River Neelum and River Jhelum takes place in Muzaffarabad when the earthy brown water of river Jhelum and the sky blue colored water of river Neelum merge. It is an approximate drive of 4 hour from Islamabad, capital city of Pakistan. It is a stopover to the main tourist attractions of Kashmir. A beautiful place surrounded by valleys and mountains, with recent developments in the roads structure, the drive has been made smooth making tourism easy however; the entire road is very narrow and goes on a constant loop which can be disorientating to many people. The weather is cold most of the year with snowfall expected from December to February while the summers are pleasant with no need for air conditioning. Due to the weather clothes worn by the natives are mostly of woolen nature. The houses and building are located mostly on the river side and the markets are small, cramped crowded and double-story. Much village population can be seen living near the banks of the river, as the main source of water and agricultural purposes is river.
The main staple over there is rice and tea (Kashmiri tea attributed to the cold) is very popular. Delicacies include goshtapas (a meat ball stew) and rice oriented dishes. Being the capital of Azad Kashmir, the literacy rate is higher than the surrounding areas and has main universities but people who seek quality education end up coming to the main cities of Pakistan. Main hospitals, colleges, universities, schools, offices and businesses are located in the capital and many eventually move there to work. Small businesses do very well and have bloomed over the years such as convenience stores, bakeries, restaurants, take-away restaurants, small jewelry and toy shops etc. Many markets such as main market and medina market are small cramped shops in small streets where cars cannot enter. Many hotels and restaurants are located near the riverside which is there added attraction i.e. small dhabbas and just a few table seats haphazardly put near river so people can dip their toes in the river and enjoy pokaras, chips and tea. Muzaffarabad is known for its exclusive wood carved furniture that is very popular. They have a huge variety of wood such as dayyar, akhrot etc and markets are filled with beautifully carved table, chairs, jewelry boxes and they take customized orders and the quality is top notch. The area is famous for its woodwork. Also they are known for their embroidery called namda, which is an embroidery done with wool and a huge variety of shawls can be found. Embroidered quilts, shawls, clothes, tea cozy etc are famous for their delicate work. They are main tourist attraction and they are very reasonably priced. Although it is not a highly developed tourist place but many people tend to go there on their way to other locations such as Pir Chanasi etc. Many people over there are carves men, wood workers, shop keepers, shop owners or embroidery workers. There is a demand for these objects, the resources are available as well as and mostly these are family business. It is home to many valleys, forts and historical sites but they haven’t been maintained.
On October 8th, 2005 the Azad Kashmir was hit by an earthquake with strength of 7.6 on the Richter scale. The earthquake resulted in approximately 80,000 deaths. The city of Muzaffarabad and Balakot were devastated and the tremors and shock waves continued over many days and managed to crumble away the civilization, entire houses were crushed, schools were turned to bricks, entire riverside hotels & restaurants slid in to the river. It was catastrophic and it destroyed families, businesses and the entire infrastructure. Many people were stuck inside crushed buildings until they died of thirst or injuries. 12 villages surrounding the river banks went upside down in the river. Needless to say it severely impacted the culture, growth and sent the city back to square one. The earthquake and the subsequent rebuilding programs have greatly impacted employment, jobs, culture, living conditions, businesses etc.
After this tragedy struck ERRA (Earthquake rehabilitation and reconstruction authority) was established and gave houses to the natives called fabricated huts with tin roofs. They were all joined together and were like glorified doll houses but they helped a lot considering that people had lost all their assets and did not even have a roof over their heads. Apart from ERA, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and China built a lot of houses for the people of Muzaffarabad (fabricated huts). Shiekh Khalifa bin Zayad Al Nahyaan of Abu Dhabi gave the funds for the construction of a state of the art hospital (CMH), the hospital is earthquake proof (up to a certain scale on Richter scale) and is built in a way that heating and cooling system use is greatly reduced. The operation rooms were constructed keeping in mind the worldwide standard. Till its completion, the hospital CMH was made in fabricated huts and tents (MASH; Mobile Army Surgical Hospital which was donated by the U.SA). Turkey also worked on the water sanitation and supply in Muzaffarabad and they also constructed a mosque.
The influx of foreign aid from all these countries generated employment; the construction of houses, mosques, hospitals and also boosted the tourism. The Chinese or Turkish people bought the famous embroidery or woodwork and praised it. Pearl Continental hotel opened their branch in Muzaffarabad on hill. The inside of the hotel was furnished with wood and the only fancy place in the capital; it entertained the locals most of the years with their musical nights and food festivals, was very reasonably priced keeping in mind the locals and overlooked the beautiful rivers that flow though Muzaffarabad and snowcapped mountains. At night the hills sparkle with the population that resides on the hills (the light emitting from their houses) and the sky is clear. It also generated employment for the locals, as before they mostly had to go to some other town.