The 200 km bow-shaped Neelum Valley is a densely forested gorge stippled in several tiny valleys with heights ranging from 2,000 ft to 8,000 ft from Muzaffarabad to Taobat. The Neelum Valley was named after the River Neelum flowing through the length of the valley running parallel to the Kaghan valley to the north only separated by snow-capped peaks, some over 4000 m above sea level. The southern side of the valley is mostly bordered by Indian-Occupied Kashmir.
Running to the north and to the northeast from Muzaffarabad, the bow-shaped Neelum Valley is blessed with a variety of attractions including beautiful mountain peaks, lakes, waterfalls, streams, flora & fauna, mineral deposits, green slopes, hiking trails, fruit orchards, and tiny valleys decked with terraced fields. The multistoried wooden houses with colorful roofing give a picturesque and unique panoramic view. Neelum Valley is the prime tourist attraction in Pakistan Administered Kashmir (Azad Kashmir) and attracts thousands of tourists every year.
The Neelum valley can be accessed from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Jammu & Kashmir, by Neelum road. Overall, the road up to Sharda is well-paved and is in good condition for any kind of vehicle. From Sharda onwards to Kel, low-floor vehicles are not recommended and the unpaved road is suitable only for 4WD vehicles. During winters, accessibility depends on the weather condition as heavy snowfall makes it difficult to access the upper parts of the valley.
The best time to visit Neelum valley is from April to October. One can enjoy three distinct seasons starting from spring to fall. Peak summers (June, July, and August) are crowded with tourists and therefore timely accommodation arrangements are important. Foreigners willing to visit the Neelum Valley require a No Objection Certificate (NOC) which can be obtained from the Ministry of Interior.
AJK Tourism & Archaeology Department has set up rest houses and lodges in major valleys including Keran, Kutton, Dawarian, Sharda, Kel, and Taobat for domestic tourists. There are private lodges and guest houses located in the valley at reasonable rates. A prior booking is recommended particularly in the peak season.
For daring adventurists, the Neelum Valley offers exciting trekking and hiking opportunities. The valley is part of the lesser Himalayan Massif with Sarwaali Peak, 6,326 m as the highest mountain in the region. Besides mountains, there are beautiful hiking tracks to the medium peaks and lakes. The valley offers great retreats during peak summers. Being one of the easily accessible destinations it is listed among the favorite spots for local tourists. The temperature during summers remains reasonably cool between 65°F to 90° F.
Places to see in the Neelum Valley:
Chelhana is a village famous for marble mines located about 46 km from Muzaffarabad. The crossing point of LoC is located in Chilhana where relatives from both sides meet up twice a month only by undergoing an arduous documentation process.
At an elevation of 1,350 meters above sea level, Kundal Shahi is a village near the confluence of Jagran Nullah and Neelum River located about 74 km from Muzaffarabad. It is a small town with basic facilities and serves as a launching pad for Neelum Valley.
At 1371 m above sea level and some 84 km from Muzaffarabad, Athmuqam is a prominent valley in the Neelum and sub-divisional headquarters of the Neelum District. Since it is the 8th station in the valley located from Muzaffarabad, it was given the name Athmuqam. The valley is equipped with almost all kinds of basic facilities including hotels, rest houses, a post office, a bank, a school, a college, a telephone exchange, and a bazaar.
About 82 km from Muzaffarabad and 8 km west of Kundal Shahi following the Jagran River, a narrow uphill gorge leads to the beautiful Kutton valley. Kutton is one of the famous tourist attractions in the valley and has both government rest houses and private guest houses. The valley is remotely guarded by snow-covered Himalayan peaks and the melting waters joining the Neelum River are rich in Trout Fish.
At an altitude of 1,524 meters (5,000 ft) Karan, also called Lower Neelum, is a striking valley on the right bank of the Neelum River about 10 km from Athmuqam. Keran is abundant in fruit and wildlife. The valleys belonging to Indian-Occupied Kashmir can easily be sighted across the river.
AJK tourism department has set up a beautiful rest house in Keran. Besides, there are a number of private guest houses to accommodate the peak flow of tourists. It is one of the prime stopovers in the valley.
Upper Neelum (Neelum village):
Upper Neelum or Neelum Village is located at a distance of about three kilometers from Keran at a fair altitude Neelum valley is accessible from Keran connected by a link road as well as from Athmuqam via the Keran by-pass. Like Keran, Upper Neelum is also blessed with fruit orchards and wildlife. One can have a bird’s eye view of the picturesque valleys of Azad Kashmir and Indian-Occupied Kashmir across the Neelum River.
At an altitude of 1615 meters, Dowarian is about 12 kilometers from Neelum, 22 km from Athmuqam, and about 106 km from Muzaffarabad. The valley is densely forested with pine trees and is connected with Kaghan valley via Rattigali Pass. Ratti Gali Lake, an alpine lake at 3700 m, is also located on the pass. A forest rest house located at the base camp here caters to the needs of travelers.
At an altitude of 1,981 meters about 136 kilometers from Muzaffarabad, Sharda is a prominent valley in the Neelum valley located on the banks of the Neelum River. A suspension bridge connects the valley across the river with the main Neelum road.
Named after the legendary princess Sharda, Shardi and Nardi are two mountain peaks overlooking the valley. A prominent attraction just opposite Sharda, on the right bank, is the Surgan Nallah along which a track leads to Nurinar Pass connecting the Kaghan Valley. Relics of ancient Sharda University also exist in the valley and it is here that the 9th-century Sharda script was developed.
The river poses a scenic view of the valley and during winter the frozen river serves as a passageway for people on both sides. The valley is lush green, densely forested with trees, and has several hotels to cater to the flow of tourists.
At an altitude of 2097m, about 19 km from Sharda upstream, Kel is a tiny valley accessible by a rough road. Basic facilities including guest houses are available here. Kel is also accessible from Gilgit-Baltistan (via Astor and Deosai Plains) and through Shounter Nullah (Gorge) over the 4,420 m Shounter Pass. The 6,326 m “Sarawaali Peak” and the 25 km long glacier, which are said to be the highest peak and biggest glacier of Azad Kashmir, can be accessed from Kel. Besides, some of the highlands and lakes also exist in the vicinity here. From Sharda onward, only 4WD is recommended. Basic amenities are readily available here.
Right across Kel, accessible by a cable car followed by a sheer 2km uphill hike leads to the serene Arang Kel. The valley is situated at a hilltop about 1500 feet ascending from River Neelam. The Indian Occupied Kashmir is separated only by a mountain ridge guarding the valley. The valley of Arung Kel is known for its ultimate beauty.
About 39 kilometers from Kel is the last remote valley Taobat exists. It is the point where the Neelum River originates while the Neelum Valley concludes. It is mostly unexplored and accessible only by a 4WD taking at least 4 hrs from Kel. Janawai, Sardari, and Halmat are the most beautiful places in this area along the road. AJK Tourism Department has set up a basic accommodation facility yet a few privately owned guesthouses with basic facilities located here for tourists also operate during tourist season. Travelers are recommended to carry necessary belongings while traveling to this place. Travelers also need to get permission from the Pakistan Army and must carry original CNIC to prove identity at the Check Posts.
Lakes in Neelum Valley
Chitta Katha Lake:
Chitta Katha Lake is located in Shounter valley at an altitude of 3,800m. The lake is accessible only in July and August from Kel by a 20 kilometers jeep track and followed by a 5 kilometers hiking trek. It is recommended to stay overnight at Utli Domel and proceed in the early morning to do a 5 to 6 hrs hike. It is possible to arrange for a horse ride from Util Domel.
Shounter Lake is a small lake located in Shounter valley at an altitude of 3,100 m. It is accessible from Kel by a jeep track and remains open only during peak summers. Shounter valley is the launching pad for Sarawaali Peak base camp and to proceed to Astore in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Ratti Gali Lake:
Ratti Gali Lake is located in Neelam valley at an altitude of 3,700 m. The lake is accessible from Dowarian by a 17 kilometers jeepable track followed by a 2 km hiking trek. Dorian is the base camp for this lake.
Saral Lake is located in Neelam Valley at an altitude of 4,100 m. Sharda serves as the base camp for this lake.