“Learning is Experience. Everything else is just information”. Albert Einstein.
|Beautiful Neelam Valley View from LOC|
Creativity comes from experiences but living a stagnant life and doing the same things again and again will halt your creative approach. So always get a break from your routine life, this will act as a refresh button in your life 🙂
At the start of 2021, I set some personal goals for this year. Having a passion for Canva graphic designing, I participated in the canva challenge for vision board 2021. Winning this challenge with a second position in the world of the Canva communitymotivated me to fulfill every goal that I planned for this year.
One of the goals was to visit Hunza valley Pakistan that unfortunately dropped from my plan due to some uncertain circumstances. I have been visiting Swat Valley since my childhood. In one of my blogs, I shared in detail why I want to visit swat valley again and again. This time, I decided to explore Kashmir Neelam Valley.
Since it was my first experience so I hadn’t wanted to take any risk. I started searching for some reliable tour operators who could arrange my whole customized trip. I had seen many ads on Facebook for different companies but selected “TheTrekkers” due to their more than fifteen years of experience in this field. I contacted them through the number they had given on their Facebook page. Their quick response and highly professional way of sharing details with clients inspired me as well.
It was a five days trip from Saturday to Wednesday. Team “The Trekkers” suggested the best available options for Hotels to stay. They also shared with me day by day plan to visit different places in Muzaffarabad and Neelam Valley. It was the Deluxe package that included…
|Sharda – Azad Kashmir|
- New Model Toyota GLI
- Deluxe Hotels in Muzaffarabad and Neelam Valley with breakfast
- Customized stopovers as per my wish
In this blog, I will share my experience for each day with the relevant photos and videos. It will not only inspire you to visit Kashmir but will also help you to select this company for your next tour.
Day 1 – Pickup from Doorstep in Lahore at 9:00 am. The driver arrived on time with New Model Toyota Gli as promised by the company.
Our first stop was at Kalar Kahar Interchange.
Some points are important to remember while traveling on motorways or in General. Mark these as check-list for your next trip.
- Try to leave early in the morning. This will help you to avoid the rush hours of the motorway toll plaza.
- Avoid stopovers on rushy terminals like Bhera / Kalar Kahar for washrooms. Otherwise, This will prolong your stay.
- Chew bubblegum while passing Kalar Kahar range.
- Keep sun shades, sanitizer, umbrella, and prayer mat in the car.
- On motorways, You will not find any PSO or Total pumps, etc so keep a sufficient amount of cash for fuel.
- Keep change in your pocket otherwise you may face difficulty for buying small items from any tuck shop on the motorways.
- Always keep some basic medicines for flu, fever or stomach issues, etc.
- Keep paper soups, Tissue papers, Toothpicks, and Sunblock. Agree with me or not, You will require these items while traveling.
- Carry your one-bed sheet, two pillow covers along a towel. Do not compromise on hygiene even if you stay at a four-star hotel.
- Keep a power bank to charge your cellphones in case of an emergency or unavailability of electricity.
- Keep pair of Sun Glasses or if you wear eyeglasses then always keep extra pair in your luggage.
- Keep extra small Nokia Fone in main luggage for emergency use.
We reached Islamabad around 1:00 pm. There was some VVIP movement that wasted our half an hour in Islamabad. Our next stop at Barakoh for Lunch at Usmania Restaurant, that was not good for food in our experience. Check my detailed review for this restaurant here on google map.
From Lower topa Muree, there are two options to reach Muzafarabad. E75 is the main highway or route to Muazafabad. Unfortunately, it is still under construction till Kohala. Around 50% of the road was in bad condition. Better to take the route from Bhorban to Kohala. It was also very crowded but good to avoid hitchhiking and any damage to your car.
When we were around ten km away from Muzafarbad, we decided to stay for a cup of tea at Hotel La-Orilla.Check my review for this place on google map.
The estimated time to reach Muazafarbad from Lahore is eight to nine hours includes one and half hours for different stopovers for rest, lunch/dinner, or prayers. We arrived around 7:00 pm in Muzaffarabad. Our booking was in Kashmir lodges. Unfortunately, they tried to adjust us to another hotel despite confirmed booking by our tour operator. Here comes the first quick response from “The Trekkers”. Mobeen (Sales and Marketing Manager of The Trekkers) apologized first and then suggested a couple of other options for our stay in Muzafarabad. The best thing was, they made our first stay in Muazafabad complimentary to compensate for this last moment hassle. These are the services that make any company best among all others. We stayed in Mir Continental, Muzaffarabad. Check my review for this hotel on Google map.
- Pearl continental is the only five-star hotel in Muzaffarabad.
- The second best hotel in this city is Neelam View. It is way less expensive as compared to a Pearl Continental. Their food and view are excellent. I witnessed both during my visit to Muazafabad two years back.
Day 2 – On the second day, We left for Pir Chinasi after checkout from the hotel around 10:00 am.
Important – Buy SCOM sim (The only network that works in Azad Kashmir) for Neelam valley or other parts of Azad Kashmir. You can face networking issues with your family back in your hometown. In Muzafarabad, Telenor or Zong work better. For tourists, this will not be helpful as they need to visit the upper parts of Kashmir. In some areas, Ufone works but for SMS only. Tourists face networking problems in Kashmir. Wifi is the only option available in few good hotels, during their electricity hours only that start from evening till early morning.
Road to Pir Chinasi is good but quite dangerous with steep turns and unusual height in some areas. Do not drive your car to Pir Chinasi if you feel yourself not a good driver. That would be very risky.
Pir Chinasi is a cool place for a short day trip. In winter, You can enjoy the snow in this place. Check some pictures and videos below.
We arrived at Pir Chinasi within one hour and stayed there for almost an hour. The weather of Pir Chinasi was cool and pleasant. We saw many local families there for one day trip. There is a small Bazar and a few dhabas for Tea, Pakoras, etc. There is also a PAF base on a bit more height that can be visited with special permission.
We left pir chinasi for Keran around 12:00 pm and reached back to Muzafarabad around 12:45 pm. Our next destination was Keran valley. We had to stay there for a night at Keran retreat Hotel. Check my review for this hotel on Google Maps here.
From Muazafabad to Keran, the estimated time is two and a half hours. You may counter herds of goats and mules several times on the way to Keran. Your total time may exceed three hours or more. Road condition is good till Keran apart from some patches which are ignorable.
Places we visited on the way to Keran or attractions on this route.
We arrived at Keran Neelam Valley around 5:00 pm. Check-in at hotel keran retreat. Let me share a few pictures and videos of this Hotel and Neelam Valley.
On the way to Keran, You will witness LOC at Teetwal and Athmaqam Sector twice and then at Keran sector. In Neelam Valley, you will be asked for entry details at every checkpoint that is for the safety of the tourists.
We also saw the wedding on LOC on the other side of Kashmir. There were some fireworks at the wedding. Initially grabbed our attention in the surrounding for an unforeseen incident. Luckily it was the real fireworks at the wedding 🙂 Check the videos.
There was no Wifi at the Keran retreat. Their location was awesome. It is also a chain of Shangrila Hotel in Neelam Valley. The beautiful view of the Neelam river and LOC from the window of our room was amazing.
Keran retreat (Motels) is adjacent to Valley trackers (Keran resorts). For the location, Food, and other amenities, Both are the best resorts for Neelam Valley.
Day 3 – After the complimentary breakfast, We moved to Sharda Valley. The road condition was good till Dowarian that is around 12 Km. Onwards, it is pathetic. It was the real test of your car and driving skills. There were no road safety barriers. Driving on this route with your car is quite risky.
We arrived at Sharda Shangrilla Resort around 1:00 pm and decided to leave for Kel / Aurang Kel. That was not a good time for this area. But to see the beauty of the upper valley, we hired a Jeep from Sharda. It was not in our package. We managed it on our own. On the way to Kel, we stayed at Margalla waterfall that was so beautiful and majestic. Road to Kel was full of hitchhiking. There is only one way to reach Aurang Kel, which is the local chair lift. Due to our time constraint, we could only enjoy the ride of Chair lift because we had to arrive at our resort before sunset. The chair lift also does not operate after 6:30 pm. That’s why we decided to visit Aurang Kel during our next visit to Kashmir.
Shangrilla Resort is around five to six km ahead of the main Sharda Bazar. It is built in front of Kel Seri Waterfall and with a beautiful stream on the backside. Partially fixed rock in the mountain at the entrance of this resort looks amazing. Checkout my detailed review about this resort on Google Maps here.
|View of Kel seri Waterfall from Shangrilla|
Day 4 – We left our resort after breakfast for Sharda. Our next plan was to visit Sharda Peeth (University) and enjoy boating in the river Neelam. Both are good attractions or activities for this valley.
We returned to Keran around 1:00 pm and decided to visit Rati Gali or Baboon Valley. Our driver and another local person didn’t recommend this. The best time to visit both places is to leave early morning because these are the one-day trips.
We decided to visit Valley trackers Keran due to their location. It was very relaxing. We spent around three hours there. Lush green lawns, a lot of apples, walnuts, and figs trees, and a view of LOC, everything makes this resort unique among all in the Neelam valley.
In Kashmir, You will mainly observe fruits Like peers, Apples, and grapes. We also enjoyed almost all the fruits during our stay. Walnuts were not ready. The best time for this dry fruit is October and onwards.
|Peers, Figs, Grapes, Apples|
Their main crop is corn. You will see a lot of cornfields in Kashmir while traveling.
Our fourth-night stay was in Green Village resort upper Neelam. No doubt the best hotel in upper Neelam Valley. You can witness the beautiful view of Neelam Valley from the top. The night view of LOC was mesmerizing. Check my detailed review for this resort on Google Maps.
Day 5 – There were some Apple trees in the fields adjacent to Village Hotel. My wife requested some Apples from the local lady. Those were small in size but best for Apple Jam (Murabba). We wanted to buy but they gifted us some good quantity which showed the great hospitality of the Kashmiri people.
We left from Village Hotel around 9 am after breakfast and reached Murree Expressway around 2:00 pm. We had lunch at “The Countryside” cafe. That was a good option for lunch/dinner or a short stay on the Muree expressway while returning to Lahore / Rawalpindi. We reached Lahore around 9:00 pm with one and half hour stay on the way to different locations.
Our driver was very professional, Amir was not just a driver but also a good guide. His knowledge about the northern areas of Pakistan showed his experience. He was a nice and humble guy. Overall our experience with “The Trekkers” was excellent. We highly recommend this company for any of your tours to the northern areas of Pakistan.