“Kashmir – heaven on Earth”, I have been hearing this since I developed interest in travelling and exploring the scenic beauties. I always felt deprived when someone would ask me if I have been to Kashmir, because once people know you are nature lover with adventurous soul, they expect you to tell them stories about famous and beautiful places. Thus, I had to get over with this embarrassing moment and I finally planned to make some time from my busy schedule and set out for a wonderful 5 days trip to Kashmir with my ever favorite and reliable travel group The Escapers!
Kashmir itself is a spacious heaven stretched across Pakistan-India borders. Being Pakistani, we are lucky to have a southwestern region of it which we proudly call as “Azad Kashmir” because of its peaceful situation unlike disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. So, yes, not all of it, but Pakistan administers a part of this exotic region!
It’s a land of lush green valleys, streaming waters, peaceful mountains ruled over by the magical clouds that are always dominating while they transit, keeping the hold of staring eyes for long. Just like its running streams, Kashmir keeps your feelings flowing through the wind, while you feel rejuvenating yourself in search of peace and love of nature.
So, before you plan to witness the heavenly region, make sure you are well informed about the area, and the travelling needs. I am going to leave as much details as possible to help you plan your tour wisely.
Through the stops
If you want to cover the main attractions in Kashmir, you should spare at-least 5-6 days. Below is the route which my travel group took into the valley of fascination, skipping Ratti Gali this time since its route was not opened due to heavy snow.
- Islamabad – Murree (around 64km, 1.75 hours)
- Murree – Muzaffarabad (around 70km, 2.5 hours)
- Muzaffarabad – Kutton waterfall (97km, 3.75 hours)
- Kutton waterfall – Athmuqam (15km, roughly half an hour)
- Athmuqam – Kel (around 67km, 2.25 hours)
- Kel – Arangkel Cable Car (15 minutes walk)
- Arangkel Cable Car – Arangkel (roughly 0.75 hours hike)
- Kel – Taobat Valley (39 KM, 3 hours of Jeep Track)
- Kel – Sharda (21km, 0.75 hour) via Neelum Valley road
- Sharda – Upper Neelum (almost 4 hours)
Well, these are few of the main attractions in Kashmir that can be easily covered in 5 days. If you want to make more stops and add more points such as Kundal Shahi, Dowarian, Dhanni waterfall, Chilhena/Titwal, Ratti Gali Lake, or Chitta Khatta Lake, you definitely need more time and more days!
People who can’t hike can skip points like Arangkel and Ratti Gali lake.
Best time to visit Kashmir
- If you are snow lover then December – February are your travelling months.
- If you are more of a person who finds clarity, and adores plain greenery, then you should plan your trip in June – August
- In the season of Monsoons (September and November), I would personally suggest to avoid since land sliding is common in those areas.
Activities to do
- You can enjoy water fight at Kutton Waterfall, since the water is chilling and having plenty of it automatically excites you.
- Card games at a place like Athmuqam by the side of river listening to sounds of waves
- Cable Car at Kel is ever tempting, especially for kids. The duration is small, around 3 minutes hardly but it’s worth a challenge of hanging high into air in the middle of giant mountains.
- Boating and Jet Skiing at Sharda, Neelum Valley. The waters are not that wide, but length is good.
- Bone fire at Arangkel, and several other games as many as you want to play such as cards, luddo, damsharas, hide and seek etc. since Arangkel is more about sightseeing, and exploring the mystery forest.
- Hike on Upper Neelum is also worth a walk. The higher you go, the better you are able to capture the magnificent beauty of the valley.
- Fresh fruits: Yes! At places like, Kel, Kutton, Muzaffarabad you will see a lot of mouth watering fresh fruits. Do savor the taste to keep a lavishing memory with additional sense!
The trip to Kashmir is more about exploring the charisma of nature. The part the involved hiking kept my spirits high! The view of huge mountains, the glory of clouds, and the music of waters kept me well occupied that I didn’t feel boredom at a single spot!
Things you should consider while you travel
- Always plan according to the age group you are travelling with, since Arangkel hike is a small track but sloppy and challenging for kids, elderly, and people with breathing problems
- Carry sufficient cash along with you. There no ATMs on the tops, and payments through cards are not an option 😀
- If you are going to Arangkel, do stay at-least one night since it’s a place which offers romantic weather, breathtaking view, and refreshes your soul!
- Keep at-least 2 hours on your clock for exploring the Arangkel forest. Trust me, you will fall for its exotic beauty, and phenomenal mystery! It excites your soul from within, and reflects the perfect meanings of this quote, “Traveler, there is no trail. You blaze the trail as you travel.” You feel accomplished when you make your way to the glaciers and back to the cottage through the dense forest.
- Do not! I repeat, do not go alone and after the sunset in the Arangkel forest. According to the villagers, the forest is home to leopards and bears. And this is not a joke! Plus, you can easily get lost in the puzzling jungle. Once you are lost and alone, you can’t do anything but walk along with the water flow, you’ll find your way home. It’s advised to go in groups and return before sunset.
- Do wake up early so you reach your next destination on time and when the weather is clear.
- Always get your hotels booked in advance especially in peak tourism season (April – September)
- In case of land sliding, don’t waste your time on the road. If possible, get to the nearest hotel as early as possible before all the rooms are occupied. Because, it takes time to the authorities to clear the path and people often have to spend nights in their cars because they are stuck in the long row of vehicles.
- Do carry slippers along so you don’t get your joggers/diggers wet while you are having fun at waterfalls.
- Do carry umbrella/raincoat. Because the clouds can get moody at any time and surprise you with their blessing.
- Always carry your toiletries along with you. Hygiene is important! 😀
- Do not expect your network to work in the areas like Neelum Valley and Arangkel. If you want, you can get an ASO sim card from Muzaffarabad for calls/messages while you are away from developed part of the region.
- In food, do try daal chawal(rice) or lobia (red beans) & boiled rice when you are in Kashmir. The Kashmiris know how to make it simple yet tasty.
- Keep both warm and summer clothing if you are travelling the months of June - August
- Last, but not the least, I would suggest you hire a tour guide or join travel group for a hassle free and organized trip. The problems like land sliding, heavy rainfall and blocked roads can sometimes ruin your dream plan. Only the people good at stress and disaster management can continue smoothly.
I admit, Kashmir is heavenly place on earth and we are lucky enough to have access to it. In my 5 days trip, the forest of Arangkel had me completely! It set my soul on fire by its mystical aroma, dense trees, puzzled paths, and unbelievably insane vastness. I experience an amalgam of feelings with every step that I took into the depth of mysterious jungle. The pleasant weather and tempting paths through the wilderness offered me a feeling of joy, love, gratitude and freedom! At the same time, the distant howling, the fire place, and the cattle and the pleasing sight of loyal beauties (horses) in the dark thrilled me to my core. I explored another version of myself, the one who is attracted to the ultimate wilderness.
Valley of Kashmir is an ultimate escape into fascination. You go there and don’t fall in love with it? This has not happened in the history so far! You are certain to left speechless on the very first sight of the spectacular landscape!
Travel while you are young and able. Don't worry about the money, just make it work. Experience is far more valuable than money will ever be.