To track up a trip through a region is ever visualized by the five features. These incorporate historical significance, natural beauty, mountaineering, scenic gleaming and climatic pleasure. When it is asked that which area possesses all of these characteristics then the immediate reply will be ‘Neelum Valley in Azad Kashmir.’ The present sequel is aimed at focusing the valley not simply on its tourism rudiments but far ahead than this in a precise cum brief manner. The concise history, chief places, climatic facts, facility frames as well as the cultural clichés have been scribed here. It is anticipated that this treatise will not be merely a manuscript of touristic guidelines but an innovative effort of providing the informatics regarding the valley. Further, it be envisaged that the major facts and figures will prove a source of comprehension pertaining to the valley.
Incipient Icons Azad Kashmir
Tourism is visionary and a pack of pleasing activities when it is associated with the territory of Azad Kashmir. Kashmir is a world wide established paradise on earth. Azad Kashmir is a fraction of this paradise natured Kashmir. The vivid flows and favors of prettiness and glamour are in stretch throughout the landscape of Azad Kashmir. Sightseeing brings us all in this paragon of natural elegance by offering with each and every feature of touristic gratification. A wide essence of this natural treasure cannot be confined in a little treatise but a succinct portray is specified through the following subheadings in brief.
- A Glimpse Outlook of Azad Kashmir
The free part of the state of Azad Jummu and Kashmir is generally narrated as Azad Kashmir. Azad Kashmir is a stripe resembling state in its expanse from the southeast boundaries of Sialkot district of Pakistan to the northern region of Gilgit Baltistan. It comprises of ten districts of Bhimber, Mirpur, Kotli, Sudhnoti, Havelli, Rawlakot, Bagh, Jhelum Valley, Muzaffarabad and Neelum Valley stretching from plains to the high ridged mountains. As per the provisional results of 2017 census, the population of the state is 4045366. The area of Azad Kashmir is 13297 square kilometers. The capital city of Azad Kashmir is Muzaffarabad which is located at the junction of Jhelum and Neelum rivers formerly known as Vatista river and Kishan Ganga river respectively.
The state of Azad Kashmir extends from the hot areas of Bhimber to the snowy cliffs of Neelum Valley. The heights of various vicinities of Azad Kashmir from sea level extend from 360 meters up to a range of 6325 meters. Azad Kashmir encompasses the icy peaks, rivers, springs, mountains, hills, high plains, meadows, corn fields, fruit gardens, forests, water falls, lakes and other such geographic contents of worth seeing status. Tourism has its natural stand in the state for sightseers and nature loving people. Vision enchanting beauty of splendid scenes keeps the visitors spell bound too long to grip it in the future memories. In fact, Allah did create this faction of paradise like Kashmir only for the persons who carry on the excellence for observing the nature in its true spirit and scope.
- Concise Geography of Neelum Valley
Neelum Valley is the versatility illustrated district of Azad Kashmir in reference of its geographic geometry. The valley keeps its global positioning at 34.59°N and 73.91°E.. It has Gilgit on its north, Muzaffarabad on its southwest, Mansera on the west and the Indian administered districts Kapwara and Bandipura on its south and southeast. It has about 350 kilometers expanse with a bow shaped map.The minimum height of the region is 985 meters at sea level at Chaliana and it elevates to a maximum height of 6325 meters at Sarwali peak. The surface of the valley has minor plains, steep hills, dense tropical forests, rugged ridges and sky soaring mountains. Snow line is 3300 meters from sea level in summer while it widens to about 1200 meters from coastal level in winter.
Kishan Ganga (Neelum) is the main river of the valley which has major tributaries of Nallah Shoonter, Nallah Surgan, Nullah Lawat Nullah Jagran and Nullah Qazinag. Nallah means small river. Taobut is the highest place where people reside permanently. Average maximum temperature ranges from 12°C to 28°C while the average minimum temperature range is -02°C to 05°C. Average annual rainfall is 1350 mm to 1970 mm in various parts of the valley with slight differences. Soil of the valley is alluvial type which is quite fertile for crops and fruits.
- Short Historic/ Administrative Essentials of Neelum Valley
The versatile valley of Neelum was a part of subdivision Tehtwal (Karnah) of district Muzaffarabad before 1947. On the dawn of present Azad Kashmir state on 24th October 1947, the free area of valley was made subdivision of Muzaffarabad in the name of Athmuqam. Some eastward area of the valley is a part of district Kapwara of Indian Held Kashmir which is still on its struggle to get freedom from occupation of Indian forces.
In 2005, the valley was given the status of district with two subdivisions of Athmuqam and Sharda. Athmuqam subdivision consists of 65 villages while subdivision of Shardah comprises 26 villages. The district has municipal committee at district headquarter Athmuqam. The rest of the district is divided into fifteen union councils of Chliana, Barian, Ashkot, Kundalshahi, Kutan Jagran, Salkhala, Neelum Nagdar, L;awat, Dodhnial, Dwarian Sharda, Kel, Shonter, Lower Graze and Upper Graze. The district has three police stations(Athmuqam, Lawat, Shada), three police posts (Jora, Kel, Halmat) and one police check post at Chaliana for maintaining the law and order conditions in the valley.
- Demographic Statistics
The largest district of Azad Kashmir with respect to area is Neelum Valley. The area of the district is 3621 square kilometers which is about 27.23 percent of the total area of Azad Kashmir. Population density is 55 persons per square kilometer. Health facilities are availed with two hospitals, two rural health units and 25 basic health units. The academic services by the government has a wide spread of institutions throughout the valley. There are two degree colleges, two model Science colleges; five inter colleges and 297 schools of primary to higher secondary level.
Tourism keeps its rigid traces in Neelum valley. The grace alongside the naked nature postures of the region vow a superb trip trail there. Following paragraphs enlist some concerns relative to the tourism information of the valley.
- Major Tourism Places
Touristic places of major value in the valley are Chaliana, Kundal Sshahi, Kuttan Jagran, Athmuqam, Keran, Lawat, Dwarian, Sharda, Kel, Arang Kel, Halmat and Taobut. Chaliana is the touristic door to the Neelum valley. Here is a little bazaar and the area is surrounded by sky approached mountains. Qazinag Nullah falls into the river Neelum from the Indian area of Tehtwal. Second major place to visit is Kundal Shahi which is a town with shops and hotels. This town is at 74 kilometers from Muzaffarabad. On the left side of this town starts Jagran valley where there is a prominent village Kuttan at eight kilometers from Kundal Shahi. Jagran hydro electric power station of WAPDA is made on Jagran Nullah. A few kilometers ahead from Kundal Shahi district headquarter of the valley is at Athmuqam. It is the sole urban area of the region with all civic facilities.
Keran is a major station for tourists after the city of Athmuqam. There are shops and hotels where all types of goods can be had and night stay is possible. The specialty of Keran is a broad view of Indian areas on the other side of the river. Though main village of Lawat is at some steep height linked by a jeep driven road yet lower part of it is on the banks of Neelum Valley Road. Lawat is a large union council with numerous small villages with a spectrum of natural beauty.
Dwarian is prior to Sharda having all necessary needs of tourists. It is the base camp for hiking to the Ratti Gali top. Sharda is the next prominent place to visit. Here are found the ruins of renowned Sharda Univesity of Budh era. On traveling forward from here situates Kel which is a fine artistic paramount of nature. At an height on the other side of Neelum river from Kel is Arang Kel in the depths of conifers forest. A visitor finds real nature of greenery and scenery in this wonderful village.
In the north of kel, there starts the Graze valley having Helmat and Taobut as the worth narrated places in the view of tourism. Helmat is a low town in the way during a journey from Kel to Taobut. The traditional look of northern areas can be speculated in Helmat. The last populated area to visit is Taobut that is at an height of 5000 meters from sea level. It has its own significance for nature enchanting persons.
- Important Minor Spots
Little visiting specks of significant nature are Leswa, Mirpura, Jora, Nagdar, Neelum village, Dodhnial, Shonter and Sardari. These areas are worth seeing for the tourists in grasping the true splendor of the conventional beauty of Neelum valley. Leswa is on the famous Leswa bypass at an heght linked with Jora by a link road. Jora is at a short distance from Chaliana. Mirpura is on the other bank of the river with a extensive plain landscape.
Ashkot and Barian also come along the road before Kundal Shahi. Nagdar and Neelum village are at frontward going up from Athmuqam. Dodhnial is also a wrth described area for its magnificence of nature. Shonter is the essential village of Shonter valley with plenty of touristic charm. Sardari is near Helmat in the Graze valley possessing customary flecks of scenery.
- Hitch Hiking Across the Tops
The tops of the valley keep their core importance during summer season. They are used as summer camps (generally known as Dhoks or Behks) by the local people of the valley. With a few exceptions, all the tops are accessed on foot. Long hiking tracks bring the tourists to these summer habitats to enjoy the true natural climate with all of its scenic treasure. Though it is quite hard to reach these hilly tops after climbing up for hours yet all the tiredness of long journey vanishes away on sighting the pleasures awaiting there. People of the adjoining areas went up these places with their cattle to pass in relief the intense hot days of June to August in the respites of life. Famous Dhoks are Guthar, Ratti Gali, Paterian, Baboon and Gagai.
- Observing the Dense Forests
Approx 42.5% of the state area (0.567 million hectares), is under the control of Forests Department of Azad Kashmir. Total forest area in Neelum valley is 48.34 % of the total area under forests in the state of Azad Jummu and Kashmir. The per capita standing volume is 299.5 cubicfeet and per capita forest area is 0.35 Acre. Annual wood demand is 1.65 million cubic meters and sustainable production is 1.94 million cubic meters. Forests in the valley are a major source of revenue for the state.
Forests are so specifically resemble with Neelum valley that whenever it is talked about forests; these are considered in Neelum valley. From Chaliana until Taobut, there are dense forests on small or large patches along the crop fields, hills or meadows. Most of these forests are conifers being considered as wild hub of the state. These forests are the splendid scenes for the visitors or the observers. The atmosphere of the forests not only soothes the eyes but also provides relief and remedy from many diseases or infections.
- Recognizable Facilities
Though not in bounty yet there is adequate facilitation for the tourists in the valley. Various visiting facilities are granted by the government to promote tourism in the valley. There is requisite of much more efforts to prop up the touristic trends at a large scale.
- Roads and Tracks
Total metal led roads are of 1109 kilometers and fair weather roads are of 357 kilometers in the valley. There are many of the pedestrian paths along with the mule and horses driven tracks in all the areas of the valley. Going up from Muzaffarabad, first roadside station of Neelum valley is Chaliana at about 43 kilometers distance. A highway standard Neelum Valley road trails from Muzaffarabad up to Dwarian(104 kms). From there onwards, the road is of sub-standard leading to Kel(160 kms) and then propounding into the Grase region. Jeepable road is available linking to Taobut(221 kms). All the distances are give from Muzaffarabad.
Many link roads enjoin the side areas and small valleys. Jeep able road sets up from Sharda to Kaghan valley passing from Babusar Top. A road is under construction from Dwarian to connect Neelum valley with Kaghan valley via Ratigali top at an altitude of 4000 meters from sea level. A short hiking track goes up from Lawat leading to Jalkhud in Kaghan valley through Terian Top. Many small roads join all the key villages of the side area to main Neelum valley road.
Hotels and Rest Houses
For the provision of adequate shelter and dining facilities to the visitors coming up the Neelum valley, many hostels and hotels are built all through the valley in public and private sectors. Tourism department of AJ&K government runs Tourist Huts in Upper Neelum, Tourist Lodge in Keran and Tourist Motel in Kel. Forest department has constructed nine rest houses for travelers at Athmuqam, Sharda, Dwarian, Kel, Janavai, Halmat, Nori Nar, Salkhala and Kehian Sharif.
Booking of these tourist houses or lodges can be had from the respective offices of forest and tourism departments in Neelum or at Muzaffarabad. Other than the government maintained lodging provisions, many private rest houses, hotels and motels have been built by the people in private sector. The facilities are up to date but the rates are not so cost serving in such remote areas.
- Supporting Offices
The officials of the state government are quite supportive in all the offices of every department inside and outside of the valley. Kohala and Brarkot are the entry points for non-state tourists where they are guided and essential information is provided. At the Chaliana check post, the visitors are not only checked for their identities but also conducted on the informatics bases. Officials of Tourism Department ever remain ready for serving the tourists at their central office at Muzaffarabad and in the rest houses throughout the valley. Administrative officers remain sympathetic to the visitors across the district of Neelum.
In the transparent and cool waters of river Neelum as well as its major tributaries, the rare species of fish are found. Trout fish is specific with the waters of the valley. This is a delicious fish to taste but costly due exclusivity. Fishing is a hobby for many tourists in the valley. This gleaming hobby sets finest traps of memorized trips. Though fishing is banned on some spaces yet the fondness of hunting the fish can be visualized at other spots.
- Means of Transportation
Through the expanse of the valley, both traditional as well as modern means of transportation are in use. Almost all types of light and heavy vehicles can be rented or driven from Muzaffarabad to Kel on Neelum Valley Road during spring and summer seasons. On the link roads or other fair weather roads, it is proposed to drive jeeps or related 4WD vehicles. On the local paths or hiking tracks, visitors can ride on mules or horses being hired from the local providers.
- Communication Capacity
Means of communication are not abundance in the valley. Telephonic services are only supplied by SCO. Eleven telephone exchanges work in the valley with 7328 phone connections provided by Special Communication Organization (SCO). In main areas of Neelum, mobile services of S Com are provided by the same organization. For registries, money orders and other postal services, there are 13 post offices and 4 sub-post offices in the district of Neelum valley.
- Guides and Coolies
For guidance and informatics of the visitors, there is availability of tour guides on all major tourism spots and stations. Local people are well versed in geography, tracks and general information about all the important points of the valley. For hiking the long tracks, there is need of luggage handling by a coolie. Guides as well as coolie can be hired on affordable rates. These guides or coolies not only facilitate the visitors but they also become trip friends to relieve the tired visitors with songs and stories. This all turns the annoying trip into a fantastic journey.
- Canopy of Culture
Neelum is a culture hub of Budh and Muslim civilizations. The region is rich in languages, versatile in traditions and broad in civic heritage. The culture and customs of the valley are conservative in vitality and diverse in display.
Local Languages and Accents
Various languages with diverse accents are spoken in the valley. Hindko is the most spoken language of the area with assorted accent. Famous Kashmiri language is also in use in all the parts of valley. Shina is spoken in Grase region of the valley. Other noteworthy languages being communicated in some places of the valley are Gojri and Pashto. The apt accents of the speakers of these languages display originality as well as lucidity of narrations. Urdu and English languages are broadly known and toned as academic media. People love their local dialects and think pride in speaking them. The major ethnic groups in the valley are Kashmiri, Gujars and Shina while many minor ethnic identities are also found there.
Dresses and Foot Wears
Approximately all the people in the valley wear Shilwar Kameez or Kurta. Lady dresses include Shilwar, Farak and Chadar or Dopata. Pajamas, Choriwali Shilwars and Pairins are also the articles of robes but in rare. Caps, Turbans, Galgiti Topi are famous head worn things. Lachkas and Kasawas are also put on the head by the traditional old ladies of some tribes. Plastic and lather made shoes or sandals are common as foot wears. There was utilization of straw shoes (Pools) as well as wooden shoes (Kharawan) in the past but these are no more in use
Folk Songs and Dances
The people living in Neelum valley boast rich cultural heritage in the form of songs, dances and tales. The songs are of moral, guidance and romantic categories. Most of the folk songs are in literary style of Maya ( Hiko ). Most listened traditional songs are ‘Ud Wala Konj Urayay’, ‘Mera Serian Wala Sajan’ and ‘Mehndiay Ranga deeay’. Dhoray and Saif-ul-Malok have also wide music spread among the folks. Ludi, Bhangra and Chakolnian are the major dancing clips customized amongst the people.
Ceremonies and Celebrations
Tradition loving people of the valley arrange and rejoice all the specific ceremonies and celebrations with decent styles. Marriage ceremonies are celebrated with great pump and show. Drum beating and flute playing are the most common activities of celebrations. Lads and lasses seem much delighted in such ceremonies. They sing and dance in chorus for an altogether enjoyment attained from the ceremonies. Many local customs of celebrations vary from village to village.
- Natural Knots
Tourism is not a phenomenon of artificial activities but it seeks the links with emotional ties of nature. Such natural affiliation of sentiments comes in glowing exhibit while visiting the valley. Attractions of nature have their peculiar flavor in Neelum.
Lush Green Fields
Greenery of nature is a blessing of Allah for the human beings as well as the animals. Green fields of Neelum are vast in expanse and versatile in patches. Approximately all the areas in the valley take up the blanket of green grasses from April in the spring season. Many flowers of grass bases portray an improbable appearance of the panoramic beauty and fragrance. These flourishing green grassy squares visualize the nature in its true spirit.
Sky Lining Mountains
The mountains in the valley are distinguishing from many other parts of the world in that these mountains are quite green and over-romantic. They are not worn out or barren and approach to the mountains is also much easy Neelum than elsewhere. Forests based mountains have many herbs and shrubs. The orison tracked splendor of the mountains invites the visitors to enjoy the nature from the sky-scraping platforms.
- Crystal Clear Water Flows
Water is so abundant in the valley that its name ‘Neelum’ is also derived from river Neelum. Water is in large quantity in each and every source or form. It is in the shape of rivers, lakes, springs, waterfalls, ponds and snowy cliffs. The waters of the valley flow down with jingling sounds to pour musical tones into the ears. Transparent water flow gives a picture of purity of the area. There is a life nourishing capacity in the waters of the valley. Fabulous water lakes are Chita Katha, Lunda Sar. Baboon Lake, Paterian Lake, Tao But Lake and Spoon Lake at Shonter.
- Snowy Peaks
Snow fall is natural with the winter season of Neelum valley. On an approx preview, it can rightly be said that snow falls throughout the valley at small or large scales. Snowfall in winter is about one to two feet in low lands of the valley to the several feet of it on the high landscapes and the mountains. The high mountain peaks of the valley do not catch snow streaks only in winter season but throughout the year. White color peaks reflect pleasures play shining in the summer season. The cool gushes of the snow stricken winds gratify the tempers a lot.
Though snowy peaks may also be sighted in other parts of the world but the snow capped peaks of Neelum valley have their specific attributes. These snowy peaks possess moderate climatic conditions, forest based landscapes, track worthy convenience and enchanting scenic views. The green plains in the bottom of the snowy peaks allow the visitors to encamp their tents or so called shelters. The reach of the visions of these peaks make them a natural pleasure to trap the artistic scenes. Sarwali is a grace grasping peak of the valley with snow covered top.
- Chirping Birds
A prominent philosopher writes that there are only two objects of beauty in nature: the women and the birds. Due to the vast fields and forests in Neelum, different species of small and large birds are found there. Almost all types of sparrows, nightingales, hawks, ptarmigan (Chakor) and pheasants etc. appear numerously during spring and summer seasons. The eye-catching colors and captivating sounds of these birds increase the existing beauty of the valley.
- Wide View of Wild Life
As there are dense forests in Neelum valley so there is plenty of wild life. Wild animals of diverse species are spotted in the valley. Ibex, musk deer and antler type animals of rare species are found in the valley. Snow leopards can also be seen in Neelum. Other wild animals of all the sorts have their habitats in the valley. A gang reserve of wild animals has been preserved in Nagdar. The wild animals in their natural habitats can be viewed in plenty in the valley. Wild Life Department in the valley works as a subordinate department of Forests Department and hunting is prohibited in the valley.
- Conclusive Comments
The article traces the nature of Neelum valley on ‘as it is’ basis. The endeavor has been devoted to describe the true picture of the valley yet there would have been lapses. The brief objectives of knowing about or visiting the valley have been summarized in the following lines.
Visiting the Neelum Valley for Natural Informatics
Neelum valley is full of beautiful spots and spaces which have their historic as well as dreamy bits of information. The knowledge of this paradise valley is not important for literary purposes but also beneficial for the touristic apertures. By visiting the valley, a tourist gains a lot of on hand awareness of the mysteries of nature.
Visualizing the Nude Beauty in Purity
The nature is at its full bloom in Neelum all the times. To have an amazing experience of tourism, a visitor enjoys the realms of ‘to see is to believe’. The elegant norms of the valley are so wonderful for a person to think them real unless he observes this all with his own eyes.
- Enjoying the Spiritual Love of Nature
The love of nature is for those people who have the innate abilities on the spiritual bases. Spiritual love of natural scenes requires you to adapt it spiritually in your hearts and minds. The sentiments for natural beauty nourish with the joys of trips to the hubs of nature. These all factors can definitely be considered in a better way while having a trip of Neelum valley.
- Grasping the Plenty of Memories
Last but not least, it is a habitual trend of the tours that the reminiscence attached to the visiting areas remains ever binding in the memories. One can surely acclaim that a trip to the valley will never be removable from one’s memories. Visits of the valley are the precious memories that may keep you always joyful on remembering them.
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- “Provisional Census Report (2017)”; Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, Islamabad.
- “Azad Jummu and Kashmir at a Glance (2015); AJ&K Bureau of Statistics, Muzaffarabad.
- “Azad Kashmir Tourism Guide (2016)”, AJ&K Tourism Department, Muzaffarabad.
- Non-published Records of the Departments of Education, Health and Police; Government of AJ&K, Muzaffarabad.
- Local Information Resources about Neelum Valley, Azad Kashmir.