Pir Chinasi is a well-known hill station in the Muzaffarabad district, the capital city, of Azad Jammu & Kashmir in Pakistan. The hillock is named after a famous saint Pir Syed Hussain Shah Bukhari whose shrine (Ziyarat) is sited on the top of the hill. The summit offers a jaw-dropping view of the surrounding snow-clad mountain peaks and the city of Muzaffarabad with annexing rural valleys. Pir Chinasi is renowned among domestic tourist drawing thousands in numbers.
The hill station is located at an elevation of 2,900 m (9,500 ft) above the sea level accessible by a 30km winding adventurous road from the city of Muzaffarabad. The asphalted road leading to the top of the hill is also named as Pir Chinasi road and usually remains open except during unusual weather conditions or in case of landslides. The typical drive time from Muzaffarabad is an hour and a half or so depending on the leisurely pace being it uphill. The daring journey is coupled with an array of photogenic viewpoints, particularly out of its more than 30 hairpin turns, providing tourists with an exceptional experience. Observing the dramatic sunset view is unique from the top.
For the tourists traveling from the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, Pir Chinasi can be a rewarding day excursion if planned carefully. The 130 km journey from Islamabad to Muzaffarabad can be covered in about 3 to 4 hours and another an hour and a half or so to make it to the top. It is likely to make it to Pir Chinasi in 5 hours directly from Islamabad. Enough time can be spared to explore and enjoy if the excursion is commenced well in time.
Food & Lodging:
Getting timely and hygienic food on the top cannot be guaranteed. Similarly, for tourists willing to stay overnight, finding a comfortable place to stay is sometimes unlikely because of a limited number of places offering accommodation services unless prior arrangements are made. However, for those planning overnight stay, it is recommended to carry personal equipment including tent, mattress, and sleeping bag.
Things to do:
On the top, the souls will be filled with an aura of enthusiasm and tranquility at the same time. The sky touching spot has a 360-degree marvelous view of surrounding mountains at the base of Himalayas and valleys beneath nestled in the ravines around Muzaffarabad city. During summers, Pir Chinasi is lush green covered in the jungle of pine and oak trees presenting breathtaking views and a pleasant weather. And in winters, the whole top ridge is blanketed with a sparkling dense white layer of snow displaying a marvelous contrast of nature. Tourists can carry out several activities in the hill station including:
Trekking: There are a variety of trekking trails for tourists willing to carry out some trekking. Randomly wandering in the alpines may end up in a dangerous endeavor; a prior knowledge about the trekking routes is very important. Pir Asmar at an approximately 4 hours trek time is recommended.
Camping: Tourists visiting Pir Chinasi for an overnight stay are highly recommended to carry the gear including tent, mat, and sleeping bag beside making proper food arrangements.
Paragliding: there are several ideal spots to do take off from Pir Chinasi. It’s not a lay man’s job, only expert gliders can dare to fly.
Photography: Pir Chinasi is a heaven for the photographers. The display of natural colors in the four distinct seasons provide photographers with great choices to capture the beauty of the creator.
Things must carry:
- Computerized national Identification Card (CNIC)
- Altitude sickness medicine.
- Sunburn cream and sunglasses
- Good shoes and a warm layer of clothing in winters.
- Water bottle
- Cookies/dry fruit/fresh fruit/juices
- Camera/cell phone
Climate: The overall weather in summers remain cool and pleasant. Winters are too harsh, particularly between December and January, when snowfall occurs, the temperature falls to -5 °C.
Transportation: Although all kind and types of vehicles including public transport vans can shuttle between Muzaffarabad and Pir Chinasi but 4WD vehicles are highly recommended.
Due to the ongoing geopolitical issues, check with the State Department and CDC websites first. Foreigners are not allowed to travel to Muzaffarabad unless they have a valid No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Ministry of Interior in Islamabad.
The 200 km bow shaped Neelum Valley is a densely forested gorge stippled in several tiny valleys with height 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 mostly bordered by the 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 a unique panoramic view. Neelum Valley is the prime tourist attraction in Pakistan Administered Kashmir (Azad Kashmir) attracting 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 is suitable only for 4WD vehicles. During winters, accessibility depends on the weather condition as heavy snowfall makes it difficult to access upper parts of the valley.
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 No Objection Certificate (NOC) which can be obtained from the Ministry of Interior.
AJK Tourism and 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 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 the village famous for marble mines located at 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 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 kind of basic facilities including hotels, rest houses, post office, bank, school, college, 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 Neelum River about 10 km from Athmuqam. Keran is abundant in fruit and wildlife. The valleys belong 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. Rattigali Lake, an alpine lake at 3700 m, is also located on the pass. A forest rest house located at the base camp here caters 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 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 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 hill top about 1500 feet ascend 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 and 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 is located in Shounter valley at the 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 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 the 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 is located in Neelam valley at the altitude of 3,700 m. The lake is accessible from Dowarian by a 17 kilometers jeepable track followed by a 2 km hiking trek. Dowarian is the base camp to this lake.
Saral Lake is located in Neelam Valley at an altitude of 4,100 m. Sharda serves as the base camp to this lake.