Kashmir, one of the world’s most beautiful places, is also one of the most disputed as half of it lies in Pakistan but half of it is occupied by India. In this article, we’ll be talking about the best places to visit in Azad Kashmir. The word Azad means “to be free”, hence this half being called Azad Kashmir. The territory borders with Gilgit Baltistan to the north and with Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the south and west. On the eastern side, Azad Kashmir borders with the Indian occupied territory of Jammu and Kashmir which is separated by a line of control serving as a de facto border. Some of the most beautiful destinations in Kashmir are waiting to be discovered.
The climate in Kashmir is pleasant with hot days in the summer and moderately cold days in winters. The southern parts are especially hot receiving a lot of rain in the monsoon season. The central and northern areas of Kashmir receive snowfall in December and January. Muzaffarabad, the capital city of Kashmir, does not receive snowfall.
Most residents of Kashmir are interestingly not ethnically Kashmiri. In fact, most of them are Pahari people (people of the mountain) who are actually ethnically Punjabi. The ethnically Kashmiri people are more commonly found in the Neelum and Leepa Valleys. Otherwise, the largest community there is the Gujjars, with Sudhans, Jats, and Rajputs following. Muzaffarabad also has a lot of Mughals living there. The official language in Kashmir is Urdu with English also being used. However, the locals speak languages such as Pahari-Pothwari, Kashmiri, or Gujari.
There are many popular food and drinks in Kashmir waiting to be devoured. A popular drink is the Kashmiri Chai which is a delicious pink tea garnished with chopped almonds and pistachios. The cuisine includes Kashmiri Daal Chawal, a mixture of peas, lentils, and boiled rice. Rogan Josh is another popular dish and Kashmiri Raan are also popular local delicacies made with lamb leg.
There are many mesmerizing places to visit in Kashmir boasting a vast diversity of natural ecosystems. From snow-capped mountains, rocky rapids, to green-carpeted plains sprinkled with flowers, you’ll find all the beauty in Kashmir. The culture and delicious food are also waiting to be discovered. Read on to find out more about the best places in Kashmir for tourists.
Top 10 places to visit in Kashmir
Just 20km North-East of Muzaffarabad, adjacent to the well-known Kaghan Valley and separated by sparkling white snowy peaks nearly 5000 Meters above sea level, this is a truly breath-taking place popular amongst national and international travellers. It covers an area of about 240km in the Kashmir region of Pakistan and hosts some marvellous meadows, dense forests, and ample streams and rivers with freshwater flowing through them. Being home to places such as Kundal Shahi, Sharda, Salkhala, Kutton, Karen, Dowarian, Kel & Sharda it is sure to make your valley fantasies come to life. The area is also well known for being rich in minerals and makes some of the best-tasting apples, apricots, and walnuts nationally. As for the weather, it is quite pleasant in the summers however it is rather cold in the winters. Hence, it is advised that you visit during March-October; so you don’t have to encounter the harsh cold and always pack warm clothes handy just in case it gets chilly.
About 30km east of Muzaffarabad, Pir Chinasi is a shrine that is a popular sightseeing place at a height of 9500ft. People come here to pay homage to the Sufi Saint Bukhari. The views of grassy plains and the blue sky are admirable here. The spot is also known to provide great paragliding and snowcross jeep rally facilities especially at the start of summer and fall. For the hikers, there is a rustic track that leads to Pir-e-esimaar forests. The views of surrounding mountain peaks are spectacular and the shrine is located in the perfect environment to relax, meditate and contemplate life.
This valley is one of a kind, filled with apple orchards and rice fields. The honey and cherries of the valleys are also famous and can be bought from vendors with their stalls on the roadside. Along the valley, traditional Kashmiri houses can be seen. The admirable cottages are all painted colourfully with unique combinations, no two houses are the same. Across the valley are spread tall green and bushy pink trees. You can reach here from Muzaffarabad through Naili and then Reshian Gali which is elevated about 11,000 feet above sea level. From there, you go through Dao Khan and your descent to Leepa Valley starts. The line of control, separating the valley from Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir, can be seen from anywhere as it runs from east to west. The sights here are marvellously lovely and the border is very interesting.
Chitta Katha Lake
Considered to be one of the most beautiful tracks and lakes of Pakistan, Chitta Katha Lake spellbinds you. The lake is situated in upper Neelum Valley at a 1400ft elevation. The water of this lake is like milk due to the reflection of snow, hence the name Chitta meaning “white” and Katha meaning “water”. Whilst the lake is frozen over in the cold season, it is adorned by pink and purple wildflowers like a crown in the summers. To trek to this lake, it requires an early start and stamina. You may have to stay somewhere in between if the entire journey becomes too long. You can also hire a horse to take you up to the lake which can be a wonderful experience. The lake rests at the foot of the snowy Hari Parbat Mountain.
Ratti Gali Lake
The Ratti Gali Lake is an alpine glacial lake with crystal clear waters at an altitude of over 12,000 ft. The water is provided to the lake via the snow melting from on top of the mountains. The lake can be reached via a 40-minute jeep ride from Dowarian base camp. The drivers are easily available. Large glaciers, gushing waterfalls and serene landscapes can be seen on the way to the lake. The journey will definitely be an unforgettable one. Once there, the plains around the lake may be covered in deep red flowers if you’re there in the right season. You can also commonly see majestic hawks and amusing otters in the area. The best time to go is from May to November as it’s covered in snow otherwise. If you want to hike further, you can also visit the Gattian Lake nearby. The Hans Raj Lake can also be hiked to from the base camp in Dowarian.
This lake resting in Neelum Valley, Azad Kashmir, is cradled by enormous mountains entirely covered in a thick carpet of green. The water is piercing blue in contrast to the surrounding green and tiny pink flowers adorn the entire area. It is a lake less populated by tourists as it is far away, meaning the landscape is unpolluted by trash unlike the more famous lakes such as Ratti Gali. The water from Saral Lake flows into a twin lake that is hidden below. You can see adorably comical marmots hopping around the area. You can leave for Saral Lake from Sharda via a jeep. The journey leads to the Gumot National Park, another beauty, and from there you start hiking to the lake. The alternative is to leave from Naran. When trekking from there, you can witness the astounding Dudipatsar Lake. The last alternative, though very long, is from Ratti Gali Lake and is truly an enthralling one. If you start from Azad Kashmir, you can touch base at Ratti Gali, Noori, Saral, and Dudipatsar Lake over the course of three to four days with your trek ending near Naran in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
No list of the best places in Pakistan can be complete without a fort to add to the cultural experience of travelling. Prepare to be blown away by the majesty of Ramkot Fort that is beside the Mangla Dam and borders the River Jhelum. The fort was built in 1186 by the Gakhar Sultan, Toglu. The fort boasts a large courtyard with darkly mysterious rooms to venture into and explore. The stairs of the fort go to the top from where you can attain a bird’s eye view of the entire architecture. The land in the fort is a vibrant green with fresh, clean grass, and trees attractively spiral around the staircase to the top. You can reach the fort via a boat ride of about 20 minutes which is a wonderful part of the entire experience of visiting Ramkot Fort.
One of the most famous places to visit in Kashmir, Toli Pir cannot be missed. The beautiful hilltop is situated in the Tehsil Rawalakot in the Poonch District of Azad Kashmir. The floral diversity is vast with many trees, shrubs, flowers, and herbs. The top presents great views of nature such as Abbaspur, Bagh, and Poonch River which can all be viewed from Toli Pir. The views are breath-taking. At the very top of Toli Pir, the remnants of Maqbara Shrine can be found. Toli Pir is most accessible during summer with its beauty at a peak in April to September. It’s a good idea to take pack a lunch with you when going to Toli Pir as it is a perfect place for a picnic and you’ll sure be feeling hungry there at one point or another. You may see the Rhesus Monkey, the Musk Deer, or the majestic Himalayan Ibex on your way here.
This stunning waterfall, located in Multialmera, is just a 3-hour drive from Rawalpindi. The journey is a little tough but the destination is truly worth it. The waterfall is majestic and surrounded by the natural beauty of the giant rocks and lavender-coloured bushes. The shallow water pool at the bottom of the waterfall is great for swimming though you may want to visit in the early hours on a weekday to avoid a crowd. There is usually a cute little table and chairs set right in the middle of the shallow body of water to enjoy tea atop. You can buy some basic snacks too from a shop located right by the waterfall. The imagery is absolutely adorable here and the vibe is comfortable. Whilst you’re here, you will also be in close proximity to other places such as Banjosa and Toli Pir so it’s a great idea to plan a trip that touches base at all the wonderful places on offer.
Reached by Jeep from Kel, Neelum Valley, the Shounter Lake is a small but serene sight for sore eyes. It is situated in Shounter Valley and you can further take a route onto Chitta Katha Lake and the crossing point of Shounter Pass leading to Astore Valley from here. The scenic lake is fed by the glacial waters coming from mountain tops. Thick, green vegetation and the purple Iris Hookeriana plants surround the lake. There are great alpine trekking opportunities here. It is also a great spot to camp in from the months of May to August though it gets chilly at night so be sure to bring sweaters with you.
These are some of the most delightful places to visit in Kashmir. You won’t get tired trekking for hours on end in the valleys of Kashmir. Surrounded by green and white mountains, colourful trees, and stunning glacial lakes, it’s truly an unforgettable experience. The destinations are not the only best part of the experience but the journeys are equally breath-taking if not more. So, without giving it much thought, head on over to the magical valleys of Kashmir. We have your back throughout the journey of a lifetime.