By Aijaz Hussain
People are often asked whether they are a beach or a mountain person, and although the answer is not a conclusive verdict with regards to what their personality is like, it definitely does tell you about where they’d want to be if they want an escape.
In my case, the answer is always the second option that is, a mountain person. Yes, as a Karachi inhabitant, I prefer to be roaming around and exploring places in the midst of mountainous terrain despite being prone to the saahil e samandar for the last twenty years of my life. Is it because being in the middle of sandy winds and bathing in tidal currents has become a boring experience for me? I’ll say no because I still enjoy that but it’s the inner and mental peace that comes on top of the scenic beauty that I witness which makes me want to choose mountains over beaches every other day.
And yes, as you might have guessed, my favorite travel destination is a small part of the vast and beautiful Northern region of Pakistan. Jannat-e-Nazeer (Heaven on earth) as it’s called, Kashmir is a lot more than what the world has confined its meaning to, that is, a strategic piece of land that India and Pakistan fight over.
The territory which comes within the internal boundary of Pakistan is called Aazaad Kashmir; and it’s one of the, if not the most, exotic places in the world. And within Azaad Kashmir is a small valley known as Neelum, which happens to be my favorite travel destination so far in the world that I have seen till now.
A roughly 5 and a half-hour drive from the capital, Islamabad, Neelum Valley comes in the fold of the Neelum district, which is the northernmost district of the Aazaad Kashmir region, and I saw in Neelum the natural beauty which people highly rate when it comes to talking about Kashmir. It’s impossible to take your eyes of the sight that’s in front you both when you’re travelling towards Neelum and when you reach there.
The thing about Neelum and the other valleys I’ve been to is that the vegetation and the density of the green forests on these mountains is far greater than what I saw in Skardu and other parts of Gilgit Baltistan. This combined with the fresh crystal-clear water that’s flowing down beside the road you’re cruising on, is a scene that’s not just a treat for the eyes but is a therapy in itself.
Perhaps the best and the most wonderful part about going into the mountains particularly in the summer, is that drop in temperature which completely pulls you out from that zone of humidity and heat you were experiencing in urban centers like Lahore and Karachi. In Neelum, there weren’t icy wild winds gushing against my face or the skin on my arms, but rather a it felt as if I was in a room which was centrally air-conditioned; adding more to the pleasant and tranquil environment this place had in offer. It gets colder when going deeper into the night, but a nice woolen sweater or leather jacket on top of a t-shirt will do it nicely for you.
Once you reach the Neelum Valley, you will get to know that it is further divided into two parts: The Upper and Lower Neelum Valley. A road that goes towards the top of the hill makes the upper part accessible. There isn’t much difference between the two areas, just a slight change in temperature and the scenery are the two main distinctions. The Lower Neelum valley is a strip of land that constitutes the shore of the Neelum river. Another interesting fact about this place is that you’re, quite literally, a river away from India. Yes, the land on the other side of the river belongs to the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
By now, after hearing what will be in store for you in terms of adventure, sightseeing and exploration; the inner traveler in you might be rearing up for a trip to the mesmerizing Neelum Valley, but how much would a trip from Karachi cost? All of this depends on a number of elements that are, the mode of travel, the persons count, the standard of accommodation you will choose, the type of cuisine you’ll indulge in, the season you wish to travel in etc.
A round trip to Kashmir from Karachi if you choose to travel via air till Islamabad and then hit the road from there till Neelum, can cost you somewhere around 75000 to 125000 rupees. But if you’re a student and are more inclined towards saving money through hitting the road or the tracks for Neelum from Karachi only, then a round trip will cost you somewhere around 40000 to 65000 rupees. Either way, a trip to Neelum Valley is something that you should include in your bucket list, because this place is truly a piece of paradise on earth and you will cherish every moment you spend in these hills for many years to some.