It is a valley of fountains, springs, waterfalls, flowering trees and plants. Geographically too, it is a hospitable valley. The Neelum Valley, 144 km long bow-shaped with majestic pine, fir and deodar trees, lies north-south of Muzaffarabad (capital). This ninety-mile long kingdom of vegetation is ripped apart by the indigoblue Neelum river which flows serpentinely down hills to merge itself into the river Jhelum at Domail. Domail, the confluence of two mighty rivers, presents highly fascinating scene of youthful embrace. This heart-warning spectacle is most soothing to the eye.
The geographical features enhance the natural beauty of the Valley. Its elevation, a mere 600 m at the start, gradually rises till it attains a respectable height of 2425 m. On both sides there are high mountains and peaks. Nearly all the forest wealth of Azad Kashmir is to be found in this vally.
There are two approaches to the valley. One from the Kaghan Valley which is linked with it at two points, the Nuri Nari Hali (Pass) and the Ratti Gali and many minor Passes. From Dawarian, it takes two days for hiking or riding and night stay at Dharian at 3640 m.
The second approach is from Muzaffarabad. It is a distance of 88 km which is jeepable in fair weather. The Neelum meets the Jhelum river at Domail (meeting of the two) on the outskirts of Muzaffarabad city. From Paticka forest one reaches Nosari, 39 km ahead of Muzaffarabad. Next come Chaliana (height 970 m), Qazi Nag, Barian, Salkhela, Kundal Shahi, Athmaqam on this road. On a number of places, the local population has built rope crossings on the river.
Tao Butt is an example of vegetational generosity of the mother nature. The spot is donned with all delicacies and niceties. Nature flirts here with fantastic environment. The forest wealth abounds in the Neelum Valley. Deodar, pine, fir, wild walnut, strawberry and hosts of other high statured trees and other types of wild growth and herbs are the treasure of the valley. Besides being invaluable in economic terms, the variety of natural growth offers a captivating scenery. Shunder Hill tops are covered with green forests and the fields are lush green with crops.
The other midway station in Kundal Shahi, also a small commercial centre. Kundal Shahi is the operational centre of the Azad Kashmir Logging and Saw Mills which is responsible for timber extraction to commercial markets in Pakistan. Kundal Shahi station has a rest house manned by the logging and saw mills at the Western bank of river Neelum adjacent to metalled road.
A forest range bifurcates from Kundal Shahi to Jagra Nullah which is again a mini river running all the year round. Its water is glass-like limpid having good potential for trout fish development. The range is also accessible by a kutcha but well maintained road. The forests are so thick in the range that a trip to the range would be like going through a tunnel. It is tunnel of forest indeed.
So far is the half of the Neelum Valley and after it are the more enchanting spots full of exuberance and life. Kairan is another beauty spot on the river side with a neat and clean wooden flooring rest house. Its lawns slope down towards the wester bank of the river. The bazaar consists of over a dozen shops with a post office and telephone call office. Commodities are transported to the bazaar from Athmaqam by trucks. The physical feature of Kairan resort resembles a broad forehead of a person with thick hair on the head. Stay is more comfortable here.
Kutton (Jagran Valley) :
The bewitching beauty of Kutton permeated in the radius of 10 kilometers, makes Jagran Valley. The area is 16 kilometers from Kundal Shahi and is accessible by road. For the convenience of tourists, AJK tourism Department has constructed a rest house here. Whereas, accommodation is also available in adjacent residential complex managed by the Hydro Electric Board. From here 16 kilometers onward, Thunian, Ghansi and Jagran are located which are worth seeing spots for nature lovers and adventurists.
About 5 kilometers ahead of Kundal Shahi, Salkhala is another secluded spot of tourist interest located across river Neelum. Here a trout hatchery has been established. A Tourist Rest House and 3 huts are available here for accommodation.
The other important station in the Valley is Athmaqam connected by metalled road with Muzaffarabad. This town has a Town Committee of its own with an Intermediate College, a hospital and a telephone exchange. A few scheduled banks are also operating here. The rest house, built at the foot of the Western hilltop which tapers towards Balakot in the NWFP, is accommodative. It has been built in such a way that its lawns face the river below it. A daily bus service ply between the town and Muzaffarabad. From here upwards, emerges typical Kashmiri living pattern with houses built of wooden logs, most of them double-storeyed.
Curd, cheese maize bread along with the Chutney is the other palatable diet. The other major diet is rice.
The valley is accessible by an all weather road metalled up to Kundal Shahi and well maintained up to Kel. At the gateway to the Valley lies a sprawling town of Bhateeka with a dependable commercial centre. For a tourist, Bhateeka can be the first journey break. This town has a modest bazaar with day-to-day activity. All essential items are available in the bazaar which feeds a fairly large number of villages behind it. On its back runs the forth-emitting river Neelum. The village and bazaar are connected by a suspension bridge crossable by jeep alone. This old bridge is being replaced with an RCC one enabling it to afford heavy traffic.
The running streams, water channels and water falls across the Bhateeka village presents another heart winning scene. It is fully electrified.
The quality of life here is full of emotions despite its simplicity. It is perhaps due to verdure. Financially, it is an affluent town. Majority of the village folk is engaged in profitable business abroad especially in the Middle East . A number of scheduled banks are operating in the village on the strength of remittances from abroad.
The serene atmosphere shrouded into lush greenery and milky-white waterfalls and water courses and their rhythmic flow totally absorbs the visitors. Added to the general plant fragrance is the sweet smell of menthol plants along the banks of the nullah, it cuts its way across the crop-fields in such wavy manner that it looks as a white ribbons over green head of damsel Nature. Bhateeka is linked by ancillary roads with other surrounding areas uphill and downhill.
At a distance of about 9 Kms from Athmaqam, Neelum (Karen) is situated on the Right Bank of Neelum River at about 1524 meters above sea level. It has a fascinating scenery. A small bazaar and a tourist rest house situated on the bank of meandering river Neelum across from where one can have a glance at the Indian held Kashmir. The panoramic lush green valley, profound in wild fruit and wildlife, attracts the tourists from every nook & corner of the country. Owing to its tourist attraction, AJK Tourism Department has launched a project to convert it in to a tourist resort.
Dowarrian is situated about 13 Kms from Neelum at an altitude of about 1615 meters. It is surrounded by mountains full of full of Conifer trees. A mule track upto Ratti Gali Pass about 30 Kms towards west connects the Neelum & Kaghan Valleys. There is a Forest Rest House on the top of the hill and a tourist rest house is available for accommodation near main road.
Located ar a distance of 30 kilometers from Dowarrian, it is a breath- taking green spot at an altitude of 1981 meters. Shardi & Nardi are the two mountain peaks over looking the valley, reputed named after legendary princesses Shaeda & Narda. It has a captivating landscape with numerous springs and hillsides covered with thick forest. Over the right bank, opposite to Sharda, the river Neelum is joined by the Surgan nullah along which a track leads to the Noori Nar Pass and through it to Kaghan Valley.
In Sharda, one also finds ruins of an old Buddhist Monastery and a fort which are of historical background. Facilities of a small bazaar, Post Office, health center and Public Call Office are available in Sharda. The AJK Tourism Department has established here a "Tourist Village" consisting of Tourist Rest Houses, Youth Hostels, Cafeteria and Games room to facilitate tourists.
19 kilometers journey from Sharda, upstream takes one to Kel. It is a small valley at the height of 2097 meters. This is another picturesque place in the Neelum Valley . The Shounter Nullah joins river Neelum at this place and leads to Gilgit Agency over the Shounter Pass (4,420 meter). Kel is also a base camp of mountaineering activities up to " Sarawaali Peak " 6326 meters above sea level and "Sarawaali Glacier" which are said to be the heighest peak and biggest glacier of Azad Kashmir.
Buses ply daily on this route. It is advisable to hire a jeep from Authmaqam for a trip in to the Valley. Horses and ponies can also be hired locally for travel to the interior of the Neelum Valley . Banks, Collage, Hospital, Bazaar, PCO and a Tourist Motel are available here.
The border village about 38 km ahead of Kel, is a fascination yet unexplored. Janawai, and Sardari are the most beautiful places around here. A tourist rest house has been constructed at Halmat to provide accommodation facilities to the visitors.
(Note): Some of the tourist places of Neelum Valley are situated in the range of Line of Control (LoC), therefore, sometimes it becomes difficult to visit these areas. So before visiting the valley, the visitors are required to get information from AJK Tourism Department.
Chitta Katha Lake :
Chitta Katha Lake is only accessable in the months of July and August. Common route followed by the tourists is through kel. There is a road from Kel to Shounter Valley. it is better to reach the village UTLI DOMEL at night and stay there. you should proceed forward early in the morning. There is climbing of 5 to 6 hours to reach the lake. you can also make arrangements of horses for travelling from UTLI DOMEL.There is about 30 KM by road distance from Kel to Chitta Katah Lake.There is also jeep approach road climbig towards this lake.
Upper Taobutt :
This is the point where Neelum Valley road in Azad Kashmir ends. A few kilometers from here is the points where Kishinganga river enters into the Azad Kashmir and becomes Neelum.
Shounter Valley and Lake :
Shounter valley lies in Upper Neelum valley. It can be accessed through a jeep track from Kel which only gets opened for a few months of the year. From Shounter valley, one can cross the Shounter Pass to enter into Astore valley at Rattoo.
Shounter lake is a small but very beautiful lake in the Shounter Valley, Azad Kashmir. It can be reached through a 2-3 hrs jeep journey from Kel (Upper Neelum valley) via Domail. The road however gets opened only for a few months only in summers. From this point, one can go to Sarveli peak base camp, chitta katta lake or cross the Shounter pass into Astore.