- 30 Jan - 05 Feb, 2021
NARAN VALLEY - A Travelogue
- 22 Dec - 28 Dec, 2018
- Travel Diaries
Under the shrine of clear blue skies painted with faint streaks of sunlight, the earth rose in majestic mountains, enveloped with a thick blanket of snow. Climbing into the valley like the most perfect centrepiece sits a lake; shining and sparkling grey – silently rippling to the soft breeze, like it wants to live a little more before being frozen. How Mother Nature works, is beyond a wonder.
We see all these backgrounds of what may be the Swiss Alps; icy peaks and snow as far as the eye can see and the sky, endlessly and exquisitely jewel-blue – the whole scene leaves us longing for a vacation. Turns out, you don’t need to go to Switzerland for such spectacles when Naran is less than nine hours away.
I’m the worst person to go on a road trip with since I am too prone to severe motion sickness but a road trip across KPK isn’t something you say ‘no’ to. The open sky, the gushing Kunhar underneath, the lush green mountains, all do wonders to wash away the stresses of life. The highlight of being on this road is a short layover at one of the epic waterfall restaurants where tables and chairs are settled in the waterfall pools and you enjoy snacks to a breathtaking view; it brings out the happy in you.
In the most scenic valley of the country, Kaghan Valley, is a small town called Naran; one long road running through a mountain and town bustling on either side. I’ve been to Naran twice and the comparison between the two experiences is stark.
Naran in 2011
The drive to Naran from Islamabad was nine hours and we all know how scenic it is but the joy was cut short by the unforgiving journey on a deplorable road; the experience was borderline scary. There was only one road for the two-way traffic; on one side was a mountain and the other side was a dead drop into the mighty Kunhar river, with the absence of barricades being very evident. Me being an adrenaline junkie, thought it was adventurous, but I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t a little concerned.
Snow covered peaks welcome you to Naran, in mid-November, tourist season was almost off and the place resembled a ghost town. Barely any eateries or food stalls, exempt a few worn-down dhabas, there wasn’t much to rely on. Such a popular and rich natural tourist spot is expected to have decent hotels but it was quite a disappointment.
If that wasn’t enough, how wrong I packed was laughable. Having zero tolerance for the cold, I ended up packing one sweater but thanking my lucky stars, I was able to find layers to keep myself from freezing. There’s much to see in Naran but the weather didn’t permit and with the accommodation so uncomfortable, we ended up cutting the three night stay short to one.
Naran in 2017
On a long weekend with nothing to do in Karachi, I thought the mountains are calling. It was not without a little bit of reluctance that I planned a short trip to Naran. Fighting motion sickness, I finally hit the road and was I surprised? The answer is yes. I had no idea how fast the infrastructure is changing and how attention was finally being paid to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s natural heritage, being realised for its potential. The road that I was abundantly dreading was constructed into one smooth road and pertinent to accommodate two-way traffic. Getting to Naran, I was taken aback by how crowded it was.
No more ghost-town-vibes, this was a hustling bustling town full with large scale dhabas sporting charpais, road side stalls catering to those hot beverage needs as demanded by the dropping temperatures and open market traders selling glass embellished traditional Pakhtun dresses and shawls. Moreover, the accommodation scene had essentially improved, with new constructions springing up all around town. Naran is now proudly THE place to go on a small budget to get a big dose of nature. Although, I would still say there is a long way to go, but the progress is commendable. The place had a close resemblance to Murree’s famous Mall Road.
Ask anyone who’s heard of this lake, they’ll tell you the same thing: “Heaven on Earth”. When I first visited Naran, I would’ve agreed with this too. Sometimes you see a place and it instantly strikes a chord with you. A phrase overused but couldn’t be more apt; the snow covered terrain and a glittering lake was a sight that you fall in love with at first sight... and it will stay with you. Guarded by mountains covered under a pristine white blanket of snow, the lake rests like a priceless jewel; that first look will make you breathless and not from the climb.
The beauty of this place was how raw, untouched, it is. With almost no development, except for a few boats and a small cabin, the place was unaffected by all civilians and enjoyed being granted the magnificence of nature. It will forever be the most beautiful place I have ever seen.
Getting to the lake is an experience in itself. It is an-hour journey, which mostly depends on weather conditions and in case there is a landslide, it might take a little long. Once you board a four-wheeler at Naran, you are completely at the mercy of an experienced driver who knows how to get through melting glaciers on the way up there. Not for the faint of heart, of course.
This time, however, I noticed a big change and I wasn’t quite sure if it was for the better. Commercialism has finally hit the spot and a lot of small businesses have been established, to cater to tourists’ needs. The place is exploited by littering and feels like it’s over-exposed to careless tourists.
Get Your Adrenaline Rushing
The booming tourism has resulted in a few activities to be indulged in. In the peak winter months when the tourist season is off, the deep snows make an excellent opportunity to ski but this can only be enjoyed by the professional or the trained. Small businesses have started to conduct rafting activities in the river. The experience is much more exciting and adventurous in the summer months when the river is at full force compared to winters, when the waters are much calmer. The service was quite thorough and safety measures were adhered to.
Food You Cannot Miss
The one thing you have to try is the famous Pathan kay Chapli Kabab and to give your taste buds the best experience of this Pakhtun delicacy, go to dhabas, not restaurants. And of course, finish the lasting experience with a hot cup of chai.
Another great delicacy which can be mostly enjoyed just in the Northern areas is trout fish. Trout is a freshwater fish and one would assume it may not be as pricey up North where the river is so close but you’d be wrong. Trout made quite the expensive cuisine but it’s one hundred per cent worth the money.
Bank Remains Unbroken
The Kaghan Valley is a place where you unwind. Be it Naran or some remote village in the mountains, it’s all an escape from the things that bring lines on your forehead. Plus there is the whole finance factor. Accommodation is much cheaper when the season is off [winter months] and transport costs can be substantially reduced if you use public transport or take your own car. Travelling the Pakistani way is obviously chasing food carts for snacks and filling up on those.
Being a nature buff, my favourite place to travel across is Pakistan and Naran for me is one place that I don’t think I am done with yet. There is always Murree which is much closer and much more vibrant in comparison but Naran has a serenity that is not ordinary and a calm that rejuvenates you. And I know when the mountains will call again, it has to be answered.
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