KUMRAT VALLEYS (PAKISTAN) – HIDDEN MOUNTAIN PARADISE

Until recently, Kumrat valleys in district of North Dir – the province of Khyber Pakhtoon Khwa (KPK), remained a secret, off the tourist trail. Imran Khan, a well-travelled Present Prime Minister of Pakistan, with a vision in developing Pakistan tourism; introduced on his visit (2016), this gem of mountain valleys. At an elevation of about 8,100 feet, about one kilometer wide valleys stretches some 30 kilometers. This hidden paradise in the realm of Hindukush mountains defines the very term – the land of unimaginable beauty, which exudes turquoise green Panjkora river, cascading mountain streams, springs, waterfalls, lakes, meadows and home grounds to leopard, markhor, Monal pheasant and Himalayan Snow cock. The soil so rich, the locals have dig out a system of agricultural mosaic beautifying the valley floor that grows abundance of vegetable and grain produce.

About 380 kilometers from Islamabad to Kumrat valleys via Timergara is a convenient drive upto Thal Village, except for occasional stretches of dirt tracks, and takes about six hours. From Thal, about two hour 4XDrive give access along rock-strewn road to remote Kumrat valleys.

We are bound on an alternate route via Kalam (from Islamabad to Kalam about 250 kms, traveling time about 11 to 12 hours) with an overnight at Kalam (Woods Resort). About 7 hours’ drive from Kalam and onwards, a hard 40 kilometers journey off Utror Road to the west links Thal village, Kumrat. We take a fork road before approaching Utror bazaar (no signpost) and after a while the road makes a steep ascent; we maneuver sharp bends along 4XDrive rocky road abound lush pine forests to the top: Badgai (Sujun) Pass.  

Badgai Pass, in the lap of the western Hindukush Mountains, reveals an impressive landscape in the outline s of deep mountain gorges, multi-colored layers of rocky terrain in the back-drop of snowcapped saddles. We take a break at the café, stocked with refreshments, biscuits and crackers. From here, we descent. Sandy and semi rocky road can be a menace during the rain. Do not make a mistake testing the limit of some city car (non 4XD) on this route that could end up the car at a wreckage.

We drive along dense pine forests and as we cross over the lower basin of the valley, the fertile fields feast the eyes in different hues of greens with crops of a variety of vegetables and grains. Besides agriculture – the key livelihood for the villagers, other vocations earning bread and butter includes livestock and dependency on forests for firewood and local house construction. The people of this western vale of Hindukush Mountains said to be the direct descendants of aborigine Dardic people who traces their pre-historic roots with Indo-Aryans. Today, the people observe ancestry customs and traditions and practice the Jirga system, which is not in consistency to modern law of the country. Women folks are rarely seen out of their homes except farming in the fields.

Driving by spring cascades, streams, pine forests and cultivated fields in the backdrop of, Hindukush Mountains, we are approaching Thal village. High above at the vantage point, I am rewarded with a brilliant sight of Kumrat Valley by the meandering Panjkora River with distant manifestations of snow clad peaks.  

    

A quick check on the vehicle at Thal, I take a stock of fruits – not many variety to choose at the only fruit merchant here; and we move on towards Kumrat valley following the Panjkora River. The day light fades into the calm darkness of the night. It was time to lay my hat at the Panjkora Resort (near Forest Rest House) – a pleasant site of chalet-style lodging abound the pine forest. After a pleasant meeting with the young owner of the Resort, I got lucky to have found a comfortable cottage. Each cottage fitted in modern comforts with attached bath has running hot water The Eco-friendly Resort is in its completion stage of expansion, including the kitchen area with a menu offering a variety of regional and Pakistani cuisines. info@panjkorahotels.com

Next day, we have a date with Mother Nature to explore Kumrat valley attractions. We are guided to the Kumrat Waterfall, just about 10 minutes’ drive from Panchkora Resort. Along the way, I take short walks through the condensed pine forest.

On arrival at a site mushroomed with restaurants, I take the trail to the waterfall and about ten minutes easy hike, the two layered waterfall appears an impressive sight – a thing of natural beauty.

View Restaurant & Guest House (on the trail to waterfall) offers basic mattress for overnight (Faisal: Mobile 0320-1908044). Nearby, a convenient store, “Aali” (0320-1903809) sells local herbs and organic honey.

At a distance, the sight of a building (Mum Touch Hotel) by the River caught my attention. With its hanging wooden balcony, the 2-storeyed building seemed quite agreeable with the environment-friendly concept. Enthusiastically, I approached nearer to the entrance and met the Hotel Manager Jahan Zeb (0342-1100019). He was open minded and welcomed my recommendation to change the name of the hotel to a more suitable moniker to spell its picturesque location, with the view of the mountain peaks rising above the river at both ends of the valley. The manager agreed that the main area of the building needed uplift and a color scheme to amalgamate with surrounding scenery. I stayed one night here in the room-with-the view, basic though clean and comfy.

The stretch along the river from this hotel to the waterfall, we passed by several camping sites. One with the sign: Kumrat Hotel & Resorts (though seemed inappropriately named) seemed a pleasant site by the river with a nice layout of about 12 tents abound dense pine forest area in different colors and shapes. Sajid Iqbal: the manager at the site appeared a humble person and although, admittedly he has no prior of hoteling (Camping), I find the sight surprisingly well organized with litter-bins outside each tent and in the restaurant and common areas by the campsite. While the staff attired in a proper uniform, the kitchen and the menu has been much to my pleasant surprise. A professional Chef from a well renowned chain of restaurants in Pakistan has been hired to plate-up Pakistan’s gourmet cuisines, including mutton curry, aromatic biryani, lentils, fresh salad. What more could a camper want more luxury: welcome tea on arrival by the tent as you settle in, a palatable meal served by uniformed waiters on the table laid with the view of the river and forest scenery – an experience in the wilderness that linger in our memory. Although tempted to spend the night in the tent here, prior commitment impel me to move on.

I may probably return to explore the other side of the Kumrat Valley at Jahaz Banda (village) There is a camping site and from here, hikers explore the lakes: Katora Lake and Chota Dand (small lake) and other attractions at an elevation of about 10,000 feet. The trek, about 5-6 hours or hiring a horse ride from the village to tranquil Katora Lake, perhaps the most photogenic lakes around Kumrat valleys is a rewarding indulgence. Other attractions includes exploring the Kala Chashma (Black water spring), Jahaz band waterfall and an heritage museum at Jandrai village, which exhibit cherished possessions, weapons of yore and other ancestral entity.

Content/ Photography: Saifuddin Ismailji

Founder-EIC: e-Travelers Club travel update

Please Note: No part of content and/ or images may be used by anybody without the written permission of the author.

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