Naran and Shogran, a winter wonderland
Recently, with the help of Royal Tourism Pakistan, I got the chance to visit one of the most popular and beautiful vacation spots in northern Pakistan – Naran and Kaghan. Considering it was May, and peak summers were around the corner, I expected it to be as hot as it is here down in Karachi. However, it is interesting to note that May is actually the tail end of winter in northern areas.
We were travelling by bus and started from Rawalpindi passing through Mansehra and Abbotabad before reaching Naran. Since the journey was long, we decided to stay a night in a small village called Rajwal.
Rajwal is beautiful, surrounded by mountains which are mostly green but start showing hints of snowy white as you move further up north. The temperature was around eight to 10 degrees during the afternoon and would drop to around one to two degrees at night. The roads which lead to Rajwal are wide and city-like, although one occasionally sees herds of goats and sheep being shepherded across the roads.
Due to the season, most hotels and motels were closed. However, the tour organisers got us accommodation in a modest but adequate guest house. The rooms were spacious, and even though there was no central heating, there was hot water available in the morning which was a big relief! This was my view from the room:
The main attraction is the fresh air and the scenery – who wouldn’t want to wake up to that. If you walk down the road, there are a few small stores where one can get basic groceries from and you come across fresh water streams. At night, you can huddle around a bonfire in the garden to keep warm. The air is chilly but doesn’t freeze you to the bone. If you walk around a bit and have some tea or coffee, you will be just fine. After staying there for the night, the next stop was Lake Saiful Malook.
Saiful Malook - Mother nature’s versatility at its best
During the summers, the lake can be accessed by road (as per the map below) as Saiful Malook lies between a valley of mountains.
However, the route at this time of the year was all covered in snowed. The only way to get to it was on foot. The scenario changes completely, yet has a beauty of its own. Never in my dreams did I imagine that we would hike through this.
I was, unfortunately, not able to make it to the lake this time as I didn’t have proper shoes. But there were a few determined ones from our group who did make it and got to see this view of the lake in contrast to the one above.
This view is something worth seeing in both seasons. It takes about two hours to get there on foot and about another two hours to get back. One should visit in late April-early May to see this winter wonderland and once again during the summers to see the greenery that surrounds the lake.
Shogran - A real life postcard
After getting back to the base of the mountain and indulging in a late lunch in Naran, we drove down to Shogran for the night. In essence, we went back down southward as you can see below.
A point to note here is that the roads are a bit intimidating. One needs a skilled driver to navigate through the tiny strips as all you have is a wall of mountains on one side and pretty much nothing on the other side, except a 7,000 feet drop! The local drivers here are skilled as these roads are a daily route for them.
If you are scared of heights, I suggest you sit on the far side of the car and don’t look out the window, and request your driver – very politely – to drive a bit slowly. I emphasise on the world ‘polite’ since most of these drivers are skilled and pride themselves on what they do, but they don’t like being told how to do their job.
Upon reaching Shogran, we stayed at Pine Park Hotel. It seems like a feat of architecture in itself since one wonders how they managed to build what is almost a four-star hotel on top of a mountain. The view from each and every room of the hotel is simply gorgeous. It looks like one of those calendar photos you see in drawing rooms growing up as a kid.
The rooms were clean and the service was good. It would have been great if it had central heating, but nonetheless, the weather was really pleasant during the day and one did not even need a sweater.
Shogran to Siri and Paye
The last key sightseeing spot on this tour were the peaks of Siri and Paye. These adjacent mountains stand at a height of almost 9,500 feet (Paye) and 8,500 feet (Siri). Even though Siri means ‘head’ and Paye means ‘feet’, the strange thing is that in reality, Siri comes first and Paye (a bit higher up) comes after.
The terrain is difficult and you can only get up via a 30-minute drive with in a 3,000cc jeep as you can see below. The jeeps, being the awesome powerful machines that they are, can only go so far. The last bit of the journey till the peak where the meadow of Siri-Paye lies can be reached either by foot (about a 20-minute walk) or by horse (which you can rent).
This is one of the highest places you can be at in the Shogran area. When you reach here, take a moment to put your camera down and just take in the majestic beauty of this place. I sat here for 15 minutes just staring at these mountains.
During this season, one can only get to Siri as Paye is still covered in snow, as you can see in the picture below. One can still hike there if they wish to but it would be a similar experience as that of Saiful Malook.
From here, it was back to Rawalpindi via the same route. If you have the time, do stop by Mansehra and Abbotabad as both cities are beautiful, set in valleys surrounded by lush green mountains.
This trip made me realise that Pakistan holds endless amounts of natural beauty, no less than any European vacation. You need to simply get out there to see it. These photos and descriptions cannot even do justice to what you get to see and feel in person once you are there.
All in all, it was a great trip and people should see this place both in the summers as well as the winters. Below is a handy list of basic necessities you will need in case you plan on taking the trip during winters.
All photos: Urooj Hussain
This post originally appeared here.