Neelum valley in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan is dominated by the mighty Neelum river surrounded by evergreen thick pine forest. Neelum is linked to Muzaffarabad by a bow shaped Neelam road, which leads up to Taobat. The road is in pretty good condition till the town of Athmuqam and recommended for any vehicle. From Keran to Kel, the road is in bad shape. Rest of the road to Taobat is only jeep-able. The valley is home to many natural small and large lakes. Chitta Katha and Ratti gali are, perhaps, the most discussed lakes because of their unmatchable beauty!
Chitta Katha Lake
Chitta Katha Lake is located in the Shounter valley, which is accessible from Kel on the Muzaffarabad neelum road. The lake remains frozen in the bigger half of the year and accessible only in 3 months of the year after 6-8 hours of trekking from upper Domail in Shounter valley, Azad Kashmir. The lake is named so because of a milky stream that pours down from the lake. Chitta means white and Katha means water reservoir. The trek for the lake starts from Upper Domail village, which can be reached through a two hours jeep ride from Kel. From Upper Domail, a gentle walk up to the Chitta Katha village takes around thirty minutes. From the village, there are two options to reach lake. One is a 5 hour trek going along the Chitta Katha stream and is quite steep and narrow. The other one takes a bit longer and is used by the locals when their livestock has to be moved. To use this trek, cross the footbridge on the stream and follow the trail ascending up and remaining at the right side of the rocky face of mountain. Chitta katha village can be approached from kel to domel bala about 20 km through jeeps and then 5 km trekking by foot. This is a nice place to camp for the night if you do not want to return in the same day. After a tough ascend of another hour or two one comes across a flat surface from where Chitta Katha Lake can be reached in half an hour. The look of the lake with turquoise colored water and snow covered mountains the background makes this lake extremely fascinating.
Ratti Gali Lake
Perhaps one of the most beautiful lake in the northern Pakistan, Ratti gali is a seasonal lake which remains accessible only in four months of the year. Even though the mountains surrounding the lake go quite high, the altitude of the lake itself is around 3,700 meters. The lake is accessible via a 16km long jeep track from village Dawarian on Neelum valley road. Another 1km trek in to the mountains will bring you to this heavenly place on earth. There are other multiple options as well. Trekkers also access the lake from Kaghan side. This can be done from Burawai in Kaghan valley where a jeep track will bring you to the base camp of 4200m high Ratti gali pass. A trek of two days from Burawai will bring you Ratti Gali lake. Another route is via Dawarian pass which is accessible from Noori top in Kaghan valley. One other option is Gattian pass which is located north of Rattigali and it is accessible from Jalkhad – Sharda road after 7-8km of trekking via Gattian lake.
Saral lake is another hidden pearl of Neelum valley. This lake is only accessible to trekkers after at least on night of camping en route lake. Saral Lake is at an altitude of around 4,100 m. Again there are multiple options to access the lake. The best one is via Lailan ki basti in Kaghan valley. One can access Lailan ki basti through Noori top road (Jalkhad-Sharda road). Drop 6km before Noori top from Kaghan side and towards your left is Lailan ki basti. Around 12km trekking through the lush green meadows is required to reach the lake via this route. Second possible option to reach the lake is via Dudipatsar lake trek from Besal village. This one is practiced by most of the trekkers. Trek to Dudipatsar lake is one of the most beautiful in Kaghan valley. A walk through lush green meadows and white streams will bring you to a very small seasonal settlement Mullan ki basti. From Mullah ki basti, Dudipatsar lake is a 2 hours trek and Saral lake can be accessed by crossing the 4200m high Saral pass which lies to the right of Mullah ki basti. Trek length from Mullah ki basti is around 12km. One last option to access the lake is from Sharda side via Sharda-Jalkhad road. One has to cross the 4300m high Surgan pass to access the lake. This trek is the shortest but very steep.
Noori top Lake
Noori top lake is lies at an elevation of around 4000m and is around 600m in length & 400m in width. This lake is rarely visited in Neelum valley because of the unavailability of a proper trek and information. There are two possible options to reach the lake. One is to start from Noori top and start trekking towards south along the steep slope. Facing Sharda side, the trek is towards 3 o clock. A 4km and 3 hours trek brings you to the famous big Noori waterfall just above a couple of rock made homes of Gujjar people. Another 1.5 hours of trek along the stream will take you to the Noori top lake. The lake remains frozen 9 months of the year. Another adjacent route is along the Noori stream that comes to your left after around 8kms of jeep ride from Sharda. The Noori stream can be identified after the Gattian stream by a small pond on your right side. Noori stream comes at your left after 2km jeep ride from the pond. Trek from this side is much steeper than the Noori top one. The noori stream has two major water sources; one is the Noori lake and the other is the glacier of Dawarian pass. To reach the Noori lake, take the one on your right side.
Shounter Lake is a famous lake in Shounter Valley, which is a sub-valley of Neelum Valley in Azad Kashmir and located at an elevation of 10,200 feet (3,100 metres). The water resource of the lake is the inflow of the glacial water of the surrounding mountains. The lake is encircled by snow-capped mountains, greenery and specimens of Iris, which are dispersed around the lake. The lake is accessible through Kel, Neelum Valley, by a jeep track. The best time to Shounter Valley is from May to August, because it mostly remains snow-stricken. It is accessed by a jeep track in the open month in the summer otherwise trekking is the only option left to get there. The valley is famous for its beautiful lakes, not only in Pakistan but all over the world. The landscape and scenery is so enchanting and breathtaking. Shounter valley spreads in Upper Neelum Valley and it can be accessed through a jeep track from Kel which remains open for a few months of the year. From Shounter Valley, one can come across the Shounter Pass which opens into Astore Valley at Rattoo. A small sized Shounter Lake is a beautiful Lake, situated in the Shounter Valley and from this is base camp of Sarvali Peak, Chitta Katha Lake and crossing point of the Shounter Pass into Astore Valley.