Tourists don’t pay much attention to Mansehra except to get out and squint at three rocks on the northern outskirts, on which King Ashoka inscribed a set of edicts over 2200 years ago. The bazaar is lively, bearing traces of the town’s history as a Sikh garrison town in the early 19th century.
At 2400m, Naran is the summertime base for exploring the valley and for the multitude of tourists escaping the heat of the plains. It’s a beehive in the tourist season, choked with jeeps and minibuses, and the hotels are packed (Naran visitors sometimes have to stay in Kaghan). By October the few hotels that remain open may ask less than a fifth of the summer price.
Tragic Balakot (982m) was virtually destroyed in the 2005 earthquake and many lives were lost. At the time of research one hotel remained standing amid the tangle of tents and temporary shelters. The bazaar was bustling beneath its makeshift shelter of corrugated-iron sheets and blue plastic tarps.
Haripur & Havelian
Haripur, a dusty and chaotic town 34km north of the Grand Trunk Rd, was once Hazara’s ‘capital’. It was founded in 1822 as the headquarters of the Sikh General Hari Singh, after whom it’s named. In 1853 the British moved all its administrative functions to Abbottabad, and Haripur’s importance waned.
Thandiani (taan-dee-aa-nee), a series of 2700m forested ridges northeast of Abbottabad, is the northernmost of the hill-station retreats called the Galis. The air is cool and clean, development is minimal and there are views east across the Pir Panjal Range, and north even to Nanga Parbat in clear weather. Thandiani means ‘cool place’, so bring extra layers.
To the Babusar Pass
The Kaghan Valley’s most dramatic scenery is beyond Naran. Travel here is by 4WD, mountain bike, pony or on foot. Although there are efforts to upgrade the road, most progress has been made on the Chilas side. You should definitely get local advice before crossing the Babusar Pass.