Embraced by the cool forested peaks of the Lesser Himalaya, this 160km-long valley drained by the burbling Kunhar River is one of Pakistan’s most popular summer holiday spots. The verdant valley is not without its problems of crowding, litter and gouging hoteliers during the brief holiday season, but outside the summer peak, you will find the promised tranquillity though many of the hotels will have closed their doors.
The 2005 Kashmir earthquake devastated the town of Balakot and destroyed many roads in the steep-sided Kaghan Valley. On-going land slippage and subsequent savage winters have hindered roadworks, which were frequent enough even before the earthquake, and restoration of phone and power lines. Rebuilding was very much in evidence at the time of writing but it will be many years before this region returns to normal in terms of access and accommodation.
At the valley head is the 4175m Babusar Pass into the Indus Valley at Chilas. In 1892 the British established a supply line across this pass, one of only two to Gilgit from the outside world. The other, the Burzil Pass from Kashmir, was closed by the 1949 ceasefire, leaving just the Babusar to link the NA with the rest of Pakistan until the KKH was built. It’s open for several weeks each summer, a challenging alternative to the KKH between Mansehra and Chilas. Work has commenced on improving the road, particularly on the Chilas side, but it is expected to take several years before this becomes a viable short cut to Chilas for general transport.
The valley population consists of a string of villages along the river, plus a biannual migration of Gujars, who fan out with their animals into the high pastures of Hazara (and Swat and Chitral) in May and June, returning in September and October.
Several treks out of the valley are described in Lonely Planet’s Trekking in the Karakoram & Hindukush.