Are you an adventure tourist or love to walk through forests and nature ? If you have trailed through Pennine Way, United Kingdom, Camino de Santiago de Compostela, Spain or Mount Toubkal Morocco then here is ‘Kumrat’ for you. Valley at about 8500 feet above sea level that falls in Upper Dir District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan located about 45 minutes away from the town of Thal on the banks of the Panjkora River and is among the most popular tourist spots in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Regardless you are a backpacker, The drifter or the organized mass tourist; this place has a lot to offer in terms of its originality and freshness. Equipped with basic infrastructure and facilities you can spend a good 5-6 days right in between the nature pouring your legs into fresh water stream and observing stories of locals telling you about its wilderness. Here are 7 reasons why Kumrat should be in your travel list:
1. Blend of adventure & Ecotourism
Are you a moderate trekker ? This place is best fit for tourist love to hike a bit with camping experience. There are three trekking trails of ranging from 5-7KM with 10-15 degree steepness that takes 3-4 hours on average to reach Jahanz Banda the 2nd highest meadows in Kumrat. At Jahaz Banda there are quite a few hotels and camping sites made available by locals with basic facilities. Stay over night before you start next trekking towards Katora lake, the highest fresh water lake in Kumrat.
On the way you will find green plains, snow clad mountains, the river Panjkora, foggy mounds that keep accompanying you through out the journey. Area serves as habitats for variety of flora and fauna. It is located in the Upper Dir Kohistan region at the back side of which Swat Kohistan area of Gabral is located.
This place deserves a responsible tourism approach wherein conservation of the natural environment and improvement of well-being of locals, respect of their culture should be the concerning areas so that future generations may experience destinations relatively untouched by human intervention.
2. Organic part of Land
Recall the Big Bang theory that says universe originated some 13.8 billion years ago as a result of some collision and our earth took birth some 4.5 billion years. While trekking from Jahaz Banda towards Katora lake you will literally feel the antiquarianism of giant rocks laying down the meadows from thousands of years surrounding by mountainous walls covered by clouds creating a fairy tale.
Although we were running out of time but this part of land forced us to stop for a while and visualize the then era when it all started to happen. We were sitting in between gigantic dark Grey structured pebbles and thinking of it as an ideal place for camping upon our next visit. Among these rocks, there is fresh water stream passing through that starts from Katora lake at height of some 8500 feet where water probably took thousand of years to make its pathways through rocks and is gradually moving down towards valley. At some places, you will feel being lucky enough among the mankind to be the first to touch specific part of earth; believe me that feels awesome.
3. Dazzling landscapes
Kumrat features variety of stunning landscapes, few are absolute breathtaking. You can visit between April till end August and you’ll see (and smell) acres of blooming plants and flowers. Fresh air, wooden houses and a lively atmosphere make this one of the most popular destinations in Pakistan. You can take the funicular up to the Katora Lake from where you get fabulous views of the valley. The rain and foggy climate add an extras satisfying element to your travel thrust.
Meadows with the sounds of nature, sheep eating, running water, air coming through the forest is something that is not found all in one place.
The best time to visit Kumrat valley is May till September when the temperature is pleasant between 5.6 °C (42.1°F) and 16.2 °C (61.2 °F). Kumrat Valley in winter (Dec – Feb ) experiences cold weather when the temperature drops to -16.1 °C (3.1°F) .
4. Lakes, water falls & fresh water streams
Trekking towards Katora lake was one of the amazing experience we had. Katora lake is biggest of other three fresh water lakes in Kumrat. At a height of about 9000 feet that nature-built lake is packed by mountains that form the shape of a Katora ( resembles to an eating bowl ). Water from mountains ( when ice gets unfreeze ) flows down towards lake and then further move towards the valleys through naturally built pathways and these water pathways helps to guide you during trekking.
At the starting of trekking it was hard and more steep that caused our legs tired and heart rate upto 135 however with ‘walk and pause’ approach we managed to complete the track in about four hours. There is one small wooden tuck shop at the lake that served us with the tea and boiled eggs. Thanks to those hybrid chicken eggs for restoring our energy.
Other two lakes are little Katrora and Bara Banda lakes. Little katora is on the way to to Katora lake where boats can help you to take to the other side reducing the trekking time by 45 minutes.
5. Forest life & Camping
From Thal it takes around 3 hours down to reach Kumrat Forest through Jeep. There are lot of hotels and camping sites build alongside the Panjkora river that passes through the Forest. Sitting beside river and beholding the clouds moving over mountains, untouched forest, blooming flowers was another best experience. The rain & mysterious scent which lingers around moist soil was gift for us from the mother nature. I wished to have spend another two days there but we had to return to our working lives next day.
We met Mr. Imtiaz Khan who is running Kumrat Hotel & restaurant in Kumrat Forest. Was so kind and friendly that we spend hours to listening his stories about the forest and valleys Especially the one when he saw a lion tracing some horses at night for his meal. He served us breakfast and denied to accept payment however after some friendly debate and arguments we made him to accept the payment. There is one track available from Kumrat Forest till Chitral passing through the forest & lakes and local & international tourists use to come here for trekking, he revealed.
Another feature of Kumrat Valley is its towering Deodar forest trees located on level ground adjacent the Panjkora river. To see Kala Chasma ( Black spring ) is one the best things to do in Kumrat.
6. People are awesome
Hameedullah is 49 and working as a “porter” for tourists since his childhood. Although we were interested to hire a horse to carry our luggage however Hameedullah insisted us to employ him so he could earn some money for his family. Considering his age we initially denied him as we thought that would be “disrespectful” and tried to give him some money as free which he denied to accept so he packed our luggage in a purpose-made sheet and rope quite professionally and took on his back. There is slightly hard trek from Taki Top to Jahaz Banda about 4.5KM that takes around 4 hours considering its type of difficulty and ascend.
During trekking you observe the old wooden houses of villagers living a basic simple life of 17th Century with no light and basic modern age necessities. Only luxury they have is the ‘nature’ with some cows, sheep & chicken. They are self-sufficient in some vegetables like Potato, cabbage, cauliflower and fruits such as apple & Apricot.
Local kids gather around you with their innocent quires and they laugh while conversing in their local Kohistani language. I was surprised to know that kids knew about politics and cricket characters. Even Turkish famous Ertugrul was known there. ( probably due to social media limited availability )
Say Aslam-o-alakum to each passing by and they will return it with a smile. Local females & kids are bit shy and hesitant towards tourists and not comfortable if you try to have picture, so we avoided it. Later, I succeeded to capture a picture from a distance of a Kohistani little girl carrying some food on the mountain passing by the sheep. She was unaware that someone is capturing her looks unknown to the world.
One of our mate had to consult a local pharmacy to have medicine for his upset stomach. The owner at pharmacy refused to take money. Believe me, that was the best feeling when you see humanity and hospitality at its peak.
7. Access & Infrastructure
We had reservation for Punjab Kumrat Hotel through a tour guide. At Jahaz Banda, there are about 10 -12 hotels that provide basic facilities besides camping. These hotels are run with teams of local boys who have somehow learned the cooking skills enough to make a reasonable breakfast and dinner meals. They buy the live chicken stocks from far distant towns and allow these chicks to grow on a natural diet and environment alongside their hotels. We found those chicken meat good as compared to conventional broiler available in our cities.
Upon or request, the hotel staff arranged us hot water for morning shower with boiled eggs and tea in breakfast. Electricity is supplied through Generators after evening when most of the tourists usually come back to their rooms after a full day spent on hiking.
At Kumrat forest, we observed lot of hotels / cottages and camps alongside Panjkora river some of them touch 3 star standards and a bit costly.
The easiest way to get to Kumrat by road is to take the N45 route (also known as Chakdara Road) from Chakdara town in Lower Dir District of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan. The starting point of the N45 route at the south end of Lower Dir District at Chakdara is a known junction and is also a motorway interchange to the Swat Motorway.
From Thal town we took 4 X 4 Jeeps onward to commute within Kumrat. However, these jeeps drop you to some certain points where trekking is the only option. Khanzaada, 28 is good young driver who drove us throughout 4 days. He has grown up in valleys of Kumrat and is familiar with the roads so it all went well. Khanzada can speak in Kohistani, Pashto, Urdu and a bit of English so we had good chit chat while traveling.