By Altaf Hameed Rao
NEELUM VALLEY, Aug 18 (APP):Nature has bestowed mankind with countless bounties in the form of snow-covered mountains, gushing rivers and streams and above all soothing views of captivating lush green plains and tall pines.
Amongst the rich tourism heritage of the country stands tall the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir with its mountainous, semi-hilly terrain-oriented topographic picturesque views with its rivers, waterfalls, lakes, watercourses and valleys.
One of the enchanting valleys of the AJK region usually symbolized by people as ‘Paradise on Earth’ is Neelum Valley – much famous, the most beautiful and soothing tourist spot in the hilly terrains of Kashmir.
Named after the blue colored water river Neelum – flowing through the valley in snake curves, the 1398 sq kilometer area Neelam Valley has the district Headquarter status in Muzaffarabad with a total population of over 200,000 inhabitants. Some historians also claim the reference comes from a precious stone Neelum.
Located at North and North East of Muzaffarabad, the Neelum Valley is situated parallel to Kaghan Valley and has exceptional significance due to snow-clad mountains, the gushing Neelum river and the most favorite Trout fish.
“This is really a bounty of Nature. Its enchanting views and soothing atmosphere tempts visitors to come here again and again,” said an Islamabad based tourist Rashid Mahmood.
“Although Northern Areas of our countries are world known of their beauty, the Neelum valley has its unique status amongst the tourist spots of the country,” he remarked.
He also suggested to authorities for properly highlighting such beautiful tourists spots of the country also ensuring an easy access and affordable living in the valley to flourish the tourism business in AJK.
Dipped in amazing beauty, the valley attracts hundreds of thousands local and foreign tourists every summer who enjoy their voyage to this region through adjoining Kaghan Valley or the Noori Top. There are also several minor passes to drive into the area.
Around 43 kilometers from State capital Muzaffarabad, the area is also famous for fruits and precious minister resources comprising series of mines at specific localities.
The minerals extracted from here as well as fruits like apples, apricots, walnuts and plums are supplied to various parts of the country.
Neelam valley is a potential tourism spot and can help earn valuable living for the local people if it is transformed into an international tourism destination by ensuring world level facilities and opportunities for the tourists.
“This can help create business and employment opportunities for the local population”, said Syed Waqas Ali Kousar, a seasoned academician hailing from Poonch division of Azad Jammu Kashmir.
Highlighting prospects for uplifting Neelam valley, Kousar emphasized that the AJK State government should focus to promote sustainable economic development in Azad Jammu Kashmir by increasing tourism and empowering women and existing and intending entrepreneur.
“Even if there is funds problem, the state government can engage private sector for developing the area on public-private partnership,” he said.
“Such an activity would not only attract more tourists but also generate a visible economic activity.”
He also recommended to encourage local people to invest in this sector for the betterment of their own people.
The snow clad mountains during winter with the Neelum river flowing in the heart of valley always attract tourists amusing them with the countless bounties of Nature.
Since the valley is also popular among tourists for adventure tourism, thousands of tourists use to visit the valley in every seasons including during the chilly winter.
It is also popular among tourists because of its famous and attractive picnic sites like Shounter Pass, Chita Khata, Ratti Gali, Baboon, Noori Top, Sharda, Kel and Surgon.
Authmuqam, Sharda, Kel are the popular thickly populated towns of the Neelam valley enriched with the unique beauty of its own kind and depicting centuries old cultural heritage of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
Authmuqam is named because of its being the 8th station while driving from Muzaffarabad to upper Neelam valley having hiking tracks snaking through the surrounding mountains.
Sharda is another beautiful town known for an ancient ‘Sharda University’ that was once located close to lush green planes besides smooth flowing Neelam river. Its remnants remind us even today as its being the center of higher studies for the students from China, East and Central Asia states.
The area is also famous for handicrafts and goods made of nut wood that are also a major sources of earning for the local people.
Its handicrafts like Carpet, Namda, Gubba had always been a source of attraction for tourists. The experts of the valley also prepare silk cocoon that is used for producing silk yarn by industrialists in major cities of Pakistan. Its woolen clothes and shawls are also liked all across the country.
No doubt that AJK valleys particularly the Neelum Valley has immense potential and a source of attraction for tourists due to its exceptional natural beauty and historical significance, therefore the AJK government should invest more in this region for fully capitalizing its potential.