Naran and Kaghan are twin cities located approximately at a distance of 540km from Islamabad. The road to Naran takes passes through some major cities in Northern Pakistan including Abbottabad, Mansehra and Balakot.
Naran has become a significant stopover for most visitors travelling to northern Pakistan. Because of its ideal location and the number of quality 4 to 5 stars hotels available in this area, most visitors take a break for a day in Naran before heading over to Gilgit Baltistan and other locations further north towards the Chinese border.
Most tour operators base the start of the tours in Naran, as most popular places like Lake Saiful Muluk and Babusar Pass are at a driving distance from Naran.
BREAKDOWN OF TRIP FROM ISLAMABAD TO NARAN
The trip starts at the Motorway connecting Islamabad and Hassanabdal. The Hazara Motorway starts near Burhan interchange and terminates near Havelian. A part of the tunnel is currently under construction which will bypass Abbottabad and will connect Havelian with Manshera.
Islamabad to Abbottabad: 120 KM
This part of the road is relatively flat as the altitude starts increasing further up from Haripur. Both sides of the motorway are lined with fields and small towns. The road becomes hilly past Abbottabad and the speed breaks down due to a gradual ascent before Abbottabad. The scenery changes to mountains on both sides. Abbottabad is the biggest valley in northern Pakistan and is home to the Pakistan Military Academy and a number of prominent colleges and universities.
A day stop in Abbottabad is a great option as there are a number of nice restaurants and places to be explored near Abbottabad. Abbottabad is a much-loved destination because of its peaceful atmosphere, especially in autumn and winter. With easy access to Nathiagali and a number of great locations, Abbottabad can be explored for trekking and hiking.
Manshera is a major stop as the road splits into two. If you have more time to yourself stopover in Manshera is recommended as there are a number of interesting places to visit around Manshera. Some of the popular picnic spots include Dadar, Baffa, Shinkiari and Gari Habibullah.
Manshera is a significant transport hub as it connects through Karakorum Highway to Naran and through Silk Road to Swat on the other side. The road is uphill from Manshera onwards but the road condition is excellent throughout the summers. There are many small hidden spots and destinations off the main road. Local knowledge is essential to explore these areas.
Asoka’s stone is perched on the side of the main road by-passing Mashera. The stone has 14 edits of Asoka inscribed on the stone belonging to 3BC.
Other places of interest include a pheasant conservation centre at Dhodhial which is home to 38 varieties of pheasants. There are more than 400 birds including the Golden pheasant, Himalayan Monal and Siamese Fireback.
Balakot is the next major stop along the way which leads up to Kawai. Kawai is about 7km from Balakot. The road starts getting steeper from here onwards. You will drive up to Shogran which is another popular destination on the way. Pine Park and Cedar Wood are two quality hotels in Shogran.
Two popular tourist destinations to explore near Shogran are Siri and Paya. These are trekkable destinations. However, most tourist rent jeeps from Shogran and explore these areas. The driving distance with a jeep is 45 minutes. Walking distance can take up to 4 hours depending upon your fitness level and pace.
The road from Kawai leads to Paras, Melakandi, Mehandri and Juraid. Juraid is popular for wood furniture and wood carving and artefacts. Do stop on the way to explore the local crafts and buy souvenirs unique to this location which include ashtrays, wooden lamps and walnut tree furniture.
Khanian: 245 KM
If you are planning a stop on the way. Arcadian is the best hotel in Khanian. This area has a number of walking treks and beautiful meadows including Danna Meadows which is approximately a 3.5 KM walk from Arcadian Hotel. This area offers great options for camping overnight.
CAMPING NEAR KHANIAN
Make sure you are carrying waterfront camping equipment and are positioned on the high ground. The temperature drops substantially at night. A comfortable sleeping bag, stove and campfire make your camping trip fun.
Quality camping gear is available from Sialkot and Lahore. You can buy alpine camping gear, jackets and sleeping bags online as well as visit stores in these cities. Stockists would be hard to find in small towns due to low sales as most of the equipment is exported. Some used trekking equipment and hiking gear can be found in Naran and Gilgit which are popular with hikers and mountaineers.
Kaghan is the next destination on the way. The significance of Kaghan has diminished in the last couple of years because of development in Naran and further along the road. Kaghan offers some budget hotels and jeep rental options. Other than that there is little to do in this place.
Naran is the next frontier providing some quality 4 to 5-star hotels and easy access to the two most visited destinations in northern areas including Lake Saiful Muluk and Lalazar Meadows. These meadows are not accessible by cars, therefore, you will need to rent jeeps that take around 45 minutes to reach these destinations.
Batakundi offers some budget hotels if you are backpacking in northern areas. This area is relatively underdeveloped with little cellular coverage. The road gets steeper near Bunwari. JalKhand (altitude 3200m) is a nice stopover for a cup of tea. The river at this point splits in two flowing towards Kashmir and Manshera. Payala lake is located in Jalkhand. Other interesting areas for trekkers and hikers in this region are Noori Tops and Sharda.
Besal is another stopover along the river. You can stop in Besal if you are planning to visit Lalusar Jheel in this area.
Gittidas is owned by the people of Chillas. This area is a combination of rocky peaks and beautiful meadows, ideal for camping, trekking and camping in summer. Further up the road, you will drive towards Babusar Pass from where the road takes a steep descent into Chillas and Zero Point.
Where to Stay in Naran
Naran offers a number of hotels for all budgets. As Naran is a starting point for visiting many places around Naran Valley, it is advisable to book in advance as with the high volume of visitors from April to August (excluding the Muslim Holy month of Rhamadan) it will be very difficult to find a suitable place to stay.
4 and 5-star accommodations are taken up early as most of these places are booked through travel agents and group tours. Some of the most searched hotels are hotel deManchi and Pine Top Hotel in Naran. Maisonette Hotels and Resort started servicing apartments in the 2018 season offering a great accommodation option for an enjoyable stay in Naran.
Things to do in Naran
Naran offers a number of activities for all age groups. Whatever your fitness level you can enjoy a number of outdoor activities to make the best of your holidays. For adventurous, rocking climbing, paragliding and rafting are great options. Some private operators provide these services in the area. You can obtain information from your hotel’s information desk or a number of local operators in the city.
Activities for families include a 4-wheel drive to places of interest near Naran, including a number of scenic lookouts, beautiful pastures for picnics and visits o glacial lakes.
Parhena Cottages Naran is a great place for a family holiday in a scenic setting along the river. Enjoy lush green surroundings, the round of the water a comfortable stay at Prhena Cottages.