The region contains a warm-summer humid continental climate during the middle of the year, while its winters are cold with heavy snowfall and deadly, crisp, mind-numbing cold spells.
Overview - Kumrat Valley Travel Guide
Upper Dir is a district of the Malakand division in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the northwestern region of Pakistan. The district, one of the 26 districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and quite close to the Afghanistan border, was once a princely state that was ruled by Nawab Shah Jehan Khan in 1947 at the time of the subcontinent’s independence.
Situated at an elevation of 1,402 meters, the Upper Dir is 329 kilometers from Islamabad, making it an approximately 6-7 hours long scenic road trip from the city.
The most popular tourist route along the Upper Dir is that to the city of Thal, which then leads to one of the most recently popular tourist destinations, the Kumrat Forest.
Alternatively, another route to Kumrat Valley goes through the Badgoi Pass from Utror. Read on further to know more about this mesmerizing location.
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Thal is the last stop before the Kumrat Valley begins in Upper Dir. The small city arrives after a long mountainside ride amid twists and turns on a narrow road that follows the Panjkora River next to it for hundreds of kilometers. The route is scenic and many villages can be seen on the way, with large fields of crops being tended to by villagers in the traditional shalwar kameez attire.
Thal is more like a fully functional city, with businesses, restaurants, hotels, mechanics, dry fruit vendors, clothing stores, shoe stores, and so much more that can be seen in the Thal Bazaar. It is, however, a gateway to better, more remote, and scenic locations, and staying overnight here is not recommended if you’re short on time.
Places to See
- Jamia Masjid, Thal –
The Jamia Mosque in Thal is a four-hundred-year-old mosque in the city, right at the edge of the Panjkora River. The mosque is an architectural and historical attraction for visitors due to its intricate woodwork and surrounding mountain-scape.
- Wooden Canals, Thal –
Along the main Thal bazaar, you will witness the river flowing on one side of the road. Where the river meets the road, the locals have built hand-made wooden canals to separate water from the river, which can then be used by the shopkeepers and hoteliers near the main market, as well as the farmers nearby for irrigation purposes. It is a simple structure, but the division of pristine blue waters into sections, causing them to slightly change color and sparkle under the sun, is a pleasant sight to see.
Some of these wooden canals were damaged in the recent flooding across Pakistan that also impacted the Thal region due to flash floods in the Panjkora River. Rebuilding and rehabilitation of this area are currently in progress, and the city is thriving already.
The Kumrat Valley is what one can imagine “Heaven on Earth” would look like.
With tall pine and deodar trees making up an expansive dense forest surrounding large green pastures, majestic snow-topped mountains seen looming high above the highest tips of the trees, and the rushing sounds of the ceaseless flow of the Panjkora River that passes through the Kumrat Forest, this destination offers the most diverse and nature-rich spread of land for a much-needed break from the city life’s hustle and bustle.
While this remote valley is relatively popular with local tourists, it does not get to see a lot of foreign tourists due to the difficult route and a history of its affiliation with the Taliban-occupied Swat Valley in the past. The region is, however, safe and clear now, and is rapidly gaining tourism popularity.
To reach the Kumrat Forest, you can either take a road trip from Islamabad to the city of Thal in Upper Dir (approx. 6-7 hours) or take an hour-long flight to Chitral in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and then drive to Thal (approx. 6-7 hours). The latter is, of course, more recommended for obvious reasons. The Chitral route can be taken if you wish to club together a trip to Chitral and Kalash Valley with Kumrat.
From Thal begins an off-road track into the Kumrat Forest that is around 45 kilometers (about 2 hours), depending on where you wish to stay. Regular transmission vehicles are unable to function on this track due to large water puddles, rocks, mud, and un-metalled roads, and they can only be accessed on a 4×4 vehicle.
Jeeps and Prados are available for rent with experienced drivers from Thal. One jeep can cost up to PKR 8,000-10,000 for a one-night round trip and can accommodate close to 6 people.
Where to Stay
Kumrat, although still a relatively newer tourist destination, has gained massive popularity over the past few years due to its proximity to Islamabad and the diversity in nature it offers for a quick weekend getaway.
For this purpose, many small resorts and camping sites have popped up within the dense forest for accommodation. You wouldn’t find luxury hotels or tall buildings to stay in, but you will find an abundance of small pods, camps, and glamps, tin huts, hotels, and guest houses to choose from. Khanabadosh pods, Latitude Resorts, Kumrat Glamping Resorts, and the Panjkora Hotel are some of the options you can explore.
The best spot to stay would be within a walking distance of the Panjkora River, to be able to enjoy the river’s soft flowing waters at the break of dawn that carries calming magic within them and bring some semblance of peace.
Per night rents for basic accommodation can range anywhere from PKR 3,000 to up to PKR 25,000, depending on the facilities offered and proximity to the river.
Places to Visit
- Kumrat Waterfall –
While Kumrat Valley contains several waterfalls around, many of which remain undiscovered by tourists, the one waterfall, famously known as the Kumrat Waterfall is the most visited by tourists from across the country.
The Kumrat Waterfall is tall and rises to the very top of a mountain. Water cascades down a large, flat patch of rock smoothened out over the years with the flow of water, while the rest of the mountain rises above and around it, covered in green trees and grass. The water running down is crystal clear and ice cold most of the year, and very refreshing to the senses.
Abundance in the flow of water depends on the time of the year you’re visiting. Late summer and the monsoon season would witness the waterfall in its most magnificent might, while it’s frozen for some of the winter months.
- Panjkora River –
The Panjkora River originates from the glaciers high up in the Hindukush Mountains and flows all through the Upper and Lower Dir districts. It rarely runs dry and eventually merges with the Swat River once it travels slightly south.
During most of the year, the river waters show off a unique emerald-green and sometimes turquoise blue hue that adds to the natural aesthetic of the region. This river and its consistent flow through the dense forest intertwined with large boulders and greeted at multiple sites by hanging vines and dense green ferns, the sight deep within the forest remind one of the Amazon Forest. It’s nature in its purest, most fascinating form and heaven for nature seekers.
It also is a natural habitat for trout fish.
- Kala Chashma –
The Kala Chashma (Black Spring) is a water spring sprouting from a bed of black-colored stones. Hence, the name Kala Chashma has been given to the spot.
Many locals believe that water from this spring carries naturally healing properties.
The site can be reached on a 4×4 vehicle, where the jeep track takes you through the dense forest and across the river at multiple spots to reach the Kala Chashma.
Another alternative, albeit a more adventurous route to the Kumrat Valley, is a lesser travelled road – across the Badgoi Pass.
The Badgoi Top is a mountain pass at a significantly higher elevation (11,000+ ft.) than the rest of Upper Dir, that needs to be passed in order to reach Thal from Utror Valley. Utror Valley lies in Swat, near the Kalam region and the Badgoi Pass essentially links Swat to Upper Dir via Utror and Thal.
Thal is approximately 26 kilometers away from the Badgoi Pass, while the road to the pass from the Swat side begins from Utror and is of 12 kilometers only. However, while the distance may seem short, the elevation gain is quick and the road condition is not very favorable, so even on a 4X4 transmission vehicle, you might not be able to go above a speed of 5-10 kms/per hour.
This pass is covered in snow for most of the year and is only open for travelers to pass through between June and October. For this reason, this road is less developed and does not get to see a lot of regular tourists. The track is purely off-road and rocky – and is not meant for faint-hearted passengers or inexperienced drivers. The weather here is unpredictable and can turn violent quickly, and hence, this route is meant only for adventure enthusiasts and those who are willing to take risks.
Once the Utror region passes and elevation is gained, large, blank expanses of mountains rise up all around. The views are breath-taking and the region is remote – but you will find an occasional shop or a chai dhaaba inside a wooden hut along the way.
Dress & Culture
The locals of Kumrat Valley and the Thal region are conservative and have had little exposure to big city life.
The men will typically be dressed in a shalwar kameez and heads adorned with the traditional pakol, a culturally warm woolen hat for men.
Women will be seldom seen on the streets, but you will witness them in the fields working alongside men, albeit covered entirely in a chador (large piece of cloth).
It is also culturally desirable for women to keep themselves adorned with jewelry, in particular glass bangles called ‘chooriyaan’, rings, earrings, and anklets. Women from more affluent families wear the same ornaments, but made in gold, to show off the wealth of their husbands/fathers.
The staple, everyday food for the locals in the Upper Dir region includes wheat and maize, bread, milk, butter, lassi (yogurt drink), onion, and corn. Some special occasions see the making of more celebratory dishes, including Kebab, pulao rice, sweet rice, and meat dishes. As is popularly in demand in the region, chicken karahi and mash daal (lentils) are available mostly for tourists.
Weather & Seasons
The Kumrat Forest and its surrounding areas remain pleasant and green throughout the spring and summer with temperatures going up to 25o Celsius, while the fall and winters are cold with freezing temperatures between -4 and -16o Celsius. However, even in the summer season, the nights can get very chilly and windy in the Kumrat Forest.
The Badgoi Pass remains closed between November and May due to snow, and is inaccessible.
The forest and the valley are the greenest and most alive in the summers and the monsoon season. However, the fall season in the valley holds its charm. You will witness all colors of fall in reds, yellows, oranges, and pinks, in an expansive forest that stretches as far as the eye can see.
Flood Devastation from Monsoon 2022
As covered far and wide by the news, Pakistan saw some of the worst floods in its history during the prolonged monsoon season this year in 2022. The UN claimed it to be ‘monsoon on steroids’ and it truly was exactly that – leaving millions homeless in the country.
A similar fate befell Thal and Kumrat Valley, unfortunately, where infrastructure was ravaged by flashfloods in the Panjkora River. Exacerbated by melting glaciers and ceaseless rainfall across the northern side, the merciless river wiped out multiple bridges and link roads in the region.
Relief efforts and re-development of the roads and infrastructure is already underway and the valley will soon be back to its original tourist-friendly state in no time.
Some points to remember
- Don’t expect luxury accommodation or facilities. Thal has better hotels due to accessibility, but Kumrat is very remote and difficult to reach to. Hence, food options and luxuries will be limited.
- Furthermore, the Kumrat Forest does not have any electricity or gas supply for tourists or the locals. Everything works on generators, if fuel is available.
- Power banks (multiple) are your best friend.
- Cellphone service in Kumrat will be limited. Jazz and Telenor sims will work at certain spots, but 4G will probably not work anywhere. Thal receives full signals.
- Washroom facilities are limited and basic. You will mostly only find a floor toilet to use and a very limited supply of hot water.
- Even if you travel in the summers, please always carry ample warm clothing.
- These are regions with conservative mindsets and very little exposure to the rest of the world. Their way of life, especially when it comes to clothing, is important to them, and it’s equally important for tourists to respect their boundaries. It is advisable to keep your attire culturally appropriate to not offend the locals.
- Whenever possible, please make purchases from the locals and help improve their incomes. These are remote regions with harsh weather conditions and very limited supplies, and a lot of their livelihood depends on what they can earn from tourists.
- Ask the locals about present accessibility for the Badgoi Pass before embarking on the adventure.
Please wait no further and check out our upcoming tours now to witness fall in the most magnificent nature’s treasure – the Kumrat Forest.