Upper Dir


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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 - Upper Dir Travel Guide

The Upper Dir District is not just known for the popular weekend getaway – the Kumrat Valley. 

For the more adventurous at heart, the Upper Dir also offers some additional magnificent locations to explore and hike to, which include off-road jeep rides, hours of high altitude hikes across a variety of terrains, freezing cold waterfalls, and starry, clear skies. 

The Jahaz Banda and Kunda Banda meadows are located near Thal, in Upper Dir, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The same route also leads to Katora Lake, a remote blue lake hidden away near the top of a mountain from Jahaz Banda. 

The Lowari Pass is a high mountain pass that links Upper Dir to district Chitral, and is a scenic route with mind-boggling views. 

Upper Dir is a district of the Malakand division in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the northwestern region of Pakistan. It is situated at an elevation of 1,402 meters and 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 is the point of convergence for three common tourist locations in the region: the Kumrat Forest, Jahaz Banda & Kund Banda, and Katora Lake. 

To know more about the journey to Thal and Kumrat Forest in detail, click here (add link). Read on further below to learn about the stunning Jahaz Banda and Kund Banda meadows and the mesmerizing Katora Lake. 

If you wish to book a trip with us to any of these locations in Pakistan, please reach out to the Mad Hatters here

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Tourist Locations

Jahaz Banda & Kund Banda Meadow

‘Banda’ in the local language is a meadow. 

The Upper Dir region leads to the city of Thal from Islamabad by road. From Thal begins the journey across a few hills and mountains to reach Jahaz Banda. 

Jahaz Banda is a large, plain meadow nestled in the upper reaches of the Kumrat Valley and is located 3,100 meters above sea level. 

The meadow is surrounded by tall peaks and gives you a view of the large glacier that feeds Katora Lake on one side, and glimpses of the Hindukush from the other side. 

Read on further to know more about Katora Lake. 

  • Commute

Jahaz Banda is very remote and inaccessible by road, and hence, is the perfect destination for hiking enthusiasts.

To reach this meadow, a 4×4 vehicle is taken from Thal to Taki Top. Taki Top is a small clearing approximately 2 hours of an off-road ride away from Thal. The route is narrow and unmetalled and at the edge of a cliff. However, the views on this ride are nothing less than what you’d expect in Switzerland – with rows and rows of mountains rising high up, surrounding small villages, and people living in tiny wooden huts, tending to their backyard crops and small cattle. 

Taki Top is the last stop till where a mechanical vehicle can go and this commute will cost approximately PKR 5,000 per jeep. 

Onwards from here is only a hiking track that crosses three mountains and gains much elevation before Jahaz Banda is reached. 

This hike is of around 2-3 hours on foot, depending on your speed and stamina. However, horses and donkeys are available here to take you and your backpacks (no suitcases) up to the meadow, in case the hike seems too difficult. Renting a horse costs around PKR 1,200-1,500 for the ride up, while your backpack can be carried by a donkey for PKR 200-300 per bag. 

The terrain along this hike is varying and nothing like you’d have witnessed before. The hike begins from within the forest and gives you tree cover for the first hour or so. But as you cross the first mountain, the elevation drops and open fields appear with streams cascading down high rocks and flowers blooming around, before the second mountain’s trees engulf you once again. 

The last stretch to the Jahaz Banda meadow would require crossing some rocks and makeshift wooden bridges before the flat land arrives. 

  • Where to Stay

Much commercialization has taken place at Jahaz Banda and many small 1-2 story hotels have popped up here over the years to cater to the rising tourism in the region. You can find a room here for PKR 2,000-3,000 per night, which can accommodate 3-4 people. 

These are still not luxury hotels and will have limited facilities. However, small chai stalls with snacks, biscuits, pakoras (potato fritters), French fries, and food will be available here. 

  • Kund Banda 

Another meadow close to Jahaz Banda is the Kund Banda, which is still relatively lesser known and does not see a lot of the tourist crowds. 

This area falls at the bottom of yet another mountain after Jahaz Banda and takes another hour’s hike to reach. The last stretch is a steep downward hike to the very base of the mountain, to reach a small clearing across which the Naagin River flows. 

The word Naagin translates to a ‘serpent’, and this river gets its name due to its twisted path across the meadow. You will also find a mesmerizing waterfall right next to the camps, and snow-topped mountains surrounding the clearing. Tall pine trees can be seen at a distance and if the skies are clear, the nighttime will bring on an extraordinary view of the Milky Way and shooting stars. 

Here, there are no hotels or buildings – just a handful of camps and a couple of huts that act as makeshift kitchens for the camps’ caretakers. The caretakers will provide you with blankets, mattresses, and pillows for the camps, and limited dinner options, given the remote location, will be available. 

The washroom facility here is a small shed covered with a tarp, an Indian-floor toilet, and a bucket of water from the river. 

For a true nature lover, Kunda Banda is a much better, more peaceful, raw, and magnificently beautiful spot to stay at, as compared to Jahaz Banda. Despite its lack of luxury facilities, a night in the camps here is very much recommended to anyone visiting this region.  

  1. Katora Lake

One of the most beautiful and difficult-to-reach glacial lakes in Pakistan is burrowed away deep within the mountains surrounding the Jahaz Banda and Kund Banda meadows, at an elevation of 11,500 feet.

The Katora Lake lies at the foot of the large glacier seen at a distance from the Jahaz Banda meadow. Katora translates to ‘a bowl’ and this lake is named Katora Lake because of its shape which resembles a bowl. It is covered in snow for the most part of the year, and even in summers, patches of snow can be witnessed on the mountains surrounding this lake. 

The Lake gives off a deep blue hue that can be seen from a distance and is one of the most wonderful sights in the KPK region. 

  • Trek

The Katora Lake trek is roughly 3-4 hours long one-way from Jahaz Banda. If you start from Kund Banda, it will take slightly longer, since the first stretch requires a steep climb up the mountain at the foot of which Kund Banda is located. 

The terrain is varying and entirely untouched by commercial activities. Here, you will not find camps or food stalls en route, and instead, will see cattle grazing away in the fields, flowers of all kinds blooming across, and mountains rising up in layers, one after the other. 

One hour into the trek will bring you to a Mini Katora Lake, which is another smaller lake that needs to be crossed via a boat, before you can continue the trek. As mentioned earlier, the terrain is not constant and will continue to surprise and enthrall you. There will be flat land to cross, streams to jump over, and a large and tall expanse of rocks and boulders to climb over before the lake can finally be reached. 

The entire journey takes a full day and it is recommended to start early in the morning to avoid hiking back in the wild in the dark. 

  1. Lowari Pass

The Lowari Pass is one of the most scenic high-mountain passes in Pakistan. The pass arrives at the Lowari Top, and connects Upper Dir to Chitral from Islamabad. 

It is located at a massive elevation of 10,280 ft., which means that one has to reach the summit of the mountain to pass it in order to reach Chitral. The Lowari Pass is most famous for its multiple hair-pin curves on the road that occur one after the next in graduated steps, and create an illusion of stacked up hairpins surrounded by towering mountains all around. Dangerous as it is to drive on it due to its sharp turns and cliff edges, the road is fascinating to be on and has the most magnificent views you can find in the region. 

The Lowari Top is usually open for traffic during the summer and autumn seasons. It is snowed in during the winters and hence is usually inaccessible between November and May the next year. Many people still try to cross it on foot during the off-peak seasons. However, since the top is surrounded by tall mountains, there are chances of deadly avalanches during the snowy season and travelling on foot here becomes risky. 

While the Lowari Pass is simple a transportation route to Chitral from Upper Dir, the unique road structure and the terrains surrounding it makes is another one of the most popular tourist destinations in Upper Dir. 


Locals & Culture

You will witness a lot of locals in Thal and on your way to Taki Top. However, Jahaz Banda, Kund Banda, and Katora Lake are remote locations. You will not find a lot of local houses or families consistently residing there. The only locals who stay there are the shop keepers and those who run the chai dhaabas. 

We got into conversation with a few of the shopkeepers here and discovered that a lot of them have families in nearby villages located towards the lower ground and the men just travel up to the tourist spots during peak tourism seasons to earn additional wages. They return back to the villages with fresh earnings when the winter arrives. 

The locals of Upper Dir and its extended regions are conservative citizens with minimal exposure to life in big, metropolitan cities. Their men and women dress modestly in traditional attire, while they adhere to their cultural norms. While it is not a necessity, it is advised to be respectful of the local culture during your travels.  

Some points to remember

    • The hiking routes to Jahaz Banda, Kund Banda, and Katora Lake are extensive and cross different terrains. Invest in good shoes and work on your stamina before embarking on this journey. 
    • Accommodations in both the meadows are minimal and basic. Do not expect luxury hotels or too many amenities accompanying your guest house. 
    • Since Jahazbanda and Kund Banda are inaccessible on a mechanical vehicle, it is extremely difficult for the locals to bring up fuel supplies. There is no electricity or gas supply here and everything runs on solar panels, generators, and gas cylinders. Hence, the supply is limited.
    • Your heavy appliances, like a hair dryer or a hair straightener, will not work here. Access to a phone charging socket will be limited as well. It is advisable to carry a couple of full charged power banks. 
    • Cellphone service is non-existent in the meadows and Katora Lake. Jazz sims might work at the Lowari Top. 
    • Kund Banda, being right next to a waterfall, can get extremely cold and wet at night. Keep spare clothes, ample warm clothing, and extra pairs of socks.
    • Always bring an ample supply of your own toiletries to remote regions. There will not be many general stores to buy the following essentials from on the way: wet wipes, tissues, soap, sanitizers, etc. 
    • All the bathrooms here will have Indian floor toilets and buckets to use, or a single tap with running water. That is the most that can be found here even in the priciest accommodation at Jahaz Banda. 
    • The trek to Katora Lake almost always receives patches of rain and temperatures drop down quickly. Carry a raincoat or an umbrella with you to avoid discomfort.
    • The nights in all of these destinations will be cold and sometimes wet. Even in the summers, please carry ample warm clothing for yourself. 
    • Whenever possible, please buy something from the locals. These people word hard in the harshest of conditions to make a minimal daily wage. It will be great if the tourists can support them and help them make better livelihoods. 
    • A hiking stick, a hat/umbrella, and sunblock are must-haves on the Katora Lake trek!