The Kaghan Valley and the town at the end of it Naran are the perfect escape from the cities in Pakistan, and the magical fairy lake of Saiful Muluk (Saif-ul-Mulook) is the best of it all.
Thinking of going there? After spending 3 days up the Kaghan Valley and Naran this is what the trip is like and what to expect for your own journey.
Naran & Lake Saiful Muluk Trip
Naran is a remote town high up at the end of the Kaghan Valley at an elevation of 2,409 metres.
The journey to Naran up the valley is beautiful in itself as the road winds its way high up the side of the mountains giving awesome views across small villages and the snow capped peaks towards the end of the valley near Naran.
The road trip from Islamabad takes around 7 hours with your own car, but most likely half a day with public transport.
We did a combination of taking a local bus to Abbottabad from Islamabad and then taking a private car and driver from there to Naran passing through small mountain towns on the way such as Balakot.
The town of Balakot on the way to the Kaghan Valley.
You will pass by streams and small back roads.
Naran itself is not that amazing to be honest but we did meet a lot of friendly people there.
It’s basically a small town to cater for tourists (mostly domestic Pakistanis) and really has just one main long street with Naran hotels and restaurants everywhere, as well as the ubiquitous souvenir stalls.
Nether the less it serves its purpose and is surrounded by mountains making for a great location.
Street stalls in Naran.
Naran’s Main Street.
But the main reason to come to Naran is not for the town itself but for the nearby Lake Saiful Muluk.
Lake Saiful Muluk
Lake Saiful Muluk is the highlight of the trip to Naran.
Its deep blue waters and serene location surrounded by mountains give an instant feeling of peace.
Sidra had been wanting to come here for so long and we were so happy to finally make it!
The jeep ride up to the lake, which is at an altitude of 3200 metres above sea level, is an adventure in itself as it involves ascending 700 metres higher from Naran on a decrepit dirt road with steep drops.
It can be hair raising but a lot of fun and with epic views.
The ride up takes around 15 minutes and you can easily arrange a jeep from your hotel or just wave down one of the jeeps driving through Naran.
One of the jeeps that takes visitors to Lake Saiful Muluk on the winding mountain road.
The view on the way to Lake Saiful Muluk.
When you arrive at Lake Saiful Muluk you’ll be greeted by stunning views across its blue waters to a mountain valley.
As we were there towards the end of the tourist season there was snow on the mountains already but expect greenery if there in high season, July and August.
The blue waters are magical looking.
The best way to get around the lake is to walk around it. At least to the other side where you can then have the option to come back by boat or horse.
Hiking alongside Lake Saiful Muluk.
As well as hiking around you can take horses for a ride, wether for just a short stroll around part of the lake, or head more up into the mountains (what we did).
The local horsemen will find you and offer you a ride.
Many people seemed to just go for a quick few minutes horse ride by the side of the lake but we chose to head up the valley into the mountain area and this is what we recommend as well for you to do.
Away from the lake we saw no other tourists just a few local farmers.
Horse hiking into the mountain area.
Sidra rides her horse.
There’s small stalls at the lake where you can enjoy some chai, pink Kashmiri tea (noon chai), and some tasty snacks like onion bhaji and potato pakora.
Pink Kashmiri tea.
Hanging out at the small tea stall was actually one of my favourite experiences there as it gave the chance to meet some of the local people (a highlight of most travels).
Meeting some of the local men in the mountains at a remote tea stall.
One way to get from one side of the lake to the other is to take a small rowing boat.
Men will approach you offering this and we personally walked to the other side of the lake, took horses into the mountains a bit, and then took the rowing boat back to be in the middle of the lake.
You can take a boat on the lake if you like.
The Fairies of Lake Saiful Muluk
Lake Saiful Muluk has a great fairy story to it.
The fairy story evolves around a prince from Egypt called Saiful Muluk (or Saif-ul-Mulook) who had a dream about a fairy queen, Badi-ul-Jamal, and fell in love with her.
He left his princely life in Egypt and went traveling in search of his love for several years until ending up in Naran, Pakistan.
There he met a saint and asked how he could meet the fairy queen. He was told to seek out a stone behind a mountain by the lake and pray for 40 days and then he will get his answer how to see the fairy.
When 40 days had past two jinns (genies) gave him a sulemani cap that made him invisible allowing him to get near 2 fairies bathing by the lake.
While the fairies bathed the genies took Badi-ul-Jamal’s clothes allowing the prince to give his cape to the fairy queen and took her down the mountain from the lake to Naran.
Meanwhile the 2nd fairy who was at the lake told the queens guardian (Deo) that she was lost and the guardian destroyed the lake in a bid to find her.
The guardian in his anger created a storm with the destruction of the lake and as it headed towards the prince and the fairy queen they prayed to be saved and a tunnel appeared to them (apparently still existing) which protected them and allowed them to travel safely to Egypt.
And that’s the story, or a rough version of it at least.
With my own fairy of the lake, Sidra.
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The Journey Back
Later in the day we took the jeep back down the mountain to Naran where we stayed one more night.
At night it gets very cold towards the end of the tourist season in Naran (end of October) and sitting around a warm fire with a hot cup of chai is the perfect way to end the day.
With the jeep leaving the lake.
Warming up around a fire with the owner of our hotel.
The next day driving the 3 hours of so back to Balakot the usual small villages were passed and colourful Pakistan trucks.
The colourful trucks of Pakistan are plentiful on the Kaghan Valley road.
Visiting at the end of the season towards the end of October plenty of people were out getting the hay ready for the animals in winter.
And that was the end of the Naran and Lake Saiful Muluk trip.
The Food in The Kaghan Valley & Naran
The food in the Naran area of Pakistan is famous especially for one thing: the mountain river trout.
I can easily say it’s one of the best fishes I have ever tried.
In Naran you can find a lot of the trout being deep fried but personally I find (and Sidra does) that having it barbecued is much better.
Slow cooked over coals is the perfect way to have it.
Sidra with some barbecued trout.
Barbecuing the trout.
Helping out barbecuing the fish.
One of the fun and obviously for tourists ways to eat the trout is on tables set in small streams coming down from the mountains.
You may get your feet wet but it’s fun!
A group of Pakistanis from Lahore wait for their trout at a table in a mountain stream.
Another favourite food to eat in the area (and in many places of Pakistan) is chapli kebab, also known as Peshwari kebab.
The organ of this kebab is from the Pashtun people of Afghanistan and the city of Peshawar in western Pakistan.
It’s best served with some naan bread and spicy sauce.
Making naan bread in a traditional oven to go with the chapli kebab.
The chapli kebab itself is minced meat (it can be beef, mutton, or chicken) with added spices that is made into a patty shape and then fried in the original animals fat (no other oils used).
Making the patty from the mince meat.
The finished chapli kebabs above the animal fat oil used for cooking.
The chapli kebabs with naan bread and spicy sauce ready to eat.
Chai is the best thing to have at night in the cool air to help warm you up. Made with tea, milk, and sugar (ask for sugar cane sugar is best).
Enjoying a cup of chai.
One other thing you should get when there is some of the dried fruits.
They’re excellent quality, especially in Balakot.
Shopping for dried fruits in Balakot.
How to Get to Naran From Islamabad
If you would like to do the trip on a budget then take the Daewoo bus from the Daewoo bus terminal in Islamabad to Abbottabad (it costs roughly 350 rupees one way).
At Abbottabad during the busier tourist season there will be a van shuttle to take you to the nearby town of Mansehra where you can get a local van to get to Naran that costs roughly 300 rupees.
At the end of the season it can be hard to get a local van there as the tourist facilities in Naran start shutting down and less people visit. The vans only leave when full.
We had trouble getting a van so we took the bus to Abbottabad and arranged a private car to take us to Naran from there which is a roughly 4 hour drive.
It cost us 17000 rupees total for both of us to have the car and driver for 2 nights and 3 days and was a much more comfortable experience being able to choose when to stop etc to see and do things.
If on a budget though use the local transport but be aware at the end of season this can be tough. Check ahead to see if it is running all the way.
Vans were leaving for Balakot no problem but from there was trickier.
There are security checkpoints on the way up the valley so be sure to have photo copies of your passport to give to the security people if you are a non-Pakistani.
So if you’re in Pakistan, or planning a visit, and looking for some places in the mountains to go to that are closer to Islamabad rather than further afield places like say the Hunza Valley, then Naran in the Kaghan Valley and Lake Saiful Muluk make a great choice.
Enjoy your time there if you make it!
Useful info for Naran and Pakistan travel:
For any kind of travel be sure to take travel insurance just in case. I use World Nomads and have found them to be excellent.
Get a quote for your trip:
There are currently not many guidebooks for Pakistan but one that is available is Pakistan Traveller so this would be your best bet if looking for a Pakistan guidebook.
And for more reading on Pakistan check out The ultimate Peshawar food to try.
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