By the foothills of the Himalayas, amongst many other charming valleys and villages, lies the scenic hamlet of Nathiagali. Boasting picturesque views, magnificent panoramas and deep forests of oak, cedar and pine, it’s rightfully one of the most popular mountain resorts in Pakistan. Many have been, many others want to go, and many many others want to keep going back. Travel enthusiast Sidrah Haque is a frequent visitor as she shares an insider’s guide on how to get there, where to stay, what to do and what you could eat there. So pack your bags for one last trip this year, before it gets too cold to visit!
My love affair with Nathiagali began the moment I first heard the deafening rattle of the cicadas in the summer of 2014. The fat summer beetle can be found on nearly every tree in the area delivering a chorus that is now synonymous with a trip to the Galiyat – the strip of land in between Abbottabad and Murree where the country’s most popular resort towns lie. But if you ask me, there is no place in the Galiyat quite like Nathiagali: great for a day trip, a weekend getaway, or spending your entire summer vacations like the residents. Here’s your all-you-need-to-know guide on Nathiagali.
How To Get There
You can either take the route through Abbottabad, cut shorter by the newly-constructed Hazara Motorway. But that’ll mean battling the bumper-to-bumper Abbottabadi city traffic on its singular main road, and it would take a little over an hour’s car ride exiting the city limits to reach Nathiagali. The more scenic and less stressful route is via Murree Expressway, passing through Murree and driving a further hour and twenty minutes to reach Nathiagali. The roads are winding and there are sharp turns city drivers aren’t accustomed to, so it is advised to reach during daylight hours, whichever route you choose.
Where to stay
Resting high above the residential homes, and the main Nathia bazaar, zigzag your way to Summer Retreat and/or Greens Retreat; the customary choice of visitors to Nathiagali. The Retreat Hotel chain has the advantage of constantly being maintained, and offering a more secluded taste of Nathiagali.
Alpine Hotel is the younger brother on the Retreats block, and the more luxurious option. There’s more attention paid to details and better fittings and furnishings, and in turn, a heftier price tag.
Hotel Elites is a popular option for its price, but is run down by general standards. The place feels like one big Hogwarts, with so many guests staying under one roof, and can get ghastly noisy during peak season, but remains friendly on the pocket.
If you want to get away far from the maddening crowd, Gali’s End is an upmarket resort that lends a homely touch. It has hosted artist retreats, gives a private den-like feel, and is perfect for larger parties.
Bonus: Sweet Tooth Mukshpuri is just a five-minute drive from the main Nathiagali Bazaar, and has three freshly furnished rooms for lodging atop the café. The rooms and furnishings are brand spanking new and rates are still introductory.
Vista Wing Rs 16,000 plus tax (March to September)
Vista Wing Rs 10,000 plus tax (rest of the months)
Rs. 12,500 plus taxes (March to September)
Rs. 7,000 plus taxes (rest of the months)
Rates start at Rs. 18,000 plus tax in peak season
Rates start at Rs. 7,500 plus tax for a standard room
Rates start at Rs. 15,000 for a one-bedroom apartment
What to do
- Take the Mukshpuri hiking trail and visit the Lalazar Wildlife Park at the end of the nearly one-hour track. The park features a small handful of animals accessed by a rickety path.
- The Miranjani trail is for advanced hikers, but is worth it for the sights, sounds and bragging rights.
- Drive down to Dungagali and take the Pipeline Walk, a well-constructed 3.5 kilometre trail that ends at Ayubia. Don’t miss the breathtaking views and historical markers as you walk over the pipeline that supplies Murree its entire water.
- The Nathiagali Bazaar is always bustling with activity till the wee hours of the night. Look hard and put your bargaining foot forward to buy premium quality shawls and hand-knotted carpets. Or just trinkets if you’re on a budget.
- Visit the St. Matthews Church, a remnant from the days of the British, and don’t forget to donate what you can.
- Walk the road from the church to the Governor House and enjoy the scenic mountains landscaping your view.
- Head over to Abshaar for a piping hot desi chicken karahi over the roaring stream.
- Take the mini-trail behind Karnak House and walk amongst the sky-hugging pines. You can catch a peek of the lawns of the Governor House in between the trees.
- Visit the nearby Kalabagh base for a short hike through its monkey-lined trails, or for zip-lining and archery atop the lush Green Spot. End your visit there with piping hot coffee and French fries.
- Take a leisurely stroll from Club Road onwards and have fun checking out the quirky homes and the architecture.
- There are two parks with slides and rides for the children, but choose an earlier hour to avoid the rush.
However you go about it, it’s best to take in Nathiagali at a slow pace. The beauty of the small town lies in the familiarity of the homes and the easy-to-remember trails. So much so that you can look past what’s around you to actually soak in the cries of the ravens, the scurrying of the insects and the sounds of the songbirds.
What to Eat
- There are few things as classic as Taj Hotel’s Pathakha Chicken. Served with fried chilli flakes, maash daal, hot naans (baked dough) and raita (yogurt dip) on the side, your visit just isn’t complete without it. Say hello to the staff who have been running the joint for decades and never get a meal wrong.
- The main bazaar offers vendors who dole out piping hot pakoras (fritters), samosas (a savory snack with vegetarian or non-vegetarian fillings served fried), jalebis (coils of batter fried and steeped in sugar syrup) and coffee or ice-cream depending on the season. Nothing is worth writing home about, but all are a must-have.
- A visit to Greens Retreat and outdoor coffee on the patio is a visitor’s tradition.
- The main bazaar has a number of restaurants, but don’t expect anything near the standards back home: play it safe with pizza, soup or barbecued meats.
- Make a dessert run to Sweet Tooth just outside the Nathiagali Bazaar for the young crowd and warm skillet brownies.
Best Time to visit
The months between April and October are the best time to visit Nathiagali. The daytime weather is pleasant and you might require just a light shawl, while the nights are considerably cold, requiring heavy-duty blankets and heaters. However, contrary to popular opinion, long weekends and Eid holidays are the worst times to visit: travellers have been known to be stuck in Abbottabad’s traffic for hours in the Eid madness, there are throngs of day visitors heading to the Galiyat or further north, followed by littering and loud music till the wee hours of the night. Choose an insignificant weekend to answer the call of the mountains, and get the most out of your trip!
And when you do visit, be a caring guest. Whether it’s respecting the wares of Mother Nature, or tipping the locals well who have to find work out of town in the winters. Or whether it’s picking up litter or listening with some semblance of belief when told the local folklore of phantom cheetahs. Or whether it’s letting the monkeys move about at their pace or just giving someone else their way. This happy town deserves the very happiest of visitors!