One of the extra ordinary trekking attractions in moderated altitude category is Ratti Gali Lake. The most sparkling crowns of the Neelum Valley, Ratti Gali Lake is located at 3600 meters and surrounded by grassy slopes and a number of waterfalls.
Ratti Gali Lake is accessible from three routes i.e. from Dowarian, Neelum Valley, from Burawai, Kaghan Valley and from Jalkhad, Kaghan Valley. All three treks are extremely scenic and naturally rich. Due to the location of the lake, all three treks require energies and long hours walking with necessary camping gear along with all food and fuel arrangements.
The trek from Jalkhad (Noorinar Top) to Dowarian via Noori Lake, Hans Raaj Lake and Ratti Gali Lake may be completed in minimum 3 days. It is recommended to complete all the preparations at Naran to avoid any inconvenience.
Naran to Jalkhad
It takes about 2 hours by a private jeep/Suzuki van from Naran to Jalkhad. This is a lovely ride with serene views of Kunhar River, side streams, waterfalls and forested landscapes of Kaghan Valley. There are several staying options at Battakundi and Burawai before reaching the Jalkad.
Jalkad is a beautiful valley and seasonal tourist settlement with a restaurant, a small mosque and a couple of basic commodity shops. There is an excellent riverside camping field behind the restaurant. The Jeeps can also be hired from here for the trek’s starting point just after the Noorinar Top. If a porter/guide is required, make sure that the hired person has done the complete trek recently.
Jalkhad to Noorinar Top
Due to the heavy snowfall on Noorinar and surrounding heights, the road to Sharda from Jalkahd remains closed till the mid of the season. Occasional glacier and landslides also create problems for jeep traveling on this jeep road.
If the road is opened, it may take upto three hours to Noorinar Top, 17KM from Jalkhad. This is an awesome jeep ride with incredible views of snowcapped mountains, frequent side streams and grassy slopes with a smooth flowing stream in the deep. Ask the driver to drop a further 2 kilometers from the Noorinar Top at the starting point of trek.
Noorinar Top to Noori Lake
The trek starts from the jeep road and enters into the remote green and white hills. The walking trail is sometimes too narrow to step on due to the dense layer of lush green grass and flowers of every color. This is an easy walking for about 45 minutes to reach a remarkably large and noisy waterfall flowing from the Noori Lake. A small stone hut is made by local gujars who take care of a large herd of sheep and goats. Beware of watchdogs kept by the gujars.
From here the treks towards Noori Lake and the Ratti Gali Pass divide in two directions. The path for Noori Lake is on the right side along the waterfall. This is an inclined climb on the stony ridge for about 10 minutes which takes you to bowl shaped valley, usually filled with white snow. A short walk on the snow is required to get on the left side trek. This is a moderated hike of about another 45 minutes to reach the snowy lake, circled by mountains.
This is an ideal location for the first night camping for those who are carrying proper gear. The nights can be very cold as we found the lake’s surface frozen in the morning.
Noori Lake to Hans Raj Lake
This is a long day walking which requires steady efforts and energies. It takes about half an hour to back to the waterfall from where the trek to Ratti Gali Pass starts. The most of this part is a gradual inclined walking before the Ratti Gali Pass. The water availability is good throughout but water bottles are recommended. The best time to start cover this section is the early morning as in the sunlight it can be difficult to walk for long hours.
To reach on the Ratti Gali Pass, it’s all about jumping and climbing over the boulders and stones. It may take upto 2 hours to scrambling over the rocks and snow. Once on the Pass, there are superb views of the valleys on both sides. In addition, the partial part of deep blue Hans Raj Lake on the Dowarian Valley and an unnamed small lake on the Kaghan side is also visible from the Top. A carpet of extremely beautiful flowers in random colors is a sensational reward.
From the Ratti Gali Pass onwards, there is a steep or moderate decline till the Dowarian. From the Top, the Hans Raj Lake is less than an hour’s easy walking. An easy water crossing is required before you reach to the lake. If you have time and food, the lakeside offers a perfect camping experience.
Hans Raj Lake to Ratti Gali Lake
The Ratti Gali Lake is a 2 hours walk from the Hans Raj Lake. The path continues on the grassy slope, frequent streams and a couple of snow patches. There are multiple visible treks and all leads to the Ratti Gali Lake. It can be a better option to stay on the higher trek to avoid an inclined walk just before the Ratti Gali Lake.
There is a wide and grassy plane just under the lake which is an ideal location for camping. A brilliant water stream from the lake is dropping on the end of the plane, adding a splendid grandeur to the whole view. This is a small summer settlement with few houses and herds of domestic animals.
A further half an hour will be required to reach the one of the most spectacular splendors of the Neelum Valley. This is a unique combination of sparkling snow, blue and green water and lush green outfield with a dark grey mountain wall in the back drop. A number of waterfalls from the heights around are falling into the lake and giving this heavenly land an unparalleled touch.
Ratti Gali Lake to Dowarian
This is almost a day long walk which may take 5 to 8 hours to reach the lower Dowarian. The path is easy and scenic with frequent hamlets, cultivated fields, snow patches, water streams and thick forests. Snow crossing may require getting on the right trek. As the altitude decreases, the views down to the valley look superb due to the heavily forested slopes on both sides of the river.
At the start of the under construction jeep road, there is a small hotel for fresh food, tea and optional stay. There are chances to find a private jeep from the hotel for the Dowarian, Sharda or Atthmuqam. For rest and stay at Dowarian, there are several guest houses with reasonable arrangements for food and stay.
Dowarian to Muzaffarabad
Local transport is rare in Neelum Valley but may be found on the main road to travel across the major spots of the whole valley. A privately hired jeep can take upto 2 hours from Dowarian to Atthmuqam from where public vans and coaches leave frequently for Muzaffarabad.