Part trip report, part photo journal and part guide- here’s everything you need to know about traveling in Yarkhun Valley, one of the most remote (and under explored) places to visit in Chitral, Pakistan.

 

“I wasn’t even supposed to be here” I thought, eyes fixed on Zerina’s hands as she expertly kneaded the dough on the large, black circular dome that was functioning as a bread pan.

We were circled around the fire stove at Zerina’s home in the village of Chittisar, a small hamlet in lower Yarkhun Valley, some 8+ hours from our starting point of Mastuj in Pakistan’s Upper Chitral district.

She and her husband Abdul were our hosts us for the night after they had spotted us in hitchhiking mode on the road beneath their front yard.

 

Yarkhun Valley
Steps away from our hosts’ front door, nbd

Out of all the places in Chitral to add to my Pakistan itinerary, my sights had been set on Broghil Valley, a remote region in the extreme north and notable for bordering Afghanistan’s peaceful Wakhan Corridor.

I had checked and rechecked, but per all recent news stories and government announcements, the NOC requirement for the infrequently visited destination had been abolished for foreigners for at least part of the valley, something our guesthouse owners had heard as well.

So I set off from Mastuj- where we took one shared van, spent 6 hours in the back of a pickup truck, and another hour in a rattly jeep to finally reach Yarkhun Lasht, one of the last “major” villages before the so-called terrifying road to Broghil would begin.

Up until Yarkhun Lasht, we had been seeing the valley- but not really savoring it. My goal was Broghil, and while the vistas on the way were beautiful, I was focused on how much more of the journey remained. or so I thought.

 

yarkhun valley
Transport stop in Yashkisht Village, just before we encountered problems in Yarkhun Lasht

 

But when I reached Yarkhun Lasht, the Chitral Scouts militia had other plans.

Despite no official announcement, the militia decided just two days prior, to no longer allow foreigners beyond Lasht without an NOC, due to a non-fatal glacier accident, and a situation where another foreign tourist had apparently visited Karambar Lake (aka Pakistan’s second highest) without their knowledge.

Despite proving I had no such equipment for any expedition or intense lake trek, pleading that I just wanted to meet the people and see some yaks, and even begging for a security escort just so I could do so- it was all in vain, I was not just prohibited from continuing on to Broghil (still another 40 miles away) , but also anywhere beyond the checkpoint.

 

view from car yarkhun valley
Blissfully en route to Yarkhun Lasht from Yashkisht, unaware of what lie ahead

 

I was for the first time seeing the problem so many tourists had faced in the past for ourselves: new rules being enacted overnight with no warning, and this one due to an extreme unrelated event… that had no ties to the average tourist’s security, I might add.

Though Yarkhun Lasht and beyond were off limits, everything I had just come through was free to roam, he told us.

Frustrated and dejected, I ventured off, seeking out my next ride back in the direction of Mastuj.

But disappointed as I was, I still wanted to make something out of our efforts.

Having heard of Yarkhun Valley- and seen bits of it on the way- now it was time to really taste it.  At least I wasn’t being forced all the way back to Mastuj.

 

yarkhun valley mountain view
Savoring views like these all throughout the valley

 

…And taste I did! Yarkhun Valley ended up being otherworldly– sand-colored snow-capped peaks and bends rise up in every direction, dotted by waterfalls, cut by icy-blue rivers and overflowing with spindly white-barked trees.

Every farm animal and then some can be found lolling about yards and fields, and homes rely on traditional cook stoves for warmth and meals.

Visiting Yarkhun is like taking a step back in time, and a step into nature (both that of human and geography) at its most beautiful.

 

MEAL IN YARKHUN VALLEY PAKISTAN
An amazing meal we had with a family in the valley. Not pictured: yummy french fries that are oddly popular throughout Chitral!

 

Convinced to visit yet?

After THRE trips in 2019, 2021, AND 2022 here are some photos and all the info you need to explore Yarkhun yourself-, a perfect, remote valley(s) that was only re-opened up to foreigners, and is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in Chitral for anyone looking to see untouched Pakistan.

Yarkhun Valley Travel Guide

The ultimate guide to one of the least-visited places in Pakistan.

But first, where is Yarkhun Valley and who lives there?

 

mountain view yarkhun valley
Somewhere in between Yarkhun Lasht and Inkip, shortly after we were turned around

 

Yarkhun can be found in Upper Chitral, the most northern part of the KPK province. Yarkhun is remote and has very little infrastructure. Farming is the major trade in these parts, and in some places you might see more goats than people!

Most Yarkhunites are Ismaili Muslims, and Isma’ilism is known for being the most liberal sect of Islam. Women are very easy to meet and befriend and will interact with male travelers as well.

I find Yarkhun to be INCREDIBLY similar to traveling in Hunza Valley, just with a lot more (unfortunate) hassle from authorities.

Though not many people speak English, we always found someone that does enough to do some form of communicating!

 

Zahusa (spelling is likely off) and her grandson who were living in one of the last homes in Nichage

 

Lower Yarkhun Valley begins after the town of Mastuj, and is connected to the rest of Chitral by the Yarkhun-Mastuj road, a bumpy, dusty connection made completely out of sandy dirt and rocks. It goes roughly until Yarkhun Lasht village.

Upper Yarkhun Valley which begins to get greener- starts roughly around Yarkhun Lasht, so unfortunately we weren’t able to travel any of it this go around. Upper Yarkhun ends around Chikar Broghil, where Broghil Valley begins.

Prior to Spring 2019, foreigners weren’t allowed to travel freely anywhere in Yarkhun or Chitral in general.

And while accessing anything past Yarkhun Lasht can be problematic, jaw-dropping Lower Yarkhun is completely free to roam. Here’s some useful maps of villages courtesy of maps.me:

map of yarkhun valley
From Brep to Zhapu village

 

 

map of yarkhun valley
From Bang Bala/ Bang Payeen to Yarkhun Lasht

 

 

When to visit Yarkhun Valley

Yarkhun Valley gets COLD. Local kids told me how they even have two months or more off of school every winter since the snow is simply too high to drive or walk to class.

So your window of opportunity for visiting Yarkhun (or Broghil which is even more extreme) is Late May- October, with the warmest weather in July-August.

 

chittisar yarkhun valley
Late September is a perfect time to visit: its not too cold and fall colors start their show

 

I visited at the end of September and saw sunny, warm days and also some that were absolutely freezing. Layers are definitely needed regardless of when you visit since the weather is so unpredictable here.

Where to stay in Mastuj

I highly recommend staying at the Tourist Garden Inn Guest House. The family that runs it is wonderful and became real friends of mine.

They have been hosting tourists since 1999 and can offer you info, contacts and potentially camping supplies for onward travel towards Yarkhun.

The guesthouse isn’t marked on either Google Maps or maps.me so its best to contact them to show you the way. Other hotel owners have been known to tell tourists that it had closed.

Contact: Shah-Khalid by phone @ 03426117133

 

garden in mastuj pakistan
Colorful garden view outside our room at the Tourist Garden Inn in Mastuj

Connection in Mastuj

As of 2021, the Tourist Garden Inn now has great Wifi! I was able to do everything from work on the blog to make video calls to family 9000 miles away.

Note that as far as data goes, Telenor is still limited to “decent” 2G.

How to reach  Yarkhun Valley

From Mastuj, you can find a variety of shared jeeps heading into the valley. If you’re planning to head to Broghil, (or anywhere else really) the easiest way is to take a shared car that’s heading to Yarkhun Lasht.

Lasht is about 9 hours away from Mastuj, and vehicles originating from Chitral usually pick up Mastuj passengers around 3-4PM just about daily.

Shah-Khalid from the Tourist Garden Inn had a friend in Chitral that could have reserved us seats, but night drives on treacherous roads isn’t really for me… and luckily it’s possible to find cars heading into the valley well before dark.

I found a shared van heading to Bang Bala at 11AM just by heading to the Mastuj the bazaar the morning of.

tan mountain and blue sky mastuj
Waiting for a ride at the Mastuj Bazaar

 

Shared rides can cost anywhere from 300-600 rupees per seat depending on where you plan to get off.

 

Read next: Offbeat guide to Swat Valley, Pakistan

 

 Hitchhiking in Yarkhun Valley

Due to the extreme shortage of cars in the valley, real, unpaid hitchhiking didn’t seem possible here.

Never fear though, because catching rides as you go along IS easy, though you might have to wait a bit depending on where you are.

yarkhun lasht
Stopped for a walking break in between Yarkhun Lasht and Inkip

 

It’s much easier to find cars going into Yarkhun Valley than coming out- during our trek back to Mastuj I waited from 11AM to after 4PM to find a car that was heading there- and at an unfortunately hefty price.

Rides can come in all forms from comfortable cars, to the back of a pickup truck for 6 hours, to even tractors. Basically – a “seat” is the exception rather than the rule.

man loading jeep yarkhun valley
Hopping into this NGO jeep we got to give us a lift towards Gazin

Government transport does not ply through the valley whatsoever, and “special vehicles” are insanely expensive- if you really want to see Yarkhun, hitching shared rides is the only way to go.

Expect to pay anywhere from 300-1000 rupees per ride depending on how far you’re trying to go.

Where to stay in Yarkhun Valley

There’s not much in the way of accommodation in the valley-from Mastuj to Yarkhun Lasht we only came across 2 guesthouses– the latter of which didn’t look open.

There also appears to be a guesthouse under construction IN Yarkhun Lasht, but it definitely wasn’t ready for guests.

There is a functioning motel marked on Google Maps called Gul Mehal, in Power Village. Power is roughly 5 hours from Mastuj.

I have also stayed at Paradise Inn in Inkip, which is just a few minutes from the Yarkhun Lasht checkpoint. This was a fabulous, clean family-run guesthouse that I highly recommend you give business to.

Coming prepared with a tent, sleeping bag and your own food is a MUST for traveling here, especially the food part. It’s definitely a nice gesture to offer food to cook to anyone that offers to host you!

Though I came prepared with camping equipment, we barely used it- Yarkhunites are extremely hospitable and I was frequently offered guest rooms in people’s homes (except for Yarkhun Lasht) but still, this shouldn’t be expected- prepare for outdoor livin’ and see what happens!

 

Cozy and comfy in a family’s guestroom I stayed in

 

I was also given a few contacts from our friends at the Tourist Garden Inn Guesthouse in Mastuj.

They have two relatives living in the valley they were happy to connect us to- of which both ended up being great experiences.

Though numerical distances may be short, don’t underestimate travel times on these roads, bumpy doesn’t even begin to cover some sections!

Keep in mind that the real beauty of the valley begins in Yashkisht, where wide-open vistas and 360-degree mountains begin to spring up around.

 

mountain road view yarkhun valley
The “road” that leads to and from Yashkisht

 

(Lower) Yarkhun Valley Villages

There are dozens of villages in the lower part of the valley and even more beyond Yarkhun Lasht itself. Here are some of places we stopped, as well as hub villages known for local transport:

 

yarkhun valley gazin

Yashkisht

Yashkisht sits at the helm of a vast, beautiful, wide-open space that comes after an admittedly terrifying stretch alongside a cliff path. I ended up stopping here twice and the enormity of it all felt-palpable.

 

Yashkisht Village yarkhun valley
Whew… talk about views!

 

What’s more? It’s easy (well relatively) to find transport from here, AND there’s ample space to pitch a tent.

Yashkisht is pretty small but neighbors  Shost/ Shueist- a slightly bigger village which is home to a good amount of people, a school and a local health center. Yashkisht is about 1 hour drive from Yarkhun Lasht.

Inkip

Inkip is a medium-sized village with rolling green patches of grass, hills, very friendly people, and if you come in season- field after field of green veggies!

I spent an afternoon guzzling chai and goat cheese in a local family’s home here; they saw us searching for a ride along the road and insisted we come in.

In 2021, I also stayed at the aforementioned Paradise Inn guesthouse, where you can also enjoy organic meals straight from the family’s garden.

 

Inkip Village Yarkhun Valley Chitral
The small white mosque as seen from the road in Inkip Village

 

Also- there’s a small, white shrine perched atop a hill some ways beneath the road that’s worth a peek.

 

Chittisar

I stayed with Zerina, Abdul and their children at their home in Chittisar- a small village right before a stretch of uninhabited road.

Fluffy brown cows sauntered about their garden, and snow-capped peaks could be seen from their front yard, glittering through the last bits of light.

 

cook stove yarkhun valley
Fireside meal prep in Chittisar Village

 

Pancake-style rotis, pasta and dal we had brought, and freshly churned cow butter accompanied our attempts to communicate with little to no common language, though some of the kids knew more than they were willing to let on!

 

Simple and delicious… pasta never disappoints!

The village is a 30-minute drive from Inkip, and all homes ascend up a bit of a hill that rises above the road.

I only ended up here because it happened to be where our hitched ride ended. If heading back towards Mastuj, keep in mind that the next village/ flat area is over 2 miles away.

 

Power

Power is a bit larger than many of the other villages, and is also home to the Gul Mehal hotel.

I spent several hours here, waiting for a ride to come on our journey back to Mastuj. Homes in Power are more hidden than in other parts of Yarkhun, as the geography becomes less vast.

 

The Gul Mehal Motel in Power, some 5+ hours from Mastuj

 

The village has a very basic general store as and the local ladies hanging out here were happy to befriend me.

 

Gazin and Nichage

 Gazin and Nichage are two villages settled up a valley off the main Yarkhun Valley road. If you walk like we did, it will take about 1.5 hours to make your way to the village, and a bit over 2 to get to the open area towards the valley’s end.

Because of its location, many people in Nichage and Gazin do not stay in the village year-round, or at the very least stay only in Gazin as it’s farther south and closer to the main road.

Entering Gazin Valley- at the time I had no idea how far Nichage was

 

This valley used to be busier with foreigners– it’s known for being the gateway to the Thoi Pass trek, a high-altitude trek over a glacier that connects Upper Chitral with Yasin over in Gilgit. Locals say they used to see many backpackers, but now it’s a rarity.

 

man in yarkhun valley
A shepherd at his farm home in Nichage. He plans to leave for the season soon to head back down Gazin Valley

 

Though I didn’t attempt the trek, based on what I’ve heard about its difficulty, a guide would be a must for most trekkers.

Nevertheless, there were 0 police/ army or checkpoints heading towards the start of the trek.

sheep running
Farm animals galore spotted in Nichage

 

Jafar, who owns the Tourist Garden Inn back in Mastuj, connected me with a friend of his that lives here.

Otherwise, there’s a large, open area after the last homes in Nichage where I was told foreigners used to pitch tents in large numbers in years prior– and can now as well.

 

snowcapped mountain fog
Frosty feels on our second day in Nichage

Like everywhere in Yarkhun, locals were extremely friendly and happy to see visitors. To reach this place, you’ll have to get out of your ride a bit before or after the village Zhapu, depending on which direction you’re coming from, as shown below.

 

Read Next: How to trek to Rakaposhi Base Camp

 

map of gazin
The X marks where the diversion to Gazin valley is. Small jeeps can also ply through.

 

Both are beautifully quiet and remain pretty unexplored at the moment. In case you couldn’t tell, Gazin/Nichage Valley is definitely one of the best places to visit in Chitral.

 

Khotan Lasht

Sandy, tan and flat, coming over the Khotan Lasht Bridge felt like entering another planet. Dozens of flat-topped homes sit atop a barren desert landscape, and unlike almost anywhere else in the valley, the village is completely flat and covered in sandy dirt.

Also important: Khotan Lasht happens to have some of the best apples I’ve ever tasted in my life.

yarkhun valley tan brick homes
Somewhere on the road near to Dizg

 

The village is near to Brep, a transportation hub where you’ll be able to catch a ride back to Mastuj, or alternatively, reach from Mastuj.

 

Bang Bala

Though I didn’t actually stay here, Bang Bala is another name to look out for when seeking out transport to/ from Mastuj, as its considered to be one of the larger villages in the valley.

It’s a little less than 4 hours from Mastuj and has your typical small but functioning general store and “bazaar.”

 

Yarkhun Lasht

Ah, Yarkhun Lasht where dreams come to die! Only kind of kidding, but that’s what it felt like at the time! Yarkhun Lasht is approximately 10 hours from Mastuj depending on your type of vehicle and speed.

Yarkhun is fairly large, and since we were stopped at the beginning of much we didn’t see much. A bit before the checkpoint, which was right next to the formal police station, we did see a sign for a hotel called Yarkhun Valley Paradise, but it didn’t appear open.

 

Somewhere near Yarkhun Lasht, crossing a rickety handmade bridge!

 

Once I was released from the police station, we were made to stay with a relatively wealthy local man who was in the process of building a large structure.

Despite only sleeping on the floor in his guestroom, he ended up charging us 1500 rupees the next morning as I was made to officially head back by the officer.

clear sky and tan mountains yarkhun valley
There’s no doubt Yarkhun Lasht is gorgeous- this flat area pours out into a smaller, greener valley down below

 

The part of Yarkhun Lasht we did see was vast, and stood surrounded by gigantic sandy mountains that conjured up extra-planetary feels. If you are allowed to stay in the future, there’s ample space to pitch a tent.

Keep in mind Telenor 2G barely works in Yarkhun Lasht and we were told it cuts out entirely soon after.

The Rest of Yarkhun Valley

These are just some of the villages that exist in Lower Yarkhun- not to mention that if you do manage to make it past Yarkhun Lasht, there’s the whole upper region of the valley too!

Google Maps does not show any of these villages, so having maps.me downloaded is a must before visiting.

 

yarkhun valley views animals wallking on a sunny day

 

I also visited a village called Wasum, but this was also a contact given to us by Shah-Khalid and Jafar. Wasum is near to Power, and nestled deep off the main road. Due to its secluded position and lack of wide-open space, wild camping would be a bit of a challenge.

 

Onward Travel to Broghil Valley

If you made it this far, you know that sadly we weren’t able to reach our Broghil goals… but this being Pakistan, where things are constantly a’changing, access could be made easier next season.

 

The most terrifying bridge in Pakistan? Definitely in the running! 

 

Finding transport going to Broghil is possible- locals do leave to trade and collect supplies- but likely would be even harder than getting to Yarkhun Lasht. Numerous NGOs head up and down from Broghil and they seem to be friendly to giving rides.

The Broghil Festival, which literally includes YAK POLO, happened in September 2019, and is expected to be put on again next year. This year a massive tent camp was set up for tourists, and it seems like the government is trying to promote it more fervently.

cows grazing
Super fluffy cows spotted in Inkip… in Broghil these would be yaks!

Visiting would be easiest during this as you’d be able to find others to split the costs of a jeep. Private jeeps from Mastuj – Broghil could be upwards of 40,000 rupees ($256) for a very limited amount of days.

There’s apparently one hotel in Lashkargaz, the last village of Broghil, but like anywhere else in this region, having your own tent- and food- is a must. Ishkarwaz is also a name to look out for, as this is where the festival was recently held.

If you’re a foreigner looking to reach Broghil, make sure you check with official offices in either Peshawar or Chitral as to what the requirements are, and try to get a phone number from someone if they do in fact say that the NOC isn’t needed.

Contacts are very important in reaching Pakistan’s least accessible locales.

 

Know before you go

Chitrali shapik, a layered roti with creamy, buttery sauce in between
  • Yarkhun Valley is rural and remote with virtually no tourist infrastructure save for a handful of motels. People are extremely hospitable and friendly, but keep in mind that they have few modern comforts and rarely if ever leave their valleys. Though many will refuse to accept anything, bringing along food is a must- it’s a great way to thank locals for hosting.
  • On the safety front, Yarkhun Valley is incredibly safe and peaceful. The only problems you’ll run into are the army preventing you from going any further. Yarkhun has always been peaceful and was only prohibited for foreigners within the past few years. Prior to 9/11 and even in the years before 2010, many foreign tourists explored its villages and trekked its passes.
  • Unlike many other places in Pakistan, Yarkhun has very little trash. Pick up anything you bring with you, and then some.
  • Locals here speak Khowar, and while children will likely know a bit of English and Urdu, many people may only speak Khowar and or Wahki. This resource is one of the very few online Khowar to English dictionaries.
  • ATMS don’t exist anywhere in Yarkhun Valley, and the one in Mastuj doesn’t accept foreign cards. Make sure you stock up on $ before heading out of either Gilgit or Chitral.
  • Water was safe to drink in many villages thanks to water from springs and glacier runoff. BUT, it’s best to bring your own purifier just in case.
Traveling to Pakistan? Here's a guide to Pakistan's most beautiful destinations. Remote, unexplored and teeming with perfect views Yarkhun Valley is one of the best places to visit in Pakistan. #pakistan #pakistantraveltips #backpackingpakistan
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Though Yarkhun wasn’t even close to being on my radar, it ended up being one of if not the most incredible experiences I’ve had in Pakistan, and I definitely recommended it to travelers looking to see beyond the country’s general tourist path. Did you visit yourself? Any updates to the Broghil situation? Leave a comment below!

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2 Comments

  1. That was an interesting read, sounds like an amazing place! I would love to go there one day. By bike, train and bus of course.

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