Muzaffarabad, the capital of the Pakistan-administered portion of the contentious Kashmir, has a long history. The old name for the city was Udabhanda, and various records dating back to the 7th century CE mention it by this name. The Shahi rulers of the Punjab region used the city as their capital. The present name is derived from Sultan Muzaffar Khan, one of the old rulers and the one credited with having established the city proper as it is today. The Sultan Muzaffar Khan was also the ruler who saw to completion of one of the city’s most famous tourist attractions, the Red Fort by the Neelum River.
There are many other attractions in Muzaffarabad besides the fort, of course, especially in terms of natural treasures. This part of the Kashmir is among the region’s most beautiful spots, abundant with scenic views and mountain-filled horizons as well as a good number of fish-filled lakes. Yet, as is the way of Mother Nature, the area has also suffered some natural catastrophes, the bleakest of which in its recorded history was the 2005 earthquake that devastated the capital of the region itself. With a rating of 7.5 on the Richter Scale, the quake levelled half of the buildings in the city proper and accrued a death toll passing 80,000 in the capital alone.
That disaster was doubly shocking because an earthquake of such magnitude had not been registered in the area for decades. While it left the Azad Kashmir towns limping for the next couple of years, the area has fortunately recovered quite quickly, and a good number of the sites worth visiting in the region are yet present. This is primarily because most people coming to the area come to see sights such as the famed Pirchinassi peak that overlooks the city-and while a 7.5 quake is indeed a powerful thing, it nonetheless has not the strength yet to level a mountain as well.
Pirchinassi is just a little over 30km from the city, and it attracts a great many visitors not just for the gorgeous view it commands of the area but also for the Sufi shrine on it that many pilgrims come to visit. The shrine is often attributed to the pir (the local term for a saint) Shah Hussain Bukhari. The area also tends to draw camping and trekking enthusiasts, among others. Besides Pirchinassi, other peaks like Shaheed Gali are present if you want to get some hiking in during your stay. The meadows, valleys, and rolling green fields as well as a well-stocked lake ring the city as well, which makes it a haven for the nature-lovers travelling in Pakistan.
Most people coming to Muzaffarabad now would be astounded by how quickly the city has recovered from tragedy. There are still reminders of the disaster: a ruin over here, perhaps, or a plaque honoring victims over there. But the pulse of the city is beating, more alive than it ever was and many have rebuilt their homes. Most importantly of all, people still smile, and they do so with warmth as well as confidence. It is perhaps a neat reminder of the fact that there is a tradition of strength and independence in the local culture-this is technically an autonomous, self-governing region of the Kashmir, after all, even if it does identify itself as part of Pakistan. The quake set back tourism to the city temporarily, but people are beginning to visit the region again, which is fortunate for the economic future of this metropolis.