The loops of razor wire are more taller and twitched than before. It runs for kilometres cutting through the forests of pine and birch trees, streams, villages and at places people too.
Gurez’s scenic landscape has turned into a dockyard of metal and scrap. Heaps of iron railings, tin, rocks, brick, chips covered in dust dot the last 15 km to the scenic landscape of Dawar, its headquarters. A 22 km tunnel and a huge dam dug up as part of an ambitious 330 MW hydropower project on river Kishenganga, has messed up the ecology of the place. The water level of the dam is rising with each passing day and already it has swamped six villages and hundreds of pines. More than 30000 trees were felled to construct the dam. Some 250 families have been displaced and many more would add up to that list in coming day. The dam would be filled up to 40 feet deep water to create the gush for power generation.
The tunnels (there are more than one), dam, the fence and other assortments aren’t only things turning Gurez ugly. Steel, iron girders and blocks, tin sheets, boring machines, cranes, earth cutters, shuttering material lie oddly in the virgin meadows and lower valleys. Giant trucks strut up and down with iron, steel, sand and cement to the site sending plumes of smoke and dust in air.
But it is vastness of valley that saves itself from this eco vandalism. The 70 km long valley along the Kishenganga and Burzil rivers is still a delight for those who have an eye for sport and adventure. This is despite the dangers of living near the fence.
Baktore and Tarbal, the last of the two villages to the South East end of this breathtaking Valley near the
Line of a Control still conjure up images of bloody gunbattles, infiltration and cross border shelling for last three decades. Six years back, the army shot 12 infiltrators who had come upstream on motorised rubber boats to launch an attack on an army camp in Ismerg village on a perch. They were shot in Baktore, two km inside the fence after starting off from Taubot – a village on other side of the fence.
The ingress, villagers say, has not stopped and the army’s response has been familiar.
Villagers say that while they can’t do much about the infiltration aspect, they certainly want Gurez to be remembered as a great health resort. They say the region which remains snowbound for seven months needs to be celebrated for its beauty and calmness. True, Gurez is about the breathtaking scenery, the gurgling Kishenganga, altitude streams and lakes, the meadows and the grasslands. As one drives through its narrow and dusty road and looks far out the hills, you see thousands of birds move on. It is later when you realise that these are actually sheep and goats being herded up by shepherds.
And the best thing is that over the few years, Kishenganga is making an inviting pitch for those who can bend their bodies and extend their limbs. The Jammu and Kashmir tourism department has been holding Gurez festival to popularise the place and hard-sell the destination. It has made some strides but the accessibility, accommodation and communication need to be spruced up.
‘’This is a great place for people who love adventure and can play with waters or trek. We have a problem with accommodation and road link but the virgin Valleys have lot to offer,’’ says Riyaz Beig, Joint director, Tourism department. ‘’There are lot of trekking routes. The best one will take you to Razdan pass – the highest point on Gurez route. The second best is to Tilial through mountains,’’ says Abdul Aziz Lone, an engineer with Public works department.
The landscape is inviting for mountain biking, hiking and rafting. Rafting on its foamy waters is a real fun and can be enjoyed by beginners and those who aren’t faint hearted alike. The Gurez valley has 67 villages and each edges out the other for incredible smells and sights. Some 30,000 residents live here in the summers but only one-sixth stay in winters braving 10 to 15 feet deep snow, avalanches and sub zero temperatures. Those who want to get in or get out of place use chopper services because the road link remains snapped for seven months.
‘’We have time and again asked for a tunnel and a reliable road link to the place but that is not to be. During winters if army or locals are trapped in an avalanche there is no route to carry out even a rescue mission,’’ warns Nazir Gurezi, the three time local MLA.
The article first appeared on News18.The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.