Blessed with nature’s bounty, of lush meadows and alpine forests, the gushing clear water of Kishanganga, and wonderful trekking routes, Gurez, along the ancient Silk Route which connected Kashmir Valley with Gilgit, before continuing further to Kashgar, is the most beautiful and safest place to visit for tourists in Kashmir.
A valley between high snow-capped mountains, Gurez is a place of beautiful simplicity and pristine natural beauty. It has a unique culture that keeps you intrigued throughout your journey, from Bandipora to Dawar till Kabul Gali. Gurez was part of ancient Dardistan, stretching between Sharada Peeth in the west, Minimarg in the north, Drass in the east, and Bagtore in the south. This part of the world is still unexplored and hidden from the community of tourists and travellers. Every year lakhs of travellers around the world visit Kashmir to enjoy the beauty of paradise on earth but the majority of them miss Gurez, and I must say they miss the real beauty of Kashmir.
To boost the tourist flow and to explore the valley, DySP Gurez Shiekh Adil has started a campaign ‘Go Gurez’. Shiekh Adil after joining office at the very outset focused on Gurez’s tourism sector and is trying his best to bring Gurez on the tourist map of Kashmir. Let’s discuss the needs of a traveller and the tourism potential of the valley of Gurez.
Gurez is blessed with lush green alpine forests, gushing fresh water of the Kishanganga, lush meadows and snow-capped beautiful mountains. A tourist wishes to see true natural beauty, not artificial parks and gardens, and this is what Gurez is bestowed with. The beautiful Razdan Pass mesmerises the traveller before entering the valley of Gurez. The beauty and appealing view of Razdan makes one forget the travel fatigue caused by the serpentine hilly? rough road, which has huge potholes and runs along steep gorges. The tall alpine trees, the snow-capped mountains, and the communities of Burza, the paper trees (local name Jozi), the Peer Baba shrine, everything here welcomes the traveller.
After passing Razdan, the rooftops of hamlet Kanzalwan reveal the human life in the valley. The high and beautiful Habba Khatoon mountain welcomes one to the valley of Gurez. After passing different hamlets, one reaches Dawar, 85 km from Bandipora, which is the main town of Gurez. The villages in Gurez have small wood-logged huts with European-style rooftops. The villagers here are happy-faced with a smile on everyone’s lips and are most hospitable. From Dawar the road leads the traveller to another part of Gurez, the valley of Tulail, through a narrow pass, Chack Nallah. This hidden part of Gurez is 15 km from Dawar and here, the village Barnaoi with its charming people welcomes one to Tulail.
The unpaved, rough, narrow 72-km-long road leads to Kabul Gali through the hamlets of wooden-log houses, along the gushing Kishanganga, also called the Neelam river. The people here are most hospitable and loving. There are a few hotels to stay in Gurez but none in Tulail. Travellers, though, feel at home as the people offer everyone to stay with them in their houses, for free! People here seem to like guests and their behaviour is such that the traveller feels at home.
The beauty of Kishanganga, lush meadows, simple people, high mountains, rocky slopes, green willows, tall poplars and much more is what one can enjoy from Kanzalwan to Kabul Gali.
On the way to Kabul Gali from Bandipora, there are many beautiful places to sit and enjoy some sort of snacks, tea, etc. While crossing the Razdan Pass, the highest place along the road, one witnesses an unforgettable panoramic view. The Harmukh peak can also be seen from here. The first place to rest for a while and enjoy the bewitching beauty of meadows is Trag Bal. After having some tea and snacks one can move ahead and the next wonderful spot for rest is the Peer Baba shrine. The site has been developed as a spiritual spot just before Razdan Top where one can enjoy the panoramic view of the whole Bandipora forest range and the small hamlets which seem to be locked within the gorges of these mountains. At the top of the Razdan Pass, which is 11,000 feet above mean sea level, it is thrilling to see the unending mountain ridges which seem to be touching the sky. You can see from here some important peaks like Nanga-Parbat and Harmukh towering above the rest of the mountain peaks around.
Ahead, the journey is downhill through rough roads and steep gorges till one reaches the first hamlet of Gurez Valley called Korg-Bal, a small hamlet with a cluster of kachcha houses. This hamlet was an important stoppage for the trading caravans coming from the northern areas and Central Asia before crossing the Razdan Pass. Next to this is the hamlet Kanzalwan, from where the road divides into two, one in the direction of Kishanganga towards Bakhtoor and Izmarg. One must not miss Izmarg, the Gulmarg of Gurez. The beauty of Bakhtoor and Izmarg is mesmerising where the natural beauty is worth enjoying. Ahead of Kanzalwan is the dam site of the 330-MW Kishanganga hydel power project, which is also becoming a tourist attraction but needs further development.
Khofri is the next hamlet, with fairly good houses nestled on the mountain as well as on both sides of the road. On the right side below the road and on the left bank of the downstream Kishenganga river was the most beautiful village of Gurez, Badwan. But because of its falling under the site for the hydel project, the village is submerged and the people have shifted to Wanpora, another hamlet with newly constructed houses. The Degree College Gurez has been established here in Wanpora. Fakir Pora and Khandyal are two hamlets near Wanpora and there is also the shrine of Hazrat Baba Dervesh.
Dawar, the headquarters of Gurez valley, is the next hamlet. Dawar by all means qualifies to be the headquarters of this beautiful Valley. There is a fairly established market here having old-type structures, most of them wooden, depicting the primitive culture prevailing in this Valley. Shops selling different goods including tea stalls are lined on both sides of the main road as well as the interior road. There is the sub-divisional office besides the tehsil office and offices of all other departments. A well-built Dak Bungalow, a tourist reception center, a rest house, many small restaurants and hotels are also here for the convenience of tourists. For any assistance a traveller can meet the heads of all the sub-divisional and tehsil offices.
From Dawar the road gets again bifurcated into two, one leading to Chorwan via Achhora and the beautiful Habba Khatoon peak, and another to Tulail. One can enjoy here the cool and milky fresh water of the Habba Khatoon spring, and a fine view of Kishanganga. River rafting for professionals is also available here. On the way to Tulail, the hamlets Mastan and Markoot with both new and old houses welcome the traveller with open arms. The famous Kaka Palace, the leading private sector accommodation facility, is also here in Mastan.
The wide and beautiful army headquarters are ahead of Markoot. This place is called the Shital Bagh. The beautiful parks, Army Goodwill School, fine orchards established by the Indian Army are on both sides of the road, adding to the beauty of the valley. After crossing the Tourist Check Post, Army headquarters and BRO headquarters, the narrow pass of Chack Nallah begins and is the starting point of the hidden part of Gurez, Tulail. With almost same-styled beautiful wooden houses, all the villages of Tulail look like small wards of a large city. Hamlets of Shiekh Pora, Kilshay, Purana Tulail, Neeru, Badugam, Sardab, Buglinder, GG Shiekh, Hussangam, Baduab, Angaikoot, Gujran, Chack Wali, and Kabul Gali present a beautiful and extremely picturesque view, as the river Kishanganga comes dashing along through a rich meadow, partly covered with lindens, poplar and willow trees, while the mountains on either side present nothing but a succession of most abrupt precipices, and alpine lodges covered with fir trees. The people here are the most hospitable and simple with smiling faces. The mountains of the valley seem to be calling out to travellers and trekkers to come and enjoy the virgin and real beauty of Kashmir.
During winter season, Gurez remains cut off from the rest of the world for almost six months from the month of November to the month of April. Gurez is as much beautiful in the winters as it is in the months of summer. The valley has huge potential for winter tourism and winter sports. Like Gulmarg, Gurez can also be developed as a winter tourist destination and sports venue during the winter season. Snow cricket, skiing, snow road race, snow hockey, etc, are the sports which can be played in Gurez during winter. River rafting, mountain trekking, mountain biking, cycling, road races, etc, can be organised in summers. Hence, in view of the tourism potential of the valley, I can say that Gurez is truly a great place to enjoy and Mr Shiekh Adil is doing the best thing with his campaign, Go Gurez.
To develop the valley of Gurez-Tulail on the tourist map, the first and most important thing is to create a separate Gurez Development Authority. Under the banner of GDA, the valley can be developed as a destination for tourists from around the world. The road must be widened and blacktopped. Already approved in 1999, the road hasn’t been still widened and of Rs 4.49 crore, only a few lakhs have been utilised for land acquisition. The district administration, which has to do the road widening, should speed up the process.
The infrastructure in the scenic tourist spots like the Trag-Bal meadows, the dam site, Habba Khatoon peak, the Patalwan Lake, Shiekhpora forests, Angaikoot meadows and forests, the Chackwali hills, etc, could be developed much more. The Kishanganga river and its tributaries having gushing icy waters are home to the famous snow trout and other varieties which locals say could be harnessed for angling sport for adventurists, while the mountain tracks leading to lakes like Patalwan and others could be promoted for adventure tourism.
The local residents should be funded to modify their homes to accommodate tourists. Tourist huts and rest houses in different hamlets should be built for the convenience of tourists. A tunnel for Gurez could help promote all-weather tourism to the place. A road tunnel will also help the locals during winters when the valley is cut off from the rest of the world due to huge snow accumulation in the Razdan Pass and the people face dearth of essential commodities.
Hence, if Gurez is developed by creating a Gurez Development Authority, by blacktopping the road, by harnessing its full tourism potential, it can be a leading tourist destination of Jammu and Kashmir. Gurez tourism can also boost the local economy and can help in boosting employment opportunities. The local people, especially the youth, should come forward to help the local administration in boosting Gurez tourism. The handicrafts department should start different business establishments to encourage and support the local handicrafts and craftsmen. The social forestry department, floriculture department, and horticulture department should start a wide range of plantation drives so that the uncultivated government land is utilised to create parks and gardens.
—The writer is a resident of Tulail and a social worker.