Gurez: A confluence of beauty and hardships
Valley Of Mountains Struggles For Better Sustenance, Empowerment
Dawar (Gurez), Sep 8: With lush green pine trees around, a dilapidated road stretch—over 50 kilometers from north Kashmir’s Bandipora town—leads to Gurez, popularly known as the Valley of Mountains. The serenity of the place, for a while, makes you forget that the bumpy road, apparently never macadamized, had made your journey to the hamlet extremely arduous. Nor does it give you an idea that this beautiful valley, where mountains change their colour with the intensity of sunlight, would be forming a perfect confluence of beauty and hardships.
It is not only the Sheena language that gives Gurez a distinct identity. It is the simple and unique way of living that makes you feel how surviving comfortably is not a cakewalk in this Valley—unlike other rural and urban areas.
Scores of houses here—especially in areas like Badwan, Kanzalwan and Dawar—reflect architecture of sorts—something which gels with the greenery of Gurez. The mud colour houses, made of logs of wood, have two to three rooms in their first and second floor, with windows facing the mountains all around. Almost every house, like other government and non-governmental establishments, has an underground floor where livestock—the mainstay of a significant population of Gurez—is reared. But this floor performs a dual task: it not only keeps the livestock warm, especially during the months of winter, but also serves as a safe heaven for the people during instances of “cross-border shelling.”
“When the shelling takes place, we immediately rush into the underground floor for safety,” says Muhammad Kabir, a resident of Dawar. “Such underground floors are almost a common feature of all establishments like schools, colleges and government departments in villages of Gurez.”
There are fields of wildflowers all around Gurez while trees on the mountains just seem to be falling on ground. Every mountain wears a different look, with flowers, mostly yellow and purple, making them all the more attractive.
Gurez remains cut-off from rest of the Valley for almost six months, from November to April in the wake of heavy snowfall. If, on the one hand, the snowfall jams all internal roads in Gurez, it, on the other, brings to halt all kinds of activities that would ensure a livelihood for its people—like grazing, going to mountains for fodder for animals and harvesting potatoes and cumin seeds, a specialty in the Valley.
“What people do in winters is make small lanes and bylanes amid snow to walk around,” says Ghulam Qadir of Badwan village—just three kms before Dawar, the main township of Gurez. “People dump all kinds of food items and fodder for animals for the six months. Spending life amid 20 to 30 feet snowfall happens to be very difficult, especially for patients, who have to be airlifted to Srinagar or Bandipora during winters.”
This time around, the entire Gurez—situated below the Line of Control that divides Indian and Pakistani sectors of Kashmir—is busy collecting wood, fuel and food items for dumping. Young boys and girls are seen carrying logs of wood and cutting grass for the livestock.
The absence of basic amenities, despite cries for uplift all around, has lead to the dependence of people on resources offered by other agencies including the armed forces which are dotting the entire Valley. In absence of adequate government support, the level of ‘dependence’ is at times such that some villages have to survive on food, fuel and power offered by the armed forces.
“It is a tragedy that there is not a single diesel or petrol outlet in Gurez, where J&K Government is talking of promoting and boosting tourism,” says Qadir. “For that, it is important to uplift the place and ensure that it has all the facilities, whatsoever, in place throughout the year. That would reduce this level of dependence on other agencies.”
A striking feature of this Valley—where ‘Habba Khatoon Mountain’ changes colours from golden to silver to grayish with the intensity of sunlight—is that the power supply is solely generated through Diesel Generator [DG] sets or solar lighting. It doesn’t last beyond the deadline of 11.30 PM for each household.
“We are yet to have a power transmission line. We still crave for power in winters,” said Muhammad Hussain, a shepherd in Gurez.
For the entire Gurez Valley, the government has just been able to get a single mobile tower erected for communication. But, according to locals, it remains defunct for most part of the year, thus breaking the entire communication network.
“For tourism promotion, the basic amenities have to be put in place, especially quality roads, power and water supply. All this is missing right from Bandipora to Gurez. So what tourism promotion is the government talking about?” asked Hussain. “Who would come to Gurez in absence of any development and basic amenities? Gurez has a lot of room for high-end tourism, especially trekking and picnicking. But that can be done only when all infrastructural facilities are put in place and people are empowered to the extent that their dependence on other agencies is done away with.”
Amid this cry for better sustenance, people in Gurez are pitching for a comprehensive environment policy for constructions in the Valley. That is primarily in the wake of establishment of concrete structures, including houses, in the Valley, of late.
“Mud houses, assembled with logs of wood, are an identity of Gurez which needs to be protected at any cost. For this, the government has to come up with a well-defined Master Plan for constructions in Gurez so that the place retains its essence and identity,” says Ghulam Qadir.
Next, he believes, the civil society must help the people in the survival of the rare Sheena language, spoken exclusively in Gurez and parts of Gilgit and Baltistan. “We are in the process of exploring the script of Sheena language so that we are able to get it included in the constitution of J&K as an official language. Sheena is our identity. We are incomplete without it,” he says.
As you leave this beautiful valley, a dusty signboard reads the saying of the 19th century British historian, Sir Walter Lawrence: “Gurez is a valley of unexplored treasures framed by mountains of indescribable grandeur.”
Lastupdate on : Thu, 8 Sep 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 8 Sep 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 9 Sep 2011 00:00:00 IST
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