Journey to a forlorn paradise

Gurez, a forlorn valley having astounding beauty lies towards north of Bandi-Pora, the town which remained famous in ancient times, for being the main stoppage for the Trading Carvans coming from the Northern Areas, Central Asia and China on their way to Kashmir Valley and Hindustan. Gurez is 85Km away from Bandipora and Bandipora being 60 Km away from Srinagar, and lies towards north of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir. Bandipora is also famous for the Asian largest fresh water lake ‘Wullar’.

Till recent past people used to go on foot to the mountainous valley of Gurez while crossing from Sunar-wani and Sri-Bal hamlets of Bandipora. It will take 5 to 6 hours for them to reach their first resting place, the beautiful meadow called Trag-Bal where a rest house existed for the travellers. Before the existence of the present road Trag-Bal was a beautiful place where the shepherds would come to tend their cattle and sheep and would provide milk to the travellers.

Gurez remained far away till 1980 from rest of the world including Kashmir when the road was made motorable and vehicles start plying on this road ferrying people to and fro Gurez, though a beautiful but hard to believe delight for them. But still Gurez remain cut off even in this 21st century from other parts of the country nearly for 7 months owing to the presence of heavy snow accumulation on Razdan pass.

One can simply imagine the country, its beauty; its charm and condition within could be simply inferred and envisioned. Undoubtedly the Valley is simply beautiful as it has remained safe from the human vandalising. One needs to go and explore the beauty of this Valley and see the nature in its nudity in the small hamlets within and mighty mountains surrounding this Valley.         

The Journey:

The main journey starts from Bandi-Pora when you start climbing a serpentine road after crossing the Sunar-wani village. The journeys from here to Dawar, the head quarter hamlet of Gurez valley test the patience of the traveller.

The vehicle needs to be checked hundred times before undertaking the journey, for its fitness as the road is narrow and unimaginably rough which passes through the rugged mountains.

Pray for the fair weather otherwise you got to be stuck anywhere during your course of journey. Make sure that you have to reach your destination travelling uninterruptedly because if anything happens which halts your journey you got to remain unattended without any aid for hours and sometimes for days together.

Despite every odd travelling situation one enjoys the mesmerising beauty along the route. It is a pride for someone travelling on this route to cross the Razdan Pass, the highest place of the whole road length, and witness the unforgettable panoramic view around. One could also see some historically important places as well. The Pir Baba, Trag-Bal, Kanzilwan etc are few to name. The world famous peaks like Nanga Parbat and Harmukh are also seen from here.   

The Beautiful Hamlets of Gurez:

There are some beautiful places which fall on this road where one can enjoy some sort of breakfast, snacks and tea etc. Trag-Bal at 9000 feet above mean sea level is one such spot which has the bewitching beauty given its meadow topography.

Pir Baba site has been developed as a spiritual spot just before Razdan Pass where one can enjoy the panoramic view of the whole Bandipora forest ranges and the small hamlets which seem to be locked within the gorges of these mountains. The place is close to the Razdan Pass which divides the Gurez valley and the Bandipora.

The spiritual aura one feels here at the Pir Baba Dargah is worth experiencing. There is a small temple constructed by the Army besides the Dargah and this adds the spiritual essence to the place giving it a pluralistic colour. 

At the top of the Razdan Pass which is 12000 feet above mean sea level, it is very thrilling to see the unending mountain ridges which seem touching the sky and never ending. You can see from here some important peaks like Nangga-Parbat and Harmukh towering above the rest of the mountain peaks around.

The mountain range on the left side (While facing Gurez) being the divider between other side of Kashmir and this part of Kashmir has visible Army posts sparsely positioned to guard the ALoC. This can be seen all along the route till you reach Dawar.

Crossing Razdan Pass it is a descent drive till you reach the first hamlet of Gurez Valley called Korg-Bal; a small hamlet with a cluster of Kacha houses. This hamlet was an important stoppage for the Trading Carvans coming from the Northern areas and Central Asia before crossing Razdan Pass. 

The next hamlet is Kanzil-Wan. The road here divides into two, one towards left which goes to Neelum Valley having Baktoor and Tar-Bal the last hamlets very close to ALoC. There is a small hamlet before Baktoor called Nai-Basti situated on the left bank downstream of river Kishan Ganga which has been inhabited by some families who have migrated from Kanzil-Wan after 1992 floods.

There is a beautiful place called ‘Iiz Marg’ which reminds the traveller of Gulmarg. The beauty of Baktoor and Tar-Bal is mesmerising where the nature and natural beauty is worth enjoying. The cattle herds around and the bee-keepers add to the charm of the places. The river Kishan Ganga flows along these hamlets before entering into PoK where it is named Neelam.

Before entering Baktoor one has to face a crucial identification check carried by the Indian Army. Baktoor and Tar-Bal hamlets fall nearly on ALoC. At Tar-Bal we were shown the distant Pakistani Army post on a hill top where some Jawans we saw moving around. There is a well defined but deserted track leading to next hamlet now on the other side of the Line from Tar-Bal. We were told by the people of Tar-Bal that sometimes their cattle go across the Line of Control while grazing in the forests.

The other road leads straight to a beautiful hamlet named Nyle, a small hamlet on way to Dawar. Before Nyle one can see the tunnel site of the Kishen-Ganga Hydel Power project which will carry the water from here to Sunar-wani hamlet in Bandipora for generation of electricity. Khofri is the next hamlet on this very road which leads to Dawar.

The hamlet is comparatively well settled having fairly good houses nestled on the mountain as well as on both sides of the road. After crossing this hamlet it was the hamlet of Budwan on the right side lying below the road and on the left bank of the downstream Kishen-Ganga River. But because of its turning into the Dam site for the Hydel project, the village is supposed to submerge hence the people shifted to Wanpora, another small hamlet having almost newly constructed houses.

The houses constructed here in Wanpora are modern in their design and construction, leaving behind the legacy of indigenous style of architecture which by all means was plausible with the local weather conditions. Wanpora hamlet is situated on the left bank downstream of Kishan-Ganga and presents a look of a newly settled village.

All around constructions going on and constructional material loaded vehicles moving unabated. It looks that there is no controlling authority as far as the design and development of a certain village takes place. The constructions are unregulated and haphazard. It would have been better to preserve the local culture which by all means is indigenous and beneficial given the weather conditions of the area. The former Member Legislative Assembly Mr Nazir Ahmad Khan alias Gurezi hails from this very village. 

The only degree college in the whole Gurez Valley has been established here in Wanpora. The college building is under construction but the classes have been started in the nearby building. It was unfortunate that our team could not meet the students in the college as they were on the vacations and college closed for academic work. However, talking to some students on individual level the picture they gave about the availability of facilities was by no means satisfactory. Modern facilities like internet is a distant dream for the youngsters of this Valley even the area sans the mobile network.

Fakir Gogri or Fakir Pora is a small hamlet near Wanpora, and has the shrine of Hazrat Baba Dervesh; RA (a descendent of Hazraat Sadaat who had come to this place in early fifteenth century for the propagation of Islam). It is also believed that the whole hamlet is inhibited by the descendents of Baba Dervesh. The shrine of Baba Dervesh is highly respected by the Army besides the locals and their veneration is visible by the construction and other developments around the shrine undertaken by them. 

Dawar, the headquarter of Gurez valley is very close to Wanpora. Dawar by all means qualify to be the head quarter of this beautiful Valley. There is a fairly established bazaar having old type of 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.

The goods sold here are not of any luxurious type and ranging from low to moderate price category which the people of this Valley can afford. There are small food courts as well which offer lunch and dinner to the people coming from distant villages and few of them have the sleeping arrangement as well.

There is the office of Sub Divisional Magistrate; the highest officer in the Valley besides the offices of Tehsildar, Forest, a special Engineering Division having Roads and Buildings, Public Health Engineering and Irrigation sub-divisions under it, and Zonal Education Officer.

A well built rest house and a Dak-banglow is also here. A Sub District Hospital having fairly basic facilities available in terms of specialities is also established here. However, in the event of serious ailments the patients are referred to Srinagar. A higher Secondary School is also established here. There is a Madrasa which traces back its history to a couple of decades is also here which is adjacent to the Jamia Masjid of Dawar.

The road after travelling a small distance from Dawar again bifurcates into two, the left going to Achoora and the last hamlet of this side called Chorwan and the right one going to Tulail Valley.

However, there is another village called Khandiyal which falls on the right side of the Tulail road. Markoot and Mastan are the other two villages of Gurez Valley. Achoora has a big Army camp and the road goes through this camp only. It is because of the fact that the Chorwan hamlet falls very close to the ALoC. 

There is a beautiful hill top named as Haba Khatoon hill. Fresh milky water gushes from the foot of this hill which joins the river Kishen Ganga. It is said that Habba Khatoon along with her ruling husband Yousuf Shah Chek visited this area and Yousuf shah was hunting in the gorges of this very mountain. People of the area visit this place on a picnic. The spot needs to be developed as it has the great tourist potential.   

Gurez has a rich  past which will be discussed along with the origin of its people and etymology of the word Gurez in the next edition.    

(The author is an environmentalist & a reputed traveller and mountaineer.)