Part II | Exploring the Gurez Valley

It was an experience of a lifetime and one can never forget it
Part II | Exploring the Gurez Valley

Next day, we got up early, had bath, offered Fajar prayers and went to the nearby hotel for breakfast. Then we went on to explore the other places around Dawar. The first place of our visit was Line of Control (LoC) at Sikandar. At the first instance we crossed the Army Iron Bridge on the Kishan Ganga River. We moved few kilometres towards the border village. We were informed by locals that since 1947, for security reasons, the Gurez valley was declared off-limits to outsiders. The ban lasted for about 60 years and the area was thrown open in 2007 to outsiders.

However, the visit to the valley unlike other tourist resorts in the valley reveals that no substantial steps have been taken so far to develop this valley as a real tourist destination. No infrastructure established, roads in dilapidated condition, no mobile network, in Dawar electricity is provided for just three hours a day through diesel generators. Most of the villages in Gurez Valley have no electricity and they mostly use solar power. The well-off people from Gurez have migrated to Bandipora and Srinagar for better facilities and quality education. The common people of the Gurez Valley continue to suffer. 1n 1885 Walter Lawrence, after visiting this valley, predicted that Gurez would become one of Kashmir’s most popular Himalayan tourist destinations. After 224 years, Gurez could not become a popular tourist destination.

On the way to the Line of Control (LoC) we saw hundreds of women and children collecting the wild black cumin (Kala Zera) which grows in the jungles of Gurez. There is a unique tradition that in the morning, a call is given and whole town, mostly women and children, goes to collect Kala Zera. Due to its limited quantity and strong fragrance, it is considered as a prized possession. We drove by the side of border fence till we reached the Line of Control (LoC). On the way we saw a couple of villages viz Achura and Shahpora; Sikandar is the last border post on the either side of Line of Control (LoC), and Kamri is nine kilometre away from Sikandar falling on the other side of border, shown in a mile stone installed on the last border post. Here both India and Pakistan check posts are on hill are. We sat and chatted with 101 BN. Border Security Force Jawans for almost half an hour. While we were talking to the BSF jawans we saw a number of women and children collecting Black cumin on the mountain ridge and a porter was shouting at them in Shin language asking them not go beyond the danger point. He scolded them but they gave it a deaf ear. At this moment we heard a number of shells fired from somewhere. We saw a number of locals working as porters for the army. After spending about half an hour we came back and proceeded towards Tulail.

There are dozens of small villages falling in Tulail viz. Burni, Kishley Bala, Kashpat, Kashpad, Z. Gali, Purana Tulail (PTL), Manzgund, Jurnail Road, Badugam and Baduaab, Chakwali and several other villages. These villages are usually dotted with 15-30 houses, made of wood with mud plaster laid in the shadow of the mighty Himalayas. While travelling towards Tulail, next to Kishan Ganga River there are number of iron Bridges on the Kishan Ganga River constructed by the Army and it is an altogether different experience to cross those Iron bridges. When we reached Purana Tulail, the road was blocked by the locals as they were protesting against the administration. People had come from far flung areas and had assembled here to get solar lights. They were earlier informed by the administration to collect the solar lights. But when no official turned up till 11:00 AM to distribute the solar lights they blocked the road. One among the protesters was a teacher from Basnoi. He was complaining about the maladministration, corruption and lack of basic facilities in the area. We got stuck in Purana Tulail (PTL) for one hour and finally after the intervention of local police station in Purana Tulail, we were allowed to move ahead. We went ahead towards Sheikhpora. Here we stopped for half an hour, took some snaps and moved towards Manzgund, Jurnail Road, Badugam and Baduaab, Chakwali is the last village on the Line of Control (LoC) in Tulail Valley. We could only venture up to the Baduaab village in Tulail valley and from here we returned back as road condition was worse with loose soil on the road and it was not only difficult to drive but very tough to move beyond this village as the road was giving us bumpy rides. Here we saw the wooden houses with mud plaster built through interlocking of wooden logs. One can easily find these unique log houses in the entire Gurez Valley.

We reached back to Dawar by 2:30 PM and had lunch. Then we visited a nearby Markoot village and returned back. We were planning to stay for one more night in Dawar, however, in a jiffy we decided to come back. We immediately went to the room, packed our luggage, paid our rent, and drove back by 3:40 PM. At Tragbal we had hot Nun Chai by 6:20 PM. Here the pink coloured salt tea is prepared in traditional Samavaar which attracts the visitors to this place. Tragbal is situated 9613 feet above the sea level. We left Tragbal by 6:30 PM and finally we reached Bandipora by 8:00 PM. Here we stayed for a night at the residence of my friend and university batch mate, Dr. Aasif Shah who was eagerly waiting for our arrival as I had promised him to visit his home during my Gurez visit. We were well received by his family and they immediately served us soft drinks, after that we changed our dress, had ablution and offered Maghrib prayers. After prayers we were served with traditional salt tea (Nun Chai) and at dinner we were served traditional Wazwan. After dinner we chatted for half an hour with Dr. Aasif Shah and his father, who in couple of days was expected to leave to Mecca to perform his Haj. We discussed on a range of issues and by 10:00 PM we went to bed.

On the next day we get up early in the morning and offered Fajar prayers, had breakfast and left the residence of Dr. Aasif Shah early in the morning. But once you are in Bandipora, one should not miss the opportunity to visit the highest seat of Islamic learning, Darul-Uloom Rahimiya, and also Kishan Ganga Power House. First we visited the Islamic seminary. Here we spent about half an hour and after that we straight way went to the Nishat Park Bandipora, constructed on the pattern of Nishat Garden Srinagar. Here we spent about one hour, then we went to a nearby hotel and had tea. After tea we moved towards Kishan Ganga Power Station located in Kralpora, Bandipora for which Dr. Aasif Shah had already talked to one of his friends, to facilitate our visit to the power house who is working in the Kishan Ganga Power Station. After following certain formalities, we were handed over the permission; then we proceeded towards the Kishan Ganga Power House. The Power House was commissioned in 2017. It has three terminals each of 110 megawatt and is generating 330 Megawatts of hydroelectricity.

After visiting the Power House, by 12:00 PM we directly moved to Uri to visit the Uri Kaman Post. On the way to Baramula via Bandipora we have a paranoiac view of the shrine of Baba Shukur Din on the hill top surrounded by the Wular Lake. We kept on driving and crossed dozens of villages on way to Baramula. However, once we reached to a nearby village to Baramula through a link road we were not allowed by the police to go ahead as in the morning there had been a brief encounter at Gundbrath, Sopore between armed forces and militants. Soon internet was blocked in the whole district as the situation was tense in the area; we followed another route to reach Baramula town but got stuck in a traffic jam for two and half hours. Finally, we reached the historic Baramula town by 4:00 PM. It was too late to proceed further. I called my friend who told me that we will not be able to visit the Kaman Post as the visitors are allowed here only up to 3:00 PM and it was too late to move ahead. He asked me either to stay in Baramula town for a night or return back to home. We got disappointed but my friends told me that we will visit the Uri town. We continued driving and after travelling few kilometres we saw the beautiful view of Water Park, Baramula situated on the banks of River Jhelum along the erstwhile Jhelum Valley Cart Road. We reached Uri town by 5:30 PM and had lunch in a hotel. Uri is a historic town situated on the left bank of the Jhelum about 35 kilometres south-west of Baramula. It overlooks a beautiful amphitheatre, about one and half mile in diameter, bounded on every side by magnificent mountains. The river Jhelum flows along its northern side, rushing tumultuously through a deep and rocky gorge, and with a roaring sound that may be heard from a long distance. Here it took us about half an hour to finish our lunch. After having lunch we chatted with the owner of the hotel for few minutes and came back and finally we reached back to home.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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