Visiting Virgin Valley

Gurez is married to simplicity and bewitching beauty
"Guarded by coiled concertina-covered bunkers, visitors prove their identities to men-in-fatigues. Driving on this bumpy track is no bon voyage but a back-breaking journey."
"Guarded by coiled concertina-covered bunkers, visitors prove their identities to men-in-fatigues. Driving on this bumpy track is no bon voyage but a back-breaking journey."Special arrangement

I am not a globe-trotter but I second Ibn Battuta; “Traveling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”

Traveling is fun and loads of relearning & unlearning. Recently, on a brief Kasheer sojourn, I preferred to take the road less travelled, an off-beat destination, and what better place than Gurez.

Far from the mad rat race and buzzing bazaar of the chaotic megapolis, I truly cherished the time I spent in Gurez.

I felt like cradling in nature’s lap. We are blessed that Kashmir, the land of seers and sages, is our birthplace.

Lofty mountains kissing clouds arrest our attention as we reach Razdan Top after switchbacking up a rutted road. While tourists enjoy in summers, this pass is a reason for teething troubles for the dwellers of Gurez due to mounds of falling flakes.

Guarded by coiled concertina-covered bunkers, visitors prove their identities to men-in-fatigues. Driving on this bumpy track is no bon voyage but a back-breaking journey.

Gentle breeze flutter rows of green flags at the shrine of Peer Baba which is under the patronage of the world’s 4th most powerful military men. Descending deep into Gurez valley, a soothing feeling envelops.

Magnetic mornings and evenings feel romantic when the fresh breeze caresses your face in the land of eternal bliss. The pastoral smell makes it a lovely location.

Gurez is “God’s own country” with striking beauty: roaring rivulets, snowy summits, lush landscape, gurgling streams, craggy mountains filled with firs, and of course that studied silence. I embraced Gurez like my bride decorated with turquoise trousseau.

Gushing waters from towering peaks tumbling down the serpentine slopes makes it a breathtaking picturesque place. Sitting by a creekside with your partner and admiring nature’s marvel is the best feeling ever.

Taking a stroll with the love of your life on those vast meadows (God’s green carpet) is a rejuvenating and refreshing retreat.

We stayed in Khandiyal; a postcard hamlet strewn with wooden huts. We retired to bed in the cozy cottage room with a starlit sky above and crystal-clear water flowing in the brook beside.

Those tranquil tunes wafted the music of nature through our ears. It was God’s kind lullaby to induce sleep.

The trilling, warbling, fluttering & chirping of birds sitting atop trees made the surroundings serene the next morning. Homemade honey layered freshly baked Naan and Nunchai was a long-pending treat.

Away from the maddening crowd and jam-packed smelly streets of the city, we wandered in the woods watching tall trees and happy humans.

The infectious attraction is Habba Khatoon peak in the bosom of the angelic Gurez valley. The legend has it that her beloved Sultan Yusuf Shah Chak, the last ruler of Kashmir, was betrayed by Akbar, and his kingdom was annexed.

This peak is a testimony of Akbar’s tyranny and lover’s labor lost in longing. Named after the 16th-century poet known as Nightingale of Kashmir, battery of shutterbugs flock to the peak at Golden hour. The picture painted above sounds like a fairy tale. Right? But the devil is in the detail.

The godforsaken zone has a telling tale to tell. Gurez wants to vomit stories. We need to be willing and attentive listeners. As a raconteur, once we appreciate their gregarious warmth, they pour tense tales along with tasty tea. Gurez was a gateway to Central Asia.

It was a roving market, a vital stopover on the Silk Route connecting Srinagar in the South with Kashgar (an oasis city in Xinjiang province in China) in the North.

A caravan of traders would take famous potatoes of chorwan and sell them in Skardu. And return with mules laden with apricots and apples. The barter system of the economy was thriving.

And then the bloody partition of 1947 changed everything for the domiciles living at this strategic location. Beyond Chakwali, the last village in Gurez, are broken hearts, heavy sighs, tears of separation & craving for reunion. Partition didn’t just create a separate nation out of India, it is perpetual pain for the displaced families.

In 1895, Sir Walter Lawrence had predicted that Gurez will be the most popular Himalayan tourist destination, little did he know that 127 years later, the administration in Kashmir will launch the much-hyped Go-Gurez campaign but the residents will have no piped water in Tulail, no drainage, no tarred road, no electricity despite 330 MW Kishenganga power dam aka Chirag Taley Andhera project.

No public washroom for the huge tourist influx. Tourists face unprintable inconvenience at a time when open defecation is strictly prohibited under Swatch Bharat Mission. Is the #Go_Gurez campaign all about photo-ops?

Five senior secondary schools are headless in Gurez. Two understaffed colleges have no permanent faculty for science students. A few years ago, during my association with the Srinagar station of All India Radio, I presented a detailed sports segment on Gurez. Nothing has changed since.

The healthcare sector is so unhealthy that for a simple thyroid or USG test, patients have to go to Bandipora. In absence of a specialist or senior consultant, the medical officer caters to fifty thousand odd Gurezis.

Shockingly, expecting mothers in autumn are referred to Bandipora or Srinagar for better care since the secluded sector is cut off from the globe due to weather vagaries.

The district administration has not been able to arrange even a single gynae for the womenfolk of Gurez.

If Srinagar needs infra, so does Gurez. Are Gurez dwellers mortals of lesser God? Hon’ble LG is known for his workaholic attitude, hope Raj Bhawan will take note.

The fulfilled promise of a tunnel, yet to see the light of the day and a blacktopped road will be the true celebration of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav. Jashn-e-Gurez should not be a customary function.

Local talented artists should be prioritised and promoted. Tourism will flourish only if the basic amenities are taken care of. The creation of Gurez Development Authority (GDA) can generate jobs for local youth but who will do the needful?

After a few sunny and satisfying days in ‘the hidden jewel’, the cab driver snaked and scaled through. Meanwhile, Ustaad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s velvety voice blared in the stereo:

Koi to Hai Jo Nizame Hasti Chala Raha Hai” reverberated in the air, and I could feel those mighty mountains echoing:

Wohi Khoda Hai, Wohi Khoda Hai.” Harking back to the truly halcyon days is one way of vividly reliving and sharing the good times we had in Gurez, an Island of peace.

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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