Internet gives wings to Gurez Valley culture, folklore

Online promotion of place lures tourists from far and wide
Internet gives wings to Gurez Valley culture, folklore
A child looks through the window of a wooden house in picturesque Gurez valley.Owais Farooqi for Greater Kashmir

Bandipora, Oct 28: The Internet facility made available to this region some two years ago has brought about the culture and folk music of Gurez Valley in north Kashmir on the wider media helping it win fans outside of J&K and elsewhere.

A mosaic of folklore, traditional music, language and culture of Gurez Valley, besides the natural beauty it commands, has become part of a complete package luring tourists from far and wide.

"The internet has given us a voice and reach. Our work for the Dard-Shina language is getting appreciation outside of J&K as also from across the border," Fareed Ahmad Kaloo, singer and head of Habakhatoon Dramatic Club told Greater Kashmir.

Kaloo said that earlier when there was no mobile internet in the region, “our culture was confined within these mountains”.

For decades, Gurez remained an untouched destination albeit having the tremendous tourist potential; with the insurgency of the 1990s, the travel to Gurez was largely restricted. However, with the gradual easing of the situation, for some years now visits to this place by the tourists have increased.

Then came 2018 and mobile phones rang for the first time in Gurez with 4G internet connectivity. Until then the place had only some landlines and a single BSNL transceiver tower at Dawar, the centrally located Tehsil of Gurez.

A man sits at a ‘salon’ in Gurez.
A man sits at a ‘salon’ in Gurez.Owais Farooqi for Greater Kashmir

Earlier, the Habakhatoon Club, which was started decades ago by a small group of school students, would arrange singing concerts of folk music at houses, public places and marriage parties. “The Club utilized services of poets and artists also to protect and revive the dying tradition," Kaloo said.

Kaloo, 68, who worked in Horticulture department never lost touch with the Club and continued its legacy.

Kaloo says that the dissemination mode of the art and culture of Gurez has come a long way from simple letters, to WhatsApp messaging and online videos.

The Dard-Shina is a small tribe scattered across Gurez in Bandipora, Kargil in Ladakh, and Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan. Some tribesmen, as per Kaloo, are living in Kupwara and Uri.

"The internet has helped us connect with our tribesmen in Gilgit-Baltistan and families living outside Gurez like in Kupwara and Uri. The content we share with them or watch helps us understand and boost our language and tradition further," Kaloo says, while maintaining that it wasn't possible before the internet was made available in the region.

“Earlier, we hardly received any feedback from outside of the valley. But now we receive feedback from outside of J&K as well,” he said.

Kaloo said that the traditional way of living has comparatively changed in Gurez with marriage functions happening in summers unlike earlier when most of them would be held in winters.

A general view of picturesque Gurez valley
A general view of picturesque Gurez valleyOwais Farooqi for Greater Kashmir

"During the heavy snowfall we contribute money and assemble in the house and sing while making videos and uploading them on the internet or sharing them over a messenger app," Kaloo said, adding that this way it has helped them to reach more and more people and tribesmen to get acquainted with the its tradition.

A handful of professional singers and budding artists are also sharing content over the internet with social media pages and channels mushrooming in the region.

Similarly, the internet also significantly helped Gurez to get a sort of recognition as a tourist destination for its beauty by an online campaign kick-started by Sheikh Aadil, a police officer, who was posted there during this summer.

"We exploited the social media platforms to spread the word about Gurez using a hashtag #GoGurez and the campaign was also Go Gurez. We tried to create some content about the Gurz on the internet so that when people search for an outgoing place in India they get information about Gurez which was not there earlier," Aadil said.

Aadil said, “We thought besides social media, there should be something on the mainstream internet as well, so we came up with two websites and which are still up and running.”

The officer said in 2020, the total tourist inflow to Gurez was between 179 to 200 and in 2019, the number stood around 250. “However, in three months of May, June, July this year when the campaign was started, the tourist inflow crossed 15000.”

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