PART I: Exploring the Gurez Valley

It is home to Dards or Dard Shins, who belonged to a region called Dardistan
A general view of picturesque Gurez valley [Representational Image]
A general view of picturesque Gurez valley [Representational Image] File: Owais Farooqi for Greater Kashmir

In 1895, in his book, The Valley of Kashmir, the British settlement commissioner, Walter Roper Lawrence called the Gurez Valley one of the most beautiful scenes of Kashmir, where the tourmaline waters of the Kishan Ganga River are framed by “mountain scarps of indescribable grandeur.”

Some of the most cherished memories of my life are from the times of my travelling. While travelling I experience new things that I could never experience at home.

I see beautiful places and landscapes that do not exist where we live. Travelling to new places helps us to meet new people that help us to learn about their thinking, habits, traditions and history as well.

In July, 2019 when there was a sudden surge in temperature, the whole valley was feeling intense heat wave, there was a growing demand by the parents and the private school association before the government for the announcement of summer vacation. As the vacation was around the corner few of my friends decided to go as soon as we could to explore the hidden gem of Kashmir called Gurez valley.

Although the government in the beginning refused the possibility of a summer vacation but as the mercury went up government had no option but to declare a ten days summer break.

However, at the eleventh hour, the chief architect of the plan, Farooq Ahmad Dar along with other friends showed their inability to visit Gurez due to their personal engagements. But couple of my friends, Hamidullah Bhat and Shahnawaz Ahmad Lone were desperate and eager to visit Gurez valley.

Amid heat wave they did not want to miss this opportunity during summer vacation to visit this place. It was 15th July 2019 by 9:00 AM we started our journey from Anantnag towards Gurez valley in a privately owned car. We reached Srinagar by 10:15 AM. On the way to Gurez we saw the Mansbal Lake; like Mansbal Lake, nature has bestowed enormous water bodies to the valley of Kashmir.

We continued our journey and reached Ajas by 12:00 PM, a small village to the east of the Wular Lake on the bridle road where we had tea, and we reached Bandipora by 1:00 PM. Bandipora is a historic town and frontier district which lies in the North Kashmir at latitude of 350, 25’ longitude 730 58’. It connects Gurez with Srinagar and other districts of the valley.

It is a large and flourishing town of the valley and a starting point for the Gurez valley. Once upon a time the town occupied an important position as a starting point for the Gilgit and Iskardoo. It is called as the land of Ilim-o-Adab.

The town has produced great scholars to name a few are Hasan Shah Kohihami, Ahmad Nadim, Molvi Rahmatullah Qasmi. From Hajnis to Nazki, Fazilis to Parrays, there have been noted contributors to cultural capital from Bandipora.

Here we stopped for few minutes and bought corn, snacks and fruit, and moved ahead towards Gurez. While travelling we found the road connectivity from Bandipora to Gurez is in average and poor condition.

On the way to Gurez, in Bandipora, we saw a majestic view of Wular Lake. It is the largest fresh water lake in Asia, however, it has been encroached by the people and with each passing day the lake is losing its sheen.

On our way, just before Razdan Pass, we saw the Peer Baba Dargah. This Dargah has been constructed by Indian Army and is a halt point for all force personnel passing through this route

We reached Razdan Top by 3:35 PM. Here we stayed for about ten minutes, sight viewing and take few snaps. Razdan Pass is the highest point on way to Gurez and is about (3500 m) 11672 feet above the sea level. Most of the tourists halt here to enjoy the panoramic views of the Harmukh Peak.

Harmukh is the highest peak in the vicinity. Once we climb up the Razdan Pass the road starts to deteriorate. The road is in a bad condition, actually there was no road, rather stone and mud for most of the stretch. The valley is bestowed with flora and fauna and beautiful mountains.

The roaring Kishan Ganga River snakes its way through Gurez valley. A few kilometers ahead of picturesque Dawar, we saw the gorgeous view of Kishan Ganga Dam which lay in the shadow of the mighty Himalayas.

We reached Dawar by 6:00 PM; Dawar is the main town and Sub District Headquarter in Gurez Valley and the only place for night stays. Here we instantly started looking for hotel accommodation. There are few guest houses in Dawar, Gurez, that have opened up after the tourists started to visit this place.

However, the hotel owners are charging exorbitantly. It was Monday, there was no tourist rush and we were lucky enough to get two rooms in Dak Banglow at an affordable rate. Most politicians, bureaucrats and other government officials used to stay in Dawar Dak Banglow whenever they visited the Gurez valley.

We parked our car inside the Dak Banglow and went to a nearby hotel and had tea. After having tea we stayed half an hour in the room where one of the employees, Afzal Khan, working in the Dak Banglow came to our room and informed us about different tourist places of the Gurez valley.

In the Dak Banglow, the beautiful rear view sitting by the side of Kishan Ganga River, listening to its thundering flow, is altogether a new experience.

By evening, we went on to explore Dawar town. Dawar is a small town which lies on the right side of the bank of Kishan Ganga River. Gurez was a vital link between the towns such as Kashgar and Gilgit in the north and Srinagar and Kargil in the south.

However, everything changed after India and Pakistan got divided in 1947. The trade routes were sealed, the goods stopped coming in, as did the news. Once a spur, Gurez was the gateway to the famous silk route across central Asia.

The people of Gurez were gradually pushed into a life of isolation, and to a certain extent, oblivion, tucked away in a corner of valley that they are unfamiliar with. The town is so small that one can cover the whole town end to end within half an hour.

In Dawar, Tulail market is one of the congested and busiest place where one can find everything. Gurez valley is home to the Dards or Dard Shins, who belonged to a region called Dardistan that today straddles India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In Gurez people speak Kashmiri and Shin (Dard). By evening we offered Magrib prayers in the Dawar Jamia Masjid. While coming back from Masjid we met Ghulam Mustafa, a Bihari mason who lives here from last thirty years. Like a Kashmiri he invited us for tea- Ghar Chalo, Chai Piyo – but we declined as it was late evening. By 9:30 PM we had dinner and went to sleep.

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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