Words- Irfan Mastan / Zahid Samoon
“Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameenast”
If there is heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here!
The etymology of these beautiful words is evident in the beauty spread across the length and breadth of Kashmir.
It is here in Kashmir, the distant North , where exists a beautiful hamlet “Gurez / Gurais” (Safest place to visit in Kashmir 2020)
Away from the maddening crowds and the vagaries of modern day life in the quagmire of manmade concrete jungles, a vale of solace and peace exists amidst the mesmerising sounds of gurgling cold waters, gushing springs, and beautiful rustling sound of leaves. The valley not only takes back you into the era of bygone history but also sings you a sweet lullaby putting you into an astounding slumber, when in the lap of this alluring place.
The mind, which wanders around in the chaos of urban life, is suddenly at “Peace” when it engages with “Nature”. We all seek inner peace and “Gurez” is one such place, which offers us with just so much more than that.
Gurez has been a well-kept secret. An enthralling place shrouded for a very long time, the existence of this kind of place is something that exists in dreams for many of us, with references of it only in books. A place once frequently visited by Indira Gandhi , former Prime minister of india. It has been one of the favourite destinations of foreign tourists during pre partition days of British India . Even Franklin Roosevelt, former president of the USA was fond of this place.
Gurez as a tourist destination has a lot to offer, it’s virtually a virgin paradise of etherealness beauty. One can laze around, work in fields, sit by the river, climb the mountains, kayak, trek, go fishing, rafting and continue to get awestruck every passing moment. Gurez offers sumptuous delight of trout’s which a delicacy is!
This is great trek itinerary for Kashmir:
For the city dwellers Gurez is a picturesque setting amongst low-lying clouds, surrounded by mountains, gurgling water and lush green all around which provides us with much-needed relief from exasperation we suffer from. Nowhere in India are the mountains so close and within reach anywhere you go in Gurez, sipping that morning cuppa watching the low-lying clouds and feeling the gentle cold breeze with soothing sounds of the river is a divine experience.
Gurez is a path less trodden and once done, it offers a seldom experience to all travellers. It has a rich past since the times of Herodotus and in the recent past it has been one of the busiest silk routes connecting Kashmir with central Asia.
From an era of buzzing economic activity during the days of silk route to present day Gurez which doesn’t have electricity for majority hours of the day the only consoling hrs of electricity are from 1800 hrs to 2300 hrs ,that’s when the locals connect and socialise with the outside world. The people have lived in seclusion for a very brief period long forgotten by the majority world. The people though neglected & forgotten are still self-sustained, determined, helpful and happy. They are always more than accommodating and hospitable to the modern day tourists.
Gurez which although prides itself with unparalleled bestowed beauty by the God’s, still remains an budding destination.
Gurez also gives you the opportunity to come across the local superhero, who was also a legend by the name of Mr.Ali Pehalwan of sandyal village. It is said that during 1971 war this man worked as Porter and single handedly pushed tanks to higher reaches and also uplifted heavy oil barrels which normally was the work of at least 8 to 10 labourers , for this reason he was famous for his strength and power.
There was a general perception that he used to carry more than 100 kgs of load on his back to far off places which others couldn’t do.
The Gurez’s staple diet consists of locally grown organic vegetables – Cabbage/peas / Potatoes (Famous) / Turnip / Red Kidney Beans (Famous) / Carrot / Raddish / Spinach / Corn / Proso Millet/ Barley / Cumin (As Known as Black Gold, Which is Priced Very High) and superfoods like Quinoa & Buckwheat which has been used since ancient times, the commercialization of this ancient superfoods has a very lucrative market . Here some of the crops like millet, buckwheat, Barley and peas are raised by help of irrigation while as rice will not ripen. Original and wild mushrooms are found all over Gurez and Tulial.The place is also rich in medicinal herbs (approx. 50 types) and wild flowers & fruits (blueberry / cranberry / strawberry) along with local produce of walnuts and apples.
Some of herbs are Doopa, Bankakri, Patris, Jogi Badshah, gow zaban, kutthe, Sheetlari, Koh-momia, Zeera and many more
The local cuisine comprises of Mulkibai (Made from Locally Grown Organic Barley), Kashi (Made from Corn), Special Variety of breads include – Gizeri (Made from Buckwheat), Durum Tiki (Made from Sprouted Barley)
The food is scarce in the winter months and needs adequate storage in good quantity to make it through the harsh winters.
The winter temperatures are a freezing -25 to -30 degrees with virtually no access to the outside world, and the only means of emergency access would be the availability of chopper services by the armed forces.
The wild life comprises of the Himalayan Brown Bear / Hangul / Snow leopard / Himalayan Red Fox / Musk Deer and Ibex (the source of pashmina wool).
One of the most exciting activities would be trout angling (With Permission), apart one can undertake short and long treks to paatalwan and twin lakes of kisarsar & vishensar.
Riverside camping would be an exciting idea provided it is at a safe place away from the proximity of wild bears.
The access to Gurez these days is by chopper and by road (Shared / Private / Bikes).Travellers may choose to their liking and comfort to reach this beautiful hamlet. One can take services of chopper from Srinagar airport and reach Gurez in about 20- 30 mins but the real way to enjoy would be to travel in a shared transport right from Srinagar to Gurez.
The shared transport journey starts from Srinagar (Batmaloo to Bandipur for the first leg & Bandipur to Gurez for the second final leg). The local dialect and warmth of the people, will give oneself an insight to their world.
The picturesque journey to Gurez Valley traverses through Bandipora. In earlier days, one had to drop down the Jehlum River by boat and cross the Wular Lake to Bandipora.But these days one can cover this distance through Road in a Hour.While leaving Bandipora one gets a glimpse of Madhumati River near Sonarwani. This river is very famous among the Kashmiri Pandits and has religious value for them. From Sonarwani the path Zigzags up a spur for a rise of several thousands of feet and then comes to a part where the slope is more gradual; here the ground is varied, being broken into sweet little flowery dells surrounded by fir-trees.
Tragbal: The first pit stop is Tragbal, 4000 feet above the level of the kashmir valley, an oval opening in the dark fir-forests. From some spots nearby we command view of the Vale we have left, and of the opposing Pir Panjal Range, whose peaks, separated from there base by a great depth of mist-hidden ground, catching the sun’s light, look like mountaines of another world . Tragbal is the place wherefrom the boundaries of Dardistan start. As per Rajtarangini of Pandit Kalhana, King “Harsh Vardan” of Kashmir cordoned the Dards. Dards fought back with all might. And “Harsh Vardan” fled back due to heavy losses of men in army near tragbal. During Tribal invasion of Pakistan in 1947, Tribals had captured this place & Tragbal was made base camp by the Tribal forces.
Enroute Gurez we come across a holy shrine of a famous peer-fakeer from pakistan. As a mark of respect to this revered saint, Indian Army has constructed a tomb. The locals travelling by foot during winters take shelter here to save themselves from winter snowstorms. This is a very revered saint immensely popular amongst locals and armed forces alike.
Razdhaan Pass (approximately 11700 feet above sea level): From Tragbal a rise of about 2000 to 3000 feet more, up the same spur, brings us to the Ridge. The Pass is hardly a depression in it. From here we can capture the scenic Harmukh Mountain (it is a sacred mountain for Hindus).
Gurais which has been spelled as Gurez in recent times is also called Gorai in the local shina language, part of the ancient Indo Aryan languages. This language is spoken by dard shin tribes of Gilgit baltistan and on our Indian side by people of Gurez and Drass. Having close resemblance with Sanskrit this language was called the mother of Kashmiri language by George garrison in his book “linguistic survey of India”.
Gurez has been of great importance, if we look at the history of Kashmir :
The famous Chinese pilgrim, Ou-Kong has mentioned three most important trade routes of the Kashmir, the first route leads over the Zoji La pass to Ladakh and thence to Tibet through Demchok. The second route leads through upper Kishenganga valley (Gurais valley) and from there to Skardu to join the Gilgit route across Khunjrab pass to Central Asia and Chinese Turkistan. And the third one being the Jehlum Valley route along Baramulla.
As mentioned in the words of Mr.Walter R Lawrence about Kishenganga valley-Skardu-Gilgit route, in his famous book, “THE VALLEY OF KASHMIR”,
“…The main roads at present connect Srinagar with Bandipora to Gilgit via the Rajdhaan (11,700 feet) & Burzil (13,500 feet) or Kamri (13,101 feet) passes…”(p: 23).
This Road was traversed by the Maharaja’s troops and those who carried their supplies and by few others. It was a twenty-two day’s march from Srinagar to Gilgit in those days, Gurais was a district before the partition of subcontinent and was also included in the present day Neelum valley. Its majority part remains disputed and a small part of “Gurais” in the form of Gurez Valley remains now with Indian Administered Kashmir. From a district it has shrunk to a tehsil status.
Gurais stretches from “Sharda Peeth” in west to “Minimarg” in east and “Drass” on another side. Presently Gurais is divided into three regions
1. From Baghtor to Sharda Peeth. (This part is a disputed region under the name of Neelum Valley.
2. From Baghtor to Abdullae Tulail. (This part is under Indian Administered Kashmir under the name of Gurez Valley).
3. From Chorwan (Sandyaal) to Burzil pass. (This part is again an disputed territory and remains as part of “Gilgit Baltistan”.
Kunzalwan: The kishenganga river rises 40 miles to the east ward of this spot towards the end of Tilail, among the mountains close to Drass. The origin of Kishenganga river is at Koubal( also called “kabuli gali”). At Kunzalwan it is a fine swift stream; as it goes on it receives the tributaries from various places. There is a tract begining a few miles below Kunzalwan where the valley is so narrow and hill-sides so steep that, although the climate is favourable, no cultivation exists and there are no inhabitants indeed in this area. One of the archaeological sites of importance in the Gurez Valley include Kanzalwan where the last council of Buddhism is believed to have been held and, further down stream, few Km’s away from Bagtore, the ruins of the ancient Sharada Peeth (now under Pakistan’s occupation)are preserved along the Kishenganga River. People from Central Asia came here for getting knowledge. In “Linguistic Survey of India”, George Garrison puts forward the fact that Shina language is the origin of Kashmiri language. As original script of Kashmiri language is the “Sharada Script”. Presently only few Kashmiri pundits know how to write in Sharada script. In ancient times means of transport were only by horses and this area was very famous for high quality horses.At Kanzalwan we can see the diversion tunnel being constructed towards Bandipora, which is a part of 330-MW Kishenganga hydro project.
Ismarg: It’s one of the beautiful places of Gurez. The horticulture department has potato, apples and various flower growing nurseries here. There is also an Sheep department as well. It is connected with Baghtor, which leads to Tarabal. Tarabal is the last village from this side of Gurez Valley and is connected with Neelum valley(part of the Gurais) on other side of Border.Majority of people of these three villages speak kashmiri.
There is a legend about Dev-Ahram Who traveled from Kashmir to Dardistan in search of his beloved Badwel-Jamal & rested there near a huge stone.From Kunzalwan our way leads up the valley.A short journey past pine-covered hills brings us to Gurez, the chief valley, of which the hamlets are little clusters of log huts.This place (Gurez), which once gave its name to the whole district of Gurais, is some four to five miles in lenght, the valley is rather wider than at other parts, being a mile across; it is bounded on the south by wooded mountaines, and on the north by a great steep cliffy limestone mass, which rises to 7000 or 8000 feet from the river. The height of Gurez is 7800 feet above the sea. This elevation, combined with a great amount of cloud and rain in summer and of snow in winter, makes the climate inclement. The best produce of Gurez are the ponies, which are the best of their size for loads. In Gurez there is a mixture of Dards and Kashmiris, but the former predominate.From Gurez onwards the people are almost entirely of the Dard race. The Dard language i.e. Shina is spoken in whole of the Dardisatan, which starts from Tragbal Bandipora and extends beyond Pamir Badakshan, on one side and up to Drass Kargil on other side. On west its boundaries extend up to Peshawar via the Valley of Kagan.
Pushkar Naag: It’s in Badwan village. This was a seat of learning where some Hindu Learned man had constructed a “Paathshaala” and a rest house for the travelers of Central Asia. This spring was lost to kisgenganga dam.
Dari Khun: In Rajtarangni, Kalhan has named this place as “Dugidagat”, where many battles were fought between Kashmiris and Dards. Ruins of many battles are there at “Vigigali” on the peak of mountain. This was also a route to Kashmir Valley.
Khandyal: On the top of the mountain there is a big and magnificent lake called “Kisar Sar”. At Khandyal we can see the remains of the Aasthan-Nallah project, which was left midway because of the proposed Dam project in Gurez Valley. If completed, this project would have given 24-hour power supply to whole Gurez Valley. Towards the entrance of the Khandyal village there is a Shrine of “Babha Darvesh”, a Syed who along with other seven missionaries spread the Islam in this Area. It’s a shrine where huge congregations were held in olden days. And people still visit this holy place. During the fall of Gilgit, by Maharaja Pratap Singh, one Iydaar Samoon of Khandyal was made the Hakim (ruler) of this area up to Astor. He constructed a fort at Khandyal and also one swimming pool for his personal use. This fort was lost in the ruins and nothing of it remains today.
Ziyarat Babha Razaaq: It’s a shrine of another Syed (brother of Bhaba Razaaq) in the lap of mountain who helped in spread of Islam in this area. Many archeological remains like old utensils, coins, pots etc. have been found here by local people. Some ancient village may have been there. I also collected some broken parts of a pot here.There is also a legend that Kishenganga River was flowing on this side of Valley. And Chak’s in their rule or by nature itself the course of river was diverted near Achoora.
Dawar: This is the main village and is centrally located. All the offices including the only hospital are located here we can see the Anzbhari nallah here.
Mastan: A high mound of land is present here, which acted as a stage in earlier times, from where the rajas or the people of repute addressed the general masses The first ever residents in Gurez were Mirs. There were two brothers, Tello Mir & Mello Mir. Tello constructed a “Khey”, i.e., a Joola Bridge and used to collect taxes from travelers visiting Central Asia through Pameer Badakhshan. Another brother went to tilail and settled there in Neeru. You will find mostly Mirs in Mastan and Neeru.
Markoot: There is a bridge between Achoora and Markoot. And on both sides of the bridge there are remains of buildings These ruined building were courts of old Rajas. The Kishenganga River bisected it naturally afterwards.
Achoora: we find the great Habba Khatoon mountain with all its grandeur and the famous Habba Khatoon Spring here .The speciality of this spring is that the water flows through the year even in sub-zero temperatures.This water can rival branded commercial natural spring water brands.There is a legend that it is a birthplace of famous poetess Haba Khatoon, wife of Yousuf Shah Chak, the last emperor of Independent Kashmir.This place where two large streams meet, just above Gurez, is the end of the wider part of the valley. The southern stream may be said to be a continuation of the kishenganga, as its course is longer and it has the greater volume; it flows from the Tilail valley. The elegance of Habba Khatoon in a full moon night is something to lookout for.
Chorwan (last village): This leads to another part of Gurais, which is under direct control of Pakistan. It is a way towards Burzil and Kamri passes. From burzil the route connects to Astore-Gilgit And finally to Central Asia. After Burzil we have Desoi planes covered with wild flowers. Burzil Pass gives way to two routes one towards Gilgit and another towards Baltistan-Skardu. In Kargil war infiltrators crossed through this pass and went towards Tiger Hill at Kargil and Mushkow Valley.
Chak Nallah: named after Chak Dynasty it’s a tributary to Kishenganga Nallah. Here in the way, Khurgi Nallah also adds some volume to Chak nallah, also some old sculptures of Hindu as well as Buddhist deities were recovered by Indian Army near Barnoi (the first village of Tilail).
Kashpaat: Here we find jungli Locats. This area also leads to the Kilshey (part of Pakistan). In Fact, we can see the Pakistani area from here closely.
Sheikhpora: This is yet again a beautiful setting amongst majestic mountains and river.one can opt for an overnight stay in the government tourist hut here, and next day proceed onwards to Kabul Galli with requisite permission from authorities.
Badgam: It is a central place of Tulail. Here we have Niyabat, and other offices.
Badaub: Here two ways arise from Badaub one lead to Kashmir through Raman Nallah-Gangbal lake-naranaag-kangan Srinagar. Another way leads to Gilgit through Bagrote Nallah.
Abdullae: it is the last village of Gurez. And from here the road leads to Drass via Kabuli Gali ( Kaubal). Drass is also a part of Dardistan. Here also the regional language is Shina
The exciting part of Gurez is the very close proximity of LOC no matter where you go, however certain areas are offlimits and care should be taken not to photograph / GPS tag sensitive locations.
The three primary checkpoints are at Kanzalwan / Neeru / Ismarg and tourists need to co-operate with the armed forces for documentation formalities (Basic questions like period, purpose of stay and ID proof Xeroxes)
The journey to Gurez would leave you spellbound; in the words of “Ibn Batuta” Travel it leaves you speechless, and then turns you into a storyteller. … Which would give a very vivid description to the experience had here…
ACCOMODATION: As this place has not yet found its place in the regular travel map of most travellers, accommodations in Gurez has very limited options.
The PWD Rest House & Tourist Rest House (750 to offers good clean basic accommodation at reasonable prices.
Apart there is a beautiful 3-room cottage (Pathan’s Cottage) at wanpora with services of a caretaker; there is also a guesthouse nearby belonging to a local MLA.
HOW TO REACH: Distance between Srinagar – Gurez: 138 Kms
Distance between Srinagar – Bandipora: 66 Kms
Distance between Bandipora – Gurez: 72 Kms
BEST TIME TO VIST: May 4th Week to Aug (Jun – Jul being the best months) The valley remains inaccessible by road during winters.
FOOD: Food options are very limited with just two restaurants or rather small eateries serving basic food (Close to the TRC Huts)