“In the mountain, stillness surges up to explore its own height In the lake, movement stands still to contemplate its own depth.”
-Rabindranath Tagore The Gurez valley, located in northern Kashmir is about 120 kms from Srinagar, in Bandipora district. The journey from Srinagar to Gurez can be undertaken with a shared taxi, as one passes through Bandipora town, you would start noticing the picturesque and snow covered summits in the horizon. But at this juncture you also need to face rugged road crossing through the snowy 11,672 ft high Razdan pass. This is the place from where one gets to see the glimpses of Gurez valley and you start descend for entering into into Gurez valley via valley’s administrative center, Dawar. If one is looking for good quality and unadulterated dry fruits, there are plenty of shops selling these at reasonable rates. Every once in a while you can see scenic beauty of clouds along the shoulders of famous pyramid shaped peak, Habba Khatoon. Once you start descending into Gurez valley from there, you would witness one of the most picturesque and pristine landscapes in all of Kashmir, with tourmaline waters of the Kishanganga River framed by mountain scarps of indefinable grandeur. If you go further deep into the basin there comes a section known as Tulail, where you can witness waterfalls, tumbling down fluted slopes that are dusted with emerald grass carpets, rocky precipices and snowy summits towering in the distance. Hand tended fields of potatoes and maize all along the valley and terrace farming on the slopes, fringed by dazzling wildflowers. Crooked wooden hutments dotting the landscape, creating an impression that one has been magically transported into the lands of Folktales. But despite all this scenery, one would be constantly reminded of harsh reality, as one passes by razor-wire fences along the course of Kishenganga River for its entire length. Army camps and check posts are positioned along roads and strategic hilltops, to deter terrorists trying to infiltrate from Pakistan illegally occupied Kashmir region. Once you get into villages, locals will welcome you with open arms, amazement and warmth. There will be invitations to have tea and spend a night in log houses, with lush wall to wall carpeting accompanied with delicious local cuisine. As one interacts with these friendly locals, one will notice that their features are quite different from those of Kashmiris as the people of Gurez & Tulail are not truly Kashmiri but from Dard shin tribe and their mother tongue is Shina, as they all migrated from Dardistan, Homland of Dardic people. For centuries, lively hood in this region has been based on subsistence farming and shepherding live stocks like goats, sheep & cows. In the recent past the potential of tourism industry has been unlocked and importance of education has been also felt by locals. Towards this end the Indian Army has played major role in transformation of this valley. Indian Army has been winning the hearts and minds of locals in this area and hence they are looked up by local population with awe and admiration for providing much needed assistance in terms of creating awareness, medical aids especially in winter and other emergency situations like medical/accident rescue operations. The influx of tourists and has given a flip to the Tourism industry, thereby changing Gurez for better as it is providing much needed alternate source of income to the locals. Also it connects them to rest of the world. However we must ensure that the culture and pristine beauty of Gurez Valley is protected in the long run while the tourism flourishes. As a tourist when one wanders through villages you would notice men and women toiling hard on the fields, and you would find groups of children and young men playing cricket and volleyball all around the valley. Women here are physically very strong, as their daily chores include strenuous activities like ferrying firewood and water up and down the mountains landscapes. Don’t forget to include a short stay at Dawar in your itinerary, as the tourist reception center here showcases the Habba Khatoon Dramatic club. One gets mesmerized with the Shina ballads and dancing accompanied by drums, harmonium and other percussion instruments. Once you bid adieu to this picturesque valley of Gurez, you will always cherish the memories of the pristine landscapes and the cheerful Shina locals.