Blessed By Nature, Off-Radar For State
FOR Edition 19 of KASHMIR CENTRAL – the previous edition – we interviewed some prominent hoteliers of Kashmir on the development of tourism in the Valley. A common refrain from them all: Develop Gurez as a tourism destination. It holds immense potential.
This is a strange predicament. Everybody in Kashmir knows how breathtakingly beautiful Gurez is. As are other amazing parts of Kashmir. Yet, little has been done to develop Gurez valley, though in beauty it can equal or even beat most parts of Europe that the world finds so enchanting.
Amidst the noises of development and improvement in quality of life, Gurez valley in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district can remind visitors of Stone Age. Gurez does not have proper power supply, and faces acute scarcity of electricity. Each village has a generator that provides electricity for five to six hours daily. Gurez also lacks regulated water supply.
The locals know they live in an enchanted land. But they are disheartened by the callous attitude of successive regimes towards their land, and seem to have come to terms with the harsh reality.
Big Dam, No Local Power Supply
Gurez is a stunningly beautiful valley surrounded by mountains touching clear blue skies. Amazingly, Gurez continues to reel under darkness. It does not have access to regular electricity or water supply. Under-development is an understatement here.
The Kishanganga Hydroelectric Project, a run-of-the-river hydroelectric scheme in Gurez valley, generates 330 MW of power. It is astounding that despite this, Gurez continues to be without power supply. The dam on this hydro-electric project displaced 613 families and submerged two villages in water. Locals feel that they have been cheated by the state. Hydro-electric power generated here reaches all parts of the country, while they remain deprived of it. They also accuse the Bandipora district administration of high levels of corruption in the project. They add that the 1% provision for local development is yet to see light of the day.
Cut Off From The World For Months, Army The Major Support
Gurez and Tulail, the twin tehsils of Bandipora district, remain cut off from the world for three to four months during winter. The road connecting the tehsils to Bandipora district Headquarters is closed for winters due to heavy snowfall.
Gurez and Tulail receive seven to ten feet of snow during winter. The locals say the Army regiments stationed there are their major support system. A team of KASHMIR CENTRAL visited the area recently and witnessed an amazing bond between the locals and the Army.
In the last few years, Gurez has seen some development. A Government Degree College was opened. A sub-district hospital (SDH) was provided here, and some government buildings were constructed. But challenges remain.
The locals say that the teachers posted at the degree college do not work here. One way or the other, they manage to stay put at Bandipora district headquarters. The same is the case with the medical and para-medical staff posted at SDH Bandipora.
Similarly, one can scarcely find the government officials posted at Gurez and Tulail at their respective offices. The reason seems evident. The world is used to living with regular supply of electricity and water, not without it. Hence government structures stand here minus any facilities, because the officials meant to provide the services are not available.
To whom do the people complain? There seems to be no accountability here.
Road To Gurez In Bad State
The road leading to Gurez continues to be in a bad state. It is full of potholes, and water flows over it at many places. The government officials up to the level of Sub District Magistrate (SDM) pass through the same routes. The road remains the same.
The electricity supplied by the generators in the villages is low voltage, and only a shade better than candle light. Some villages even lack generators. The Army has provided solar lights for some villages. Some habitations lack access to even solar lights. Those living on hills in the area face these challenges more.
Tourist Surge In Gurez
Notwithstanding the poor infrastructural development here, Gurez is so astonishingly beautiful that it attracts tourists. The Army is making consistent efforts to attract more and more tourists to Gurez valley, which will help in uplifting the local economy and give a better life to the locals.
According to the figures provided to KASHMIR CENTRAL by the local administration and the Army, only 352 tourists visited Gurez in 2020. Last year saw a big jump – more than 15,000 tourists explored Gurez valley.
2022 is expected to be even better on the tourism front. The Army expects more than 50,000 tourists in Gurez this year. Within the first few months of the year, 20,000 tourists have visited Gurez.
About 45 kilometers on the Bandipora-Gurez road, from Bandipora to Razdan Pass, has been upgraded. The road continues to be bad from Razdan Pass to Gurez. It is bumpy and dilapidated . Yet the tourists enjoy the drive because of the unmatched beauty of the area.
Locals state that some influential people of the area exploit the tourists and misguide them for their personal benefits. They allege that the Dak Bungalow and other huge properties of the Tourism Department remain out of bounds for the tourists because of the tacit understanding between the officials of the Tourism Department and a private player in the hospitality sector.
The Army expresses helplessness regarding this local politics in the tourism sector. The Army says it is doing its bit to help the locals and draw tourists to the valley. The Army organizes exhibitions and events regularly to showcase the beauty of Gurez and the rich cultural traditions of the local Dard Shina tribe here.
Army’s Support For Local Populace
Recently, the Army constructed a beautiful Log Hut Café here and dedicated it to the public. The café is now a popular hub for tourists and locals alike. The earnings are spent on improving infrastructure at the café. “We invite NGOs to organize activities here from which the locals can benefit. We also do our bit. Beyond that it is the job of the administration to ensure the welfare of the tribals here,” said a senior Army officer.
SDM Gurez MR Mudasir told KASHMIR CENTRAL that the administration is trying to infuse a sense of accountability among the government servants posted in the area. The SDM acknowledged that the Army regiment posted here is doing a commendable job in supporting and strengthening the people here.
In order to promote tourism to the valley, the ‘Go Gurez’ campaign was promoted by the administration. The SDM said that the local youth who want to explore their talents and bring laurels to the valley are encouraged.
Gurez valley is a classic example of nature’s abundances and administrative apathy. The corrupt political representatives have enriched themselves, but have done little to uplift the local populace. The residents urge the LG administration to visit Gurez soon and initiate development projects here.
Gurez Urgently Needs Development
1895. The book, ‘The Valley of Kashmir’ by British bureaucrat in India Sir Walter Lawrence was published. It came to be regarded as a valuable treatise on the paradise-like Himalayan region.
In his book, Lawrence called the Gurez Valley “one of the most beautiful scenes in all of Kashmir” framed by “mountain scarps of indescribable grandeur.” He wrote that Gurez would rank among the most popular tourist destinations of Kashmir.
About 127 years later, Gurez is as beautiful as ever. But due lack of development and tourism infrastructure, the potential of Gurez has not been tapped.
Till 2007, the lack of development of tourism infrastructure could have been explained. For 60 years, from 1947 to 2007, Gurez was not open to outsiders for security reasons. Only the local tribes, the government employees working there and the Army had access to Gurez.
In 2007, Gurez opened for tourists. The lack of tourism infrastructure has continued for 15 years in this paradise land. It does not speak well for the state.
It is globally known that infrastructure development for the tourism industry has a positive cascading impact upon the local economy. Tourism industry stimulates investments in new infrastructure. This improves the living conditions of local residents as well as tourists.
This is the reason why Gurez urgently needs development.