The Gorgeous Gurez

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MIAN TUFAIL

AMONG Kashmir’s hidden gems and the most unexplored and offbeat regions, features the valley called Gurez.

Hemmed in by the majestic Himalayas, Gurez places you into the womb of picturesque beauty of Kashmir – beyond Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonamarg. Enveloped by snow-capped peaks, this high-altitude valley sits 8,000 feet above sea level. The region spans the Line of Control into Gilgit-Baltistan, marking it as a geo-strategically significant area.

Gurez, which was, until recently, inaccessible to tourists due to permeable borders and frequent shelling by the Pakistan state, is a new entrant to the tourism map of Jammu and Kashmir. With the broad situation continuing to improve and the footfall of tourists rising, people here envision a promising future for themselves.

The local populace converses in the Shina language and predominantly resides in traditional wooden homes, which are gradually giving way to modern concrete dwellings.

Steeped in history, Gurez Valley was once a part of the old Silk Route connecting South and Central Asia. This legendary trade route was crucial for merchants carrying silk from China to other parts of Asia and Europe. The valley was a pivotal transit point due to its strategic location along the route. Traders would rest here before continuing their arduous journey across the treacherous mountain passes.

The Government of India has recently brought several border areas onto the tourism map which include Keran, Machil, Tangdhar, Teetwal, Bangus & Gurez Valley besides a few others. The introduction of these places on the tourism map has created opportunities for the people here to earn a better livelihood. And indeed, just like in Kupwara and Bangus, people have begun to throng to have a glimpse of the virginal Gurez Valley.

The potential of employment generation in Gurez is great if the government were to develop an appropriate infrastructure to lift the tourism sector here.

The government has been taking up a few initiatives and the response of the tourists has been good. And summer seems a perfect time to visit Gurez. ‘Jashn-e-Gurez’ – a festival featuring adventure sports and cultural activities – was recently organised by the Indian Army here, in collaboration with the local administration, aiming to showcase the mesmerising beauty of Gurez.

Says Aashiq Hussain, who owns a rest house in Gurez: “With the tourism activity rising here, our incomes too have begun to improve. But due to its topography and the accumulation of snow during winters, Gurez remains cut-off from the rest of the world for six months. This is where government must intervene and ensure all-weather connectivity in the area”.

The Razdan Pass which connects Gurez with Kashmir, gets blocked during winters. The roads on both sides of this pass are highly dilapidated which gives a tough time to visitors.

Aashiq adds further, “The people of the Gurez Valley have proposed to the authorities to operate a daily bus from Srinagar to Dawar in Gurez. This will definitely help boost tourism in the Valley and make the lives of the locals easier. The administration is yet to pay attention to this demand but we hope this will be done soon and then the residents here could heave a sigh of relief.”

By the way, the picturesque Gurez Valley has also been granted the ‘Best Off-Beat Destination Award 2022’ of India. It won a gold for being the most secluded tourist destination in India at a ceremony held by the ‘Outlook Traveller’ magazine in Delhi.

A student studying at the University of Kashmir and hailing from Gurez says that in the recent times, Gurez has witnessed changes in the landscaping but much more needs to be done, specifically in the areas of infrastructural building and development.

Says he: “Things have changed for the better. A few years back, there was an ever-looming threat of shelling from across the Border. We would be forced to leave our fields and markets before sunset. But there has been an evident change over the last few years. Our youth are now camping with tourists during nights. Markets remain open and there is a fleet of hotels coming up after the guns fell silent. I must add that the Bandipora-Gurez road was once dilapidated but much has improved now. It has now been receiving regular attention under Project Beacon with repairs carried out on a monthly basis”. The main problem, he adds, “is the lack of good network connectivity, which is now, thankfully, being upgraded and a lot has improved along with access to modern technology”.

According to the Economic Survey 2019-20 report, service sector, particularly tourism, has proved as a huge contributor to the State Gross Development Product. If J&K service sector’s contribution to SGDP is more than 58 per cent; it is because of tourism.

Gurez promises to unleash a good tourist inflow and strengthen the State exchequer. The prosperity of the people here depends on the rush of tourists. Investing in the tourism industry here will bring great profits. Investing in building of hotels, restaurants and other related infrastructure at the newly introduced tourist places like Gurez, Bangus Valley, Machil, Keran, Teetwal, Tangdhar, Uri, Lolab, Doodpathri, Tulail and other areas can bring many opportunities.

Gurez holds a big attraction for as many trekkers as tourists. The region is so embroidered in natural beauty that it enthralls all visitors.

Sure enough, the Valley has been enjoying a new lease of life since the administration began to pay more attention to it. Happily enough, Gurez is all set to embark upon a great new future.

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