Before 1947, it used to be one of the most favourite destinations with European trekkers and anglers who travelled to Kashmir. But Gurez, a tiny valley along the Line of Control in north Kashmir, remained a forgotten corner of the frontier areas for 60 years back. Home to a few pristine high altitude lakes like Gadsar, tucked deep inside fragrant pine forests, the area beckons adventure tourists who are willing to rough it out for an experience of virgin nature. A gushing stream, Neelam, also known as Kishnganga, flows straight out of the womb of Habba Khatoon hill right through the flat belly of Gurez valley. Full of trout the river is a dream come true for rafters and anglers. On both sides of the main town Dawar–part of the ancient silk route–are dense forests that hold several fresh water lakes and shrines for those who look for oneness with the purity of nature. While inhabitants of the area are usually happy to house travellers inside their residential log huts, tents and survival kits are a must due to almost no tourist infrastructure in place.
The people of Gurez are of Dardic stock, ethnically quite different form both Kashmiris and Ladakhis. They have preserved and nurtured a unique DardShin culture of their own for centuries and speak Shina, a language which has Sanskrit, Hebrew, Tibetan and Kashmiri words in it.
Almost untouched, Gurez is a kingdom of rare wildlife like snow leopard, musk deer and ibex. In summer, between June and September, which is the best season, it’s a riot of wild flowers carpeting its many pastures at 12,000 ft and higher. The area remains cut off or more than six months every winter when it snows heavily.
Dawar is a day-long trip form Srinagar, somewhat smooth up to Bandipore, the district headquarter. Beyond, it is a rough ride over a lone winding road that goes over 11,600 ft to Razdan Pass before descending into the valley. Being a frontier area, Inner Line permit from the district administration is a must for Indian as well as foreign travellers.
HOW TO GET THERE
Air: The nearest airport is Srinagar, 150 Km away
Rail: The nearest railway station is Jammu, 450 Km away
Road: Regular buses and taxis ply from Bandipore, 70 Km form Srinagar and 80 Km from Gurez.
WHERE TO STAY
Gurez has only one four-room tourist dak bunga-low. Tourist infrastructure is coming up. Personal tents and sleeping bags recommended. Also, locals house tourists in their log-hut homes.