You’ve probably read to death about the mainstream must-see destinations in Kashmir, right from Gulmarg to Pahalgam, Sonmarg and Srinagar. I wanted to explore the beauty of Kashmir from a different vantage point. If you too are looking to indulge in similar sights that are off the beaten path, this look-back at my journey through Gurez Valley will inspire you to explore the hidden gems of Kashmir.
My research on the terrain and topography of the region helped me zero in on exploring the untouched beauties around North and South Kashmir. Choosing the road less travelled path and being one with nature is a wonderfully liberating experience. I believe it is “better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times”.
Planning this trip to Gurez Valley on my own turned out to be a challenge, as most of the areas don’t have proper connectivity via phone or email. Having run out of patience after trying for a while, I decided to book through a travel agency only to discover that a majority of them don’t cater to the areas I was aiming for. Finally, one travel agency – www.greenkashmirtravels.com – agreed to cater to my requirement.
Finally, our journey was planned for May 2018. Even the driver assigned to take us around had not visited a majority of places on our Gurez Valley itinerary in his last 10 years of working in Kashmir.
When we announced over plans to friends and families, the unanimous reaction was – ‘Have you gone nuts? Why the hell do you want to risk your life?’ Their concerns over our safety amplified manifold as our travel plan covered a few sensitive areas close to the LoC. Things took a turn for the worse just a week before our travel when news of an attack on some tourists broke.
But incidents like these could happen anywhere, so brushing the concerns aside, we (two families including three kids) decided to go ahead with a positive attitude. Having experienced the unadulterated beauty of this land, I’m glad we went ahead with our trip.
So, the trip-o-meter for our exploration was like this:
South Kashmir – Kokernag, Daksum, Sinthan Top, Verinag and Yousmarg
North Kashmir – Lolab and Gurez Valley
In this part, I touch upon my favourite location from the trip – Gurez Valley.
The Gurez valley deserves the number one spot for its truly magical beauty and mystical landscape. Nature dominates this land that is still largely untouched by human definition of development, and humanity keeps a wide-eyed but low profile. A new mind-blowing view specially crafted by nature’s hand to completely knock your socks off awaits you at every curve and bend. The serene beauty apart, the Gurez valley is also a place of key historic importance. Kashmir was once connected to Gilgit via Silk Route, and the road cuts through Gurez.
The journey was tough as the road conditions are really poor. It took us 8 hours to cover a 150-km stretch. From huge potholes to sluggish muddy roads, crossing water stream to traversing through rocky terrains, our vehicle meandered through slowly but steadily. The best part is you won’t pay attention to any of these discomforts as the scenic views around hold you spell-bound.
You have to brace yourself for intensive security and identity checks at various check posts en route the Gurez Valley. The army personnel were extremely friendly and down to earth. For every 5 minutes of delay, there was an apology from them followed by a cup of hot tea. The villager’s hospitality was unmatchable too. For me, the caring outlook of these humble people was one of the biggest highlights of the trip. With simple gestures and reassuring words like ‘sab khairiyat hai, kuch bhi ho humko bol dena’, they made us feel comfortable and secure in a land far away from home. A hallmark of the much-famed Kashmiri hospitality.
Srinagar – Bandipora – Wular Lake – Tragbal (the last stop where you will find a road-side dhaba) – Razdan Pass – Dawar (our base camp).
Places to See in, and on the way to, Gurez Valley
Wular Lake – A majestic view of Asia’s biggest freshwater lake
Razdan Pass – The snow-capped mountain with a very low visibility
The Peer Baba shrine on Razdan pass
Tulail Valley and villages like Barnoi, Sheikpora, Badugam and Bagtore. If you travel another 90 km, you will reach Chakwali, the last village on the Indian territory. The army doesn’t allow tourist movement in a majority of these areas. We could only venture about 25 km into Tulail valley.
Habba Khatoon – A pyramid-shaped mountain named after the legendary poetess.
Where to Stay
Dawar Guesthouse run by JK Tourism offers a decent stay for 1000 Rs/night. Ph: 01957-255284
Kaka Palace – A private lodging option. Contact details: 0195 255232, 9469389643; firstname.lastname@example.org
Dawar Dak Bungalow – Information available on tourism helpline numbers 0194-2472449, 0194-2452690
Where to Eat
Noorani Hotel – The owner, Mustafa, also organizes local sight-seeing trips on request. Contact – 9469045449
Other Key Things to Note
Expect only bare minimum facilities at your accommodation. Some villagers offer home stays, but we didn’t try those. Cleanliness is a big factor to consider while finalising a lodging option. One has to be prepared to make a few compromises when travelling to offbeat locations. Don’t expect any internet connectivity and be prepared to be cut-off from the rest of the world. BSNL is the only service provider functional in the area and even their connectivity is dodgy.
The Gurez valley has limited electricity and power is typically available only from 7 pm to 11 pm. May to September is the best time to visit. From September to Feb the Gurez valley is completely cut off due to heavy snowfall. Nowadays, a helicopter service is also available for Rs 3,000 per head and a minimum of five passengers. It takes you from Srinagar to Gurez valley in about 30 minutes.
The weather did play spoilsport throughout our trip. I could not see a single sunrise or sunset during the entire stay. My hopes of shooting sunset were dashed completely. My driver summed up the weather conditions perfectly, ‘Sir ji, Mumbai ke fashion aur Kashmir ke mausam ka koi barosa nahin.’