Gurez or Gurais, also pronounced Gorai in the local Shina language, is a valley located in the high Himalayas, about 86 kilometres (53 mi) from Bandipore and 123 kilometres (76 mi) from Srinagar in northern Jammu and Kashmir, India. At about 8,000 feet (2,400 m) above sea level, the valley is surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It has diverse fauna and wildlife including the Himalayan brown bear and the snow leopard. The Kishanganga River flows through the valley. The road to Gilgit runs through Gurais.
Gurais is divided into three regions. The area from Toabat to Sharda Peeth is administered by Pakistan as Neelum District, that between Kamri and Minimarg is part of the Astore District, Northern Areas, Pakistan, and that from Toabat to Abdullae Tulail is known as Tehsil Gurez, and is part of Bandipore district.
Being situated very close to the Burzil pass, which leads into Astore District of the Northern Areas, the inhabitants are ethnic Dards/Shins. They speak the Shina language and have the same styles of dress and culture as their kinsmen in Pakistan’s Northern areas.
Dawar is the central township in the area. The population of the area is estimated to be about 30,000, and is scattered among fifteen villages. Due to heavy snowfall in winter, the valley remains cut off for six months of the year.
Historically, Gurais was part of ancient Dardistan, stretching between Sharada Peeth in the west, Minimarg in the north, Drass in the east, and Baghtor in the south. The valley falls along the ancient Silk Route, which connected the Kashmir Valley with Gilgit, before continuing further to Kashgar. Archaeological surveys in valleys north of Gurais have uncovered hundreds of carved inscriptions in Kharoshthi, Brahmi, and Tibetan. In particular, the carvings provide insights into the origins of the Kashmiri people and the early history of Buddhism.
The ancient capital of the Dards, Dawar, is located in the Gurais Valley and is an important archaeological site. Other archaeological sites of importance in the valley include Kanzilwan, where the last council of Buddhism is believed to have been held and, further downstream, the ruins of the ancient Sharada University are preserved along the Kishenganga/Neelum River.
Prior to the Partition of Kashmir, Gurais had been a popular destination for foreign tourists, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who is known to have visited some time before he became the US president. During the colonial period, Gurais was often visited by trekkers. Nehru and Indira Gandhi, accompanied by Sheikh Abdullah, were among those who visited the area in the 1940s, fishing for trout at Naranag, one of the lakes in the mountains above the valley.
Quotations about Gurais
While describing the Kishenganga valley (Gurais) Walter R. Lawrence writes in his book The Valley of Kashmir,
“Perhaps Pahalgam, the village of the shepherds that stands at the head of the Liddar valley with its healthy forest of pines, and Gurais, which lies at a distance of thirty-five miles from Bandipora, the port of the Wular Lake, will before long rival in popularity the other margs. Gurais is a lovely valley five miles in length lying at an elevation of about 8000 feet above the sea. The Kishenganga river flows through it, and on either side tower mountain scraps of indescribable grandeur. Perhaps one of the most beautiful scenes in the whole of Kashmir is the grove of huge poplars through which the traveller enters the Gurais valley. The climate is dry and mild, excellent English vegetables can be grown, and the wild raspberries and currants are delicious.”
“The valley is extremely picturesque, as the river comes dashing along through a rich meadow, partly covered with lindens, walnut and willow trees, while the mountains on either side present nothing but a succession of most abrupt precipices, and Alpine lodges, covered with fir trees.”
Gurais’s most formidable peak is Habba Khatoon, around which legends abound and at one time, even a film starring Dimple Kapadia was planned. This pyramid-shaped peak was named after the Kashmiri poetess Habba Khatoon. She was a beautiful and intelligent woman from Saffron village, and originally known as “Zoon” (which means Moon in English). She was the daughter of a peasant, who married her to an illiterate peasant boy named Habba. Zoon was ill-treated by her mother-in-law and husband because she spent most of her time in poetry and singing. Dejected by her plight, she changed her name to Habba Khatoon.
The emperor of Kashmir, Yousuf Shah Chak, was entranced by her beauty, intelligence and poetry. He arranged her divorce from Habba and married her. According to the story, Shah Chak was imprisoned by his rival King Akbar, Habba Khatoon used to wander near the peak that now bears her name to look for her lover. After her husband’s death, she wandered the banks of river Jhelum in mourning. She died twenty years later and was buried in Athawajan. Habba Khatoon Drama club was founded in 1976 by the poet Late Hajji Abdul Aziz Samoon (Retired Police Officer; SSP). The club played a pivotal role in safeguarding the cultural ethos and traditions of the Dard-Shin tribe. Hajji Abdul Aziz Samoon(KPS) was also Chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Dard-Shina Development Organization (JKDSDO), a body representing Dard community in the state JKDSDO.
There is no central electricity in Gurais, although, as of 2009, a hydroelectric plant is under construction by the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation. It is unclear if any of the generated energy will be available to the valley itself. India had initially planned to construct a 100-metre-high dam on the Kishenganga, which would have flooded the majority of the Gurais Valley and forced nearly all of its residents to relocate. But due to resistance by the Dard Shin and by Pakistan, which is constructing a dam downstream, the dam’s height has been reduced to 37 metres. Set for completion in 2016, the dam will divert water from the Kishenganga towards Wular Lake via a 20-kilometre concrete tunnel, and will generate electricity for the nearby region. Although construction of the dam will temporarily bring work and money into the area, the Dard Shin have expressed concern that around 130 families will still lose their homes, and more than 300 hectares (740 acres) of land in the valley will be submerged.
Because of the lack of electricity, there is no significant industrial activity in the valley. The only electricity which is available comes from a few diesel generators which provide power to some parts of the area in summer for an hour at a time. The Indian government’s relocation plans are unclear, and it has not yet committed to providing hydroelectricity to those who will remain in the valley.
Gurais has a Sunni Muslim population. Before the arrival of Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani (مير سيد على همدانى), the region was predominantly Hindu. Hamadani, also known as Shah Hamdan or Amir Kabir, was born in Iran in 1314, and came to Kashmir in 1372, during the rule of Sultan Shams-ud-Din as an Islamic missionary. Shah Hamdan visited the Kashmir valley three times, accompanied by about seven hundred saints, known as “Sadaats”.
Of these seven hundred saints, seven came to Gurais, including Baba Abdur Razaq Shah and Baba Dervish, whose shrines are located near the hamlet of Fakirpora. The names of the other saints are unknown, although they also have shrines, located at Chorwan, Bagtore, Dangital Tulail across the Kishan Ganga River, and at Kamri across the border near Dood-Gagi village in Pakistan’s Azad Kashmir.
Grave of Peer Baba
The Peer Baba came from Multan (Pakistan) in 1933 and established himself in a cave at Durmat, north of Kanzalwan. He was about 35 years old, and his religion is unknown. He is said to have fasted for months without taking any food or water. On occasion, he came down to Kanzalwan and asked for food in Parsi with an Urdu accent. He never refused mutton offered by local Muslims. He was hard of hearing, spoke very little and was popularly known as “Nanga Baba”. In Feb 1940, he came down from Durmat to Rajdhan during a heavy snowstorm and subsequently died. When the locals tried to bring the Baba’s body to Bandipur for burial, they were attacked by a large number of honeybees, and he was instead buried close to Rajdhan Pass.
After the government’s repeated failures to bring Gurez valley on the tourism map, locals in this part of northern Kashmir have now launched an online #Go-Gurez trend on Twitter to promote the place as a tourist destination.
An initiative was started by newly appointed SDPO Sheikh Adil on his Twitter handle
According to news agency—Kashmir Post, to promote the tourism potential of Gurez valley after getting little attention from the government over the years, the Go-Gurez trend was first started by a newly appointed sub-divisional Police officer (SDPO), Sheikh Adil on his Twitter handle after which the many people supported the officer and took the initiative forward.
The snow-capped mountains, endless meadows, sparkling streams, Gurez is located on the line of control (LoC) witnesses’ heavy snowfall during the winter season and remains cut off from the rest of the valley for more than six months due to the closure of Bandipora-Gurez road.
Welcoming the police officer’s positive initiative, the locals said that the Valley has never received any attention from the government to promote it as a tourist destination.
“Some tourist huts were built here by the administration but were never used. It speaks volumes about the strategy of the government to promote tourism in the area,” locals said.
Murtaza, a local, said that the Gurez Valley has been enriched by nature but it needs a little attention from the government.
“The annual festival which helps the local economy has also not been held for the last two years,” he said.
Murtaza said that places between Bandipora and Gurez including Tragbal, which gives a shining view of Wular Lake, Razdan Top, located at an elevation of 12000 feet and a mosque of Peer-Baba are some of the places that need to be promoted.
“The more we can promote this valley, the more we will benefit from it. We thank our new police officer who has supported and started this Go-Gurez trend initiative so that we can get the people’s attention to the place,” Imtiyaz, another local said.