The tourism activities in Gurez valley have come to halt now as the region is bracing up for the harshest part of winters that would last till March 2024. In the last seven months Gurez valley received a record 50000 tourists, the highest ever.
“On a daily basis we received on average 400 vehicles mostly carrying tourists that enter the Gurez valley,” the police officials at the entry post told The Legitimate.
Given the increased footfalls of the tourists, the locals are enthralled and the infrastructural landscape is gradually changing. Amidst the sky touching mountains, the road connecting the main market Gurez with the rest of the world is dotted with concrete structures, the majority of those are still under construction.
“This infrastructural development of the region has begun in the last three years following the increasing footsteps of tourists. We were running out of space and the people realized investing in the sector would return greater benefits,” said Sajjad Ahmad, a local hotel owner. Sajjad has converted his residential property into a tourist resort and is intending to expand it in coming times. “I would further expand my resort to enhance its capacity to ensure more tourists could be accommodated during the peak of season,” he plans.
The visit to Gurez valley is a rich experience where a tourist from mainland India doesn’t only enjoy the varied weather conditions but can interact and know about a distinct human tribe which share a history of 4000 to 5000 years and have valiantly fought enemies to retain their supremacy.
The Mahabharata has many shiloks dedicated to the tribe describing it as Dard Desh. “The Gurez was part of Dardistan that spans over Gilgit, Baltistan, Chitral, Khyber Pakhtun, Kailash and various other parts presently under the control of Pakistan. Certain parts are occupied by China. We have our own identity, culture, language and lifestyle,” said Tahir Mohiuddin, who works as a guide at Shina Cultural centre.
Tahir is disappointed with the poor knowledge of people regarding the region and says his tribe is being identified with the Kashmiris though they share nothing similar except religion.
“Over the past some time, people have visited this place and believe we too are Kashmiri people. But that is absolutely wrong and we are trying to educate people here about our region and identity that is as old as Kashmir though we are politically part of the Jammu Kashmir Union Territory. As Jammu is separated from Kashmir culturally, so is Gurez for its distinct culture, race and language,” he added.
Across the region, Shina is the dominant language though people also speak Kashmiri.
Post Article 370 abrogation, the Union government gave special attention to the region and continued with sustained campaigns to promote it on the tourism map. The main road from Bandipora which would remain blocked for weeks and continuously in winters is now widened and blacktopped. Of the total 80 kilometers from Bandipora, only few kilometers are left to blacktop and officials are optimistic that the target shall be achieved before the arrival of winter.
The total population of the valley is around 40000 souls and its substantial part has migrated to other parts of Kashmir to evade the harsh weather conditions and poor socioeconomic facilities.
Over the decades, scores of people who cracked civil service exams or have joined other government services either migrated to Srinagar or main Bandipora to ensure a brighter future for their coming generations. The trend, however, is reversed and the young population of the valley is no more interested in leaving their ancestral homes. Yasmeen Majeed-is a young woman who recently finished her post-graduation from Kashmir University. Following the completion of her studies she moved back to Gurez where she is working as a tourist guide at Shina Cultural Centre.
“I am not leaving the place but aiming to serve it in whatever capacity I can. Leaving this place means staying away from your roots and losing an identity which we can’t afford anymore,” she said. Yasmeen is preparing for civil services. “God willing, If I crack the exam I would prefer to stay connected with my roots and serve the people to stop this trend of migration to ensure our race, identity and culture is protected.
Her colleague Tahir is of the same opinion and also intends to stay rooted at his ancestral place. “This generation has made a mind of not leaving homes since our economy is now growing given the all-weather connectivity and increasing footfalls of tourists,” he said.
The economic growth of the area can be well gauged that hoteliers have been hiring people from Kashmir region. Adil Ahmad hails from the Baramulla district and is working at Gurez Knights hotel and restaurant. “I am not alone from Kashmir working here in the hotel industry. There are hundreds of youths from Kashmir hired by hoteliers in Gurez since they face huge manpower deficiency during the season,” he said.
With most of the tourists from the mainland having a passion to explore the virgin and offbeat tourist destinations, it is anticipated that Gurez is likely to receive a bumper tourism season in 2024 since the road connectivity has substantially been improved. The officials from various departments are working to improve the connectivity of the region and making tourist spots accessible in all weather conditions.
Sourav and his wife from West Bengal camped in Gurez for 3 days and termed their trip as memorable. “Me and my wife are always looking for offbeat destinations. When we were looking for options, we were hooked on some pictures of Gurez on the internet. After visiting the place, we could not expect more,” he said. Sourav and his wife have made many vlogs during their stay to promote the destination as one of the finest offbeat tracks.
Vanlalruati and his family arrived from Mizoram after one of their acquaintances informed them about the place. “The mighty but quiet mountains, gushing waters of tributaries of Kishanganga, simple but culturally rich people here have something magical to attract you. Our souls feel rejuvenated,” he said.
Shina Cultural centre
The Shina Cultural centre was set up by the army at the entry of the town on the banks of Kishanganga in August this year. State of the art center have many professional tourist guides who enlighten visitors with the region’s history, culture, geography and its languages. At the center, the locals have contributed some historical photographs, artefacts and many traditional dresses, ancient agricultural equipment. Further, the center also has mesmerizing photographs of some famous tourist destinations alongside the brief notes depicting its history, myths and reality. At the center, a 15 minutes stay would take you deep into one of the oldest civilizations and educate you about the past and contemporary Dardestan. Locals are thankful to the army for this centre where young boys and girls are provided all the possible material to research and learn about their civilization.