Gurez: The Forlorn Paradise on Earth
The history & the Etymology of the word ‘Gurez’
It is said that people from the Valley of Kashmir and other places used Gurez as a resting place while going to Northern areas and Central Asia and China via great Silk Road, in connection with their trade and even while on way to Hajj pilgrimage.
BY: Dr Zulfikar Siddiqui
Gurez arguably is most picturesque piece of land having abundance of mesmerising beauty which enthrals its visitors. It will be genuine to call the place as fairyland. It is a closed valley covered with high mountains some of which remain snow bound and others lush green adding to the beauty of the area. Gurez has a rich past but strangely its inhabitants seem unaware of that. The people here have remained socially and educationally backward for varied reasons. This has resulted in their ignorance for their historical lineage and innocence towards their past. They are generally found completely unaware of their past and sans the knowledge of their lineage. Moreover, the common people of Gurez are even unaware of the etymology of its name ‘Gurez’. Neither most of the people here know anything about the great ‘Silk Route’. This was revealed during our interaction with the educated young and old, some of them were retired teachers. However, they tell many stories to answer your question regarding the nature and background of the word Gurez and the origin of its people. There I remembered the story from ‘Thomas King’ where a girl in the audience asked about the turtle and the earth to the speaker. If the earth was on the back of a turtle, what was below the turtle? Another turtle, the storyteller told her. And below that turtle? Another turtle. And below that? Another turtle. The girl began to laugh, enjoying the game.
Likewise on asking about the origin of the people living in this beautiful valley and how have they reached this place, they have different answers and numerous stories to substantiate their arguments. To my understanding what I found in their stories is a narrative tradition dominating their culture. Being a closed valley having most of its inhabitant’s illiterate with no much work load and in view of long winters which force them to stay indoors, storytelling has sustained to remain their main passion.
In Thomas King’s work on the narrative traditions of aboriginal people of North America, he consistently points to the importance of the story to identity. As he says, “It is all we have”. One story can be told an infinite number of ways, each story teller giving his own unique twists and flavours to its orality and reception. He illustrates this beautifully in his book, ‘The Truth About Stories’ where every chapter begins the same: “There is a story I know. It is about the earth and how it floats in space on the back of a turtle. I have heard this story many times, and each time someone tells the story it changes. Sometimes the change is simply in the voice of the storyteller. Sometimes the change is in the details. Sometimes it is in the order of events”. However as the story continues, there are slight twists in each chapter, as each one is initiated by a new storyteller telling the same narrative to a different audience in a different location.
This is exactly what I found in Gurez. Elders have their own way of telling the story of their origin, young people have their own and the labour class has altogether a different way to tell you the same thing.
One of the stories they relate about their origin goes like this; that they were a part of the Dardistan community living in the Hindu Kush Mountains. Their tribe for some dispute were pushed out of the area and remained wandering till they reached this place which had no name till they settled here. Being one and indigenous community speaking Dard-Sheena language decided to develop this area as their final abode. Afterwards some people from Kashmir Valley in a bid to escape from the brutalities of their rulers especially the forced labour (Beggar), the custom commonly prevalent in Kashmir those days, came here and settled in some hamlets like Baktoor, Tar-Bal and even in Dawar.
The name they gave to this place is actually ‘Goew-Haray’ and has some meaning in Dard-Sheena language which later was distorted and became ‘Gurez’. In Dard-Sheena language ‘GoewHaray’ which is the combination of two words ‘Goew’ meaning Cow and ‘Haray’ meaning a yard fenced with dry tree twigs where cattle are kept. However, the English travellers who have visited the place and have admired its beauty in their writings used the word ‘Gurais’. For instance in his book ‘Thirty years in Ksshmir’ Arthur Naïve mentions the name ‘Gurais’ for this place.
Gurez the main stoppage enroute Silk Route:
It is said that people from the Valley of Kashmir and other places used Gurez as a resting place while going to Northern areas and Central Asia and China via great Silk Road, in connection with their trade and even going on Haj pilgrimage. Likewise the traders from the Northern Areas and Central Asia coming to the Valley Kashmir used to stay here in Gurez for some time. It is believed that the large Carvans carrying goods were going to Hindustan via this route only through Kashmir. The elders here confirm having witnessed goods being carried on camel, horses and donkeys from Central Asia to the Kashmir Valley. Therefore, it can be inferred that this place might have an importance during those days being the main resting place before crossing the Razdan Pass. By such activities the place might have remained abuzz with the business activities taking place all around. It could also be possible that Gurez might have been a place where the exchange of goods or things even traded between the Kashmir’s and the Central Asian traders.
Dard-Sheena is the language spoken by the inhabitants of whole Gurez Valley. Though it is difficult to know the roots of this language which even till date has no written script available. However, it is presumed that the language might have carved out from Sanskrit and Persian. There are numerous words of these two ancient languages found in Dard-Sheena language. There are programmes aired from Radio Kashmir and different Radio stations of Pakistan in Dard Sheena language which include songs, discussions and even dramas and features but it is unknown where from this language originated and how. It is also argued by some scholars like Prof. Mohiudin Hajini that this language is the mother of Kashmiri Language, however; this argument could not be substantiated by any solid evidence.
The original religion of Dards, the people living in Gurez Valley as they are commonly known as, is unknown, however; it is believed that with the advent of Sadaats under the command of Hazrat Sayeed Ali Hamadani, from Central Asia in pursuit of propagation of Islam, some of them after visiting Ladakh and Northern areas and while wandering in Dardistan might have come to this place and propagated the faith of Islam. This is substantiated by the presence of the shrines of these Sadaats like Baba Dervesh, Baba Razaq, located in Fakir Pora, Baba Masoom Shah located in Chorwan hamlet and some un-named shrine in Baktoor hamlet of Gurez Valley. These Sadaats have played a pivotal role in propagating Islam in whole of Gurez Valley. Even when Shams-Ud-Din Iraqi who was a Shia by faith, came to this place, he was not allowed to propagate Shiat in this area by Baba Dervesh. He however was requested to go straight to Kashmir Valley. This is the reason that the people here in Gurez Valley are hundred percent Muslim and Hanafi in Maslak.
It is interesting that the name of Kanzilwan; the first major village of Gurez, is also mentioned in the Tareek-I Saadat-I Simnania in connection with the historical account of their advent into the Valley of Kashmir.
It appears genuine on the face of the facts that these people have never been given the chance of any kind to develop themselves. They remained illiterate working like donkeys to earn their livelihood. Their only concern is how to sustain life in the winters which always are harsh and lengthy. They get barely three to four months to make all this to happen.
People generally are illiterate. Many of them work for the Indian Army in different capacities for different jobs. Agricultural activity is limited and seasonal given the mountainous topography and harsh winter conditions prevailing in the area. Some people are involved in extracting the herbs from the local forests, though illegally. The whole Valley sans any kind of genuine development. It looks as if there is no Government to look after the development and day to day affairs of this forlorn Valley. Its people blame the different ruling regimes, though genuinely, for their backwardness. The condition of people in general and those living in the distant hamlets of this beautiful Valley in particular is pathetic. After arriving here it looks as if one has landed in stone-age era.
People are very simple and straight forward. The standard of living is very low. However, the younger generation especially the ones who go to School and college, seem to be following the trends of those living in modern cities. People in general are sober and simple. The houses in general are made of wooden planks which are mud plastered from within to make them air tight. Most of these houses have the lower storey for the cattle and upper storey is used by the inmates of the house. This not only keeps the cattle warm during the winters but also provide enough heat to keep the inmates warm above. However, the inherent hygienic problems are there and the people remain unaware of them.
On our inquiry we find the patients in the hospital at Dawar with minor ailments. We were told that people use the herbs procured from local forests for different ailments which keep their health generally good. We were also told by the doctors in the hospital that there are very less number of patients having serious health problems. The number of cancer and other deadly disease patients is negligible in the whole area. However, in the past tuberculosis was very common in the area which might have been the direct result of the fossil fuel burning in the air tight kitchens especially during winters. The disease has been controlled and there is good awareness among the people about this disease now.
The whole Gurez Valley is rich in its natural beauty which needs to be exploited for promotion of Tourism here. Conducting of tourism festivals at very small level is not going to boost the industry. I wonder why the department of tourism has failed in promoting this area which has everything to appeal tourists as far as the natural beauty is concerned. This is also a fact that there is lack of interest on part of the Government as is reflected in non availability of basic tourist infrastructure in the area. Gurez being the Boarder area could be one of the reasons for its non promotion as the tourist destination. Being strategically located the army may not be supportive for promoting this valley as a tourist spot. They may not like people to come to this place in large numbers because this could pose a security threat as the area is sensitive. This may increase the load on already over burdened army to maintain the vigil on the people and their movement.
There is rhetoric on part of the Government for promotion of Boarder Tourism and opening of more routes to the other part of the Kashmir. Government should initiate the process of promoting this area as a beautiful tourist destination taking the army in confidence. It should also exploit the possibilities of opening the route which lead to Astoor in PoK. This will surely boost the local economy which in turn could help to raise the living standard of these innocent, friendly but poor people.
(The author is an environmentalist & a reputed traveller and mountaineer. He can be mailed at email@example.com)