Rashmi Talwar

Rural Tourism bounties in Gurez

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Gurez is an aviary-rich area, with a wealth of exotic and rare birds. For bird lovers and pages of National Geographic, it is truly a treasure house. Bird watching alongside wildlife watching, village walks, village stays, forest showers, and exploring avian habitats and habits, could make an interesting circuit.

 – Photographic and Painting Tourism: As many as 90-select artists from world-over, under the umbrella of ‘Kalaarambh’ residential workshop’, mentored artists, in Srinagar and continued to Sonmarg and Pahalgam creating ‘En plein air’ – the French words for ‘live outdoor painting’. Gurez can easily become a prime destination and host for ‘En Plein air’ Photography and Painting. It can also become an annual limited Terminus for book festivals like in Kasauli, Music Fests and Dance and Drama fests.

– Celebrity Tourism: Celebrities add to the intrigue of a place. Remember the super hit film –Betaab, starring the debut pair of Sunny Deol and Amrita Singh. The location of the shooting is named ‘Betaab valley’ after the film, and is the biggest attraction in Pahalgam- ‘the village of Shepherds’. Similarly, Ashmuqam- the Sufi shrine on the way to Pahalgam became a tourist attraction by a Qawwali filmed in Bajrangi Bhaijaan, another super hit film. Film Haider made famous the ruins of the Martand Sun temple of Mattan. The Bollywood film industry possesses the largest cache of celebrities. Our entertainment industry is our biggest asset and Bollywood holds the ropes to promote a destination. Gurez needs just one biggie of Bollywood to shoot in these lovely vales.

Gender tourism is catching with a ‘Hen trip’ or the All-girl-trip, alternately a ‘Stag-trip’ read as ‘All-boys-trip’ becoming hip. Gurez is geared for both photo-op locales and sites, besides adventure and real-time roughing it in

Nuptial or wedding tourism- Gurez is perfect for a pre-wedding shoot or an exotic adventure type wedding with guests putting up in tents and celebrations along the river. A jetty on the wide riverside could add to the celebrations.  

Gurez is also suitable for some other niche segments of Tourism like-   

Astro-Tourism, related to stargazing, chasing meteor showers, eclipses, or simply soaking in the sights of an illuminated night sky, is boosted by  Science Travel companies.

High altitude living Tourism- Relates to the experience of living at a high altitude with local hosts.

Wellness Tourism- Organic vegetables, purest, air, water, and everything else, who couldn’t get well in Gurez.

Adventure Gurez  

Angling or Fishing is charming in Gurez, and Gurez boasts of the best Trout including Rainbow Trout and Brown Trout.  Gurez could position itself as a hotspot, to become a part of the bigger Angling Tourism circuit, which could be enhanced with rural stays and rural fish cooking. 

Camping: Hamlets Badoab and Badi Daas in Wanpura are popular camping sites, along the Kishanganga’s floodplain. Sheikhpora’s camping is also picking up.  

Paragliding: Three test flights were conducted in Gurez and Razdan top during the visit of the Divisional Commissioner and the potential to develop Gurez as a paragliding node was showcased to the Civil Administration. Some adventure companies Such as ‘PG Gurukul’ in Bir billing have taken up a case for the development of Razdan Top as a paragliding node. However, it is learned that the response from the Civil Administration was slack.

Rafting: The naughty rapids of the Kishanganga River, present a huge natural advantage for Gurez as a Rafting node. Earlier initiatives in rafting in Gurez could not be sustained due to the lack of a nodal agency such as TDA or Tourism Development Authority.

Winter tourism:

With approximately 20-25 feet of snow, the slopes of Gurez could turn delightful with skiing, sledding, Snowboarding, tyre-sledging, ski jumps, Ice fishing, and what they call Kashmiri -Sheen Aab Jung’-Snow-fighting. Gurez’s flatland is favorable for snow cricket, Ice skating, synchronized skating, Ice Hockey, and snow volleyball. Adding vigor to Tourism could mean snow-mobiling, and snow-scooters. The milder ones, easy on senses could lead to age-old snowman making, snow-village figure making, ice sculpting, competitions, and igloo-making.

Snow Adventure:  The Army has been taking initiatives to train locals in skiing and to develop Gurez as a winter sports destination for tourists and skilled youth to become tourist trainers as an employment-generating activity.

Rock climbing: The abundance of limestone rock faces and steep cliffs in Gurez makes it a climber’s heaven. This sport is unexplored and the introduction of this sport will ensure a surge in foreign as well as regional adventure enthusiasts.

Trekking:Treks from Gurez and Tuleil leading to Gangabal and Sonmarg to the East and Drass, Dahanu, Zanskar to the North. To my mind, Gurez could also follow in the lines of the famed ‘Chaddar trek’ following the route of the frozen Kishanganga River with snow trekking and snow-climbing frozen waterfalls too. Gurez accounts for numerous unexplored treks like Patalwan, Harmukh, Vishansar, Gadsar, and Vigi Gali, for the lifetime experience of the pristine beauty of Gurez valley.  Indian Army in collaboration with Boots and Crampons (An international trekking company) organized a Jashn-e-Azadi Trek to Patalwan Lakes in August last year, revealed Commandant Col Abhinav Goel, and added –“these treks have exclusivity”.

Water adventure: White river rafting, parasailing, canoeing, kayaking, and water skiing are already on the cards. Others like water-ball, (in upper lakes), speed boat tours in silent waters surrounded by lofty cliffs, and many innovations could be explored.

Other than that: Backpacking, hiking, mountaineering, mountain biking, and of course horse riding, rock climbing, zorbing, and haystack rides could have potential.

Short takes on an unusual adventure  

o   Flying fox adventure

o   Caving

o   Zipline adventure

o   Hot air ballooning

Gurez’s Drawbacks and Development needs to boost Tourism

I feel developing Gurez as a tourist destination is insurance against unemployment, abandonment, and mass migration. In fact, many rural spaces are facing the flight of youth from villages. With a tourism boost, locals especially youth would be propelled to create self-employment opportunities and quash plans of abandoning Gurez, and stop labeling it backward. This is also vital to keep the border area alive with human habitation.

Roads to Gurez: Are in a dismal condition, especially the descent from Razdan pass to Dawar. Thereon, roads are worse from Dawar to Tulail which are the most picturesque locales of the valley. The Centre is also keen to open the road from Chakwali to Kaobal Gali that would connect the Drass sector with Gurez, thus helping in the mobility of people using the all-weather Zojilla tunnel to remain connected to the world despite heavy snows and closure of high altitude passes. Roads are the first ideation to formulate tourist interest. Improving road infrastructure is the key to an exponential rise in tourist footfall in Gurez.

Power 24×7: Of utmost importance is the 24×7 Power supply to Gurez.

Locals also demand the establishment of a Tourism Development Authority (TDA) to supervise and ensure the completion of projects in right earnest.

Upgradation of medical setup: in Gurez is a top priority, which includes setting up a dedicated hospital with a blood bank, surgeons, gynecologists, dentists, and other specialists.

Tourism Police: may sound inane now, but while trying to boost tourism it is important to have a managing and redressal authority for benefit of all stakeholders.

Waste Disposal:If we are looking at setting up Tourism in a significant way, a proper waste disposal system in consonance with a sensitive zone with growing needs for waste management, should be a priority before heaps of garbage becomes unmanageable or areas turn into garbage dumps. For this garbage, gobbling bacteria could be used. The country folk must be oriented towards proper ways of waste disposal and make it an issue equivalent to ‘worship’ to keep their ‘Jannat’ waste-free. At present, the installation of dustbins at strategic locations with locals as guides and eyes and ears for tourists to not litter anywhere could go a long way.

Soft Loans: Expecting more tourists, needs a sound and environmentally friendly development plan in terms of accommodation infrastructure preferably homestays and campsites. Soft loans, to the villagers to add living quarters, to existing structures, in a planned fashion are required.  House-holders must be First aid trained /and possess simple English language skills. Tutoring and monitoring locals on hospitality, sanitation, and homestay provisions could be the task of civic authorities.

Signage and Maps: Installation of signage, direction, and milestones besides village and township maps could be very useful in identifying places in a jiffy as the internet’s Google map could be erratic and power-consuming.

Dedicated Heli: A Dedicated Chopper service for winter’s sorties would lift winter tourism in a big way.

Modular Bio-Toilets: Temporary modular or pre-fabricated collapsible bio-toilets & shower cubicles with Timer-fittings could greatly help tourists, especially those staying in the wild.

Create Stories: Regular Recce on all tours and treks imaginatively exploring focal points out of mountain shapes, adds to the beautiful stories of the place.  For instance –“A rock formation creates the impression of an elephant now a tourist attraction as the “Elephant Rock” of Iceland.

Employability Promotion and establishment of small-scale agro, handicraft, or any non-polluting industries could prove a shot in the arm to local incomes. Besides which civic authorities could set up self-help groups that could air problems and mutually support each other.

Facilities: There is only one ATM available and travellers avoid carrying too much cash during travel. Establishing more ATMs, bank branches, and petrol pumps need to be a priority. Allowing only small batches of tourists to ensure quality services, assistance, and long-term benefits of good publicity.

Security employment:  Employing village youth for security needs.

Mementos Shop: Rural gift shops could be a big hit with tourists who love to take a piece of the place for posterity. Gift items or some related to ‘particular’ niche tours could boost up huge job potential and income resources. Example ‘Fishing Tour’ could have trout fish look-alike key-rings, trout-shaped penholders, or trout fish-shaped earrings, car hangings, wildflowers or mini-fish glass paperweights, T-shirts, caps, etc. Architectural or Heritage Tourism may have miniature Gurezi houses as gift items, or textile bags or caps or T-shirts displaying the route of the Architectural circuit. Winter sports Tourism could sell miniature papier mache skis or sleds. While traditional wicker, wood carvings, and other handicrafts could also be promoted.

Return Journey

The return journey could be equally enriching with a break at the serene Mansabal Lake. A tiny ancient Shiv Temple in Kashmiri architecture just outside the entrance of the lake sits waiting for devotees and tourists. The temple is barricaded and heavily guarded with grilled exteriors alongside guards to protect it as it innocently sits in a trout swimming water bath, as temples in Kashmir typically do. Another divine destination is ‘Kheer Bhawani’ the most revered Kashmiri Pandit Temple shrine about 25-Kms from Srinagar; where, the shade of the water, in June’s famed mela, is an indicator of ‘times to come’, in Kashmir. It is said that in times of militancy in 1990 the water in the holy pool turned dark and black indicating an ominous time ahead. In years that went peaceful the water was milky white or pale blue predicting times for good health of man and bounty in nature.

Last Word

Walter Lawrence’s ‘The Valley of Kashmir’ describes Gurez of late 1800s  

In late 1800s, Commissioner of Kashmir, Sir Walter Roper Lawrence wrote- “Perhaps Pahalgam, the village of the shepherds that stands at the head of the Liddar valley with its healthy forest of pines, and Gurez, 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. Gurez 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 are mountains. 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.”

The valley remains open to tourists from May to October. The best time to visit Gurez is from late June to mid-August.  Other months too are spectacular scenically but bit difficult. However a heli-day trip is ideal.

(NOTE: More to come in Monday issue).



Rashmi Talwar, can be contacted at: [email protected]




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