Gurez Valley in Kishenganga region of Himalayas is one of the most beautiful places in Jammu and Kashmir. Located very close to Srinagar valley, it is considered a high-tension area, because of the Line of Control between India and Pakistan crossing the valley.
The valley which was opened for public only in the year 2007, serves as home to an exotic variety of flora and fauna, including the snow leopard and elusive Himalayan Black Bear. Dawar is the main village in the region and is covered in snow for more than half a year. This remote natural beauty is located at an altitude of 8000 feet above sea level and can be visited between the months of June and August. In order to reach the valley, tourists can hire private vehicles from Srinagar.
Ultimate adventure destination to the north of Kashrnir, Gurez, is a gateway to the famous silk route across central Asia. The pyramid shaped peak named after famous Kashmiri poetess Habba Khatoon is the most fascinating peak of Kashmir. The emperor Yousuf Shah Chak who is said to be a Dard from Gilgit entered into Kashmir through Gurez. It is believed that when the emperor was imprisoned by King Akbar, his beloved Habba Khatoon used to wander near the peak to look for her lover. The roar of mighty Kishen-Ganga River flowing across the valley resonates with surrounding mountains to lull a visitor to sleep. The traditional log wood houses make Gurez no less than a European country side.
People of Gurez valley are Dards. They speak Sheena language and have their ancestral connection with Gilgit valley, now in Pakistan. The feature and attire of the Dards is similar to Kashmiri people of mountain region. Though Gurez is a far flung area but the people of the Dard race have uplifted themselves by hard work and proper education.
Dard women are fair with athletic built, who spend the summer collecting wood from mountains for the harsh winter; when it is impossible to move in the 20 feet snow outside.
The trekking routes from Gurez and Tilel lead up to Gangabal and Sonamorg to its east and Drass, Dahanu and Zanskar to its north.
The Kishen Ganga River in Gurez offers easy level of stream for rafting and the tough stream is from Tilel. Some of the mountains have a challenging scope for rock climbing.
Trout fishing is a frequent sport among locals who throw in a line to get a decent meal for the day. Anglers can be delighted to catch a brown trout in the Kishen Ganga River or the streams coming down from the mountains. Gurez has lovely camp sites where tents can be pitched near the river.
20 km from Gurez, the awesome villages of Tilel have log wood houses which add to the magnificent view of mountains full of pine and fir trees. The road from Gurez to Tilel is just seven years old, which has now been extended up to Drass in Kargil region.
The legend of Habba Khatoon
A beautiful and intelligent damsel of Saffaron village “Pampore” learnt holy Quran by heart at an early age and recited the Quranic verses in her sweet voice. Zoon “a moon” was daughter of a peasant who got her married to an illiterate peasant boy. Zoon was ill-treated by her mother-in-law and husband as she spent time in poetry and singing. Dejected by her plight she approached a “Peer” who changed her name to Habba Khatoon and presumed her as the queen of Kashmir.
The emperor of Kashmir Yousuf Shaohi Chak (18th century) was enamored by her beauty, intelligence and poetry. He got Habba Khatoon divorced and married her.
The musicians and singers of the royal court groomed her to be a complete poetess. Habba Khatoon contributed musical compositions, Sufiana kalams and Kashmiri songs.
“Meha karl schoi kith, poshe daswanoi, Chhou mean danai posh” (I have done up myself with flowers for you, relish the beauty of the flowers oh my love.)
Arrested by the army of Emperor Akbar, Yousuf Shah Chak breathed his last at Patna in Bihar and was buried there. This devastated Habba Khotoon. She wandered on the banks of River Jhelum, fields and valleys. Her songs uttered the words for lost love and said
“Ghoh choun wuchan gotti, aki latti yeham naa.” (I look for you oh my love in storms. I wish you to come once.)
Twenty years later the great poetess of Kashmir, Habba Khatoon, died in grief and sorrow and was buried in Athawajan. Her poetry still remains alive in the hearts of Kashmiri people. In fact, the first Kashmiri feature film Habba Khatoon was made 25 years ago. The famous film maker Muzzafar Ali also made repeat of the film “Zoon” few years back. Habba Khatoon continues to be a legend of Kashmir.
Location: North – East of Kashmir Valley, 142 km from Srinagar.
Best time to visit: May-Aug
How to reach: For seven hours journey Srinagar-Gurez, one has to take the Sumbal-Bandipur road. Bandipur town at a distance of 58 km offers spectacular view of famous Manasbal and Wular Lake. An uphill journey from Bandipur to Razdon pass 3300m has a breathtaking view where one can stop for a photo shoot. Shrine of Peer Bubo atop Razdon pass is looked after by the army regiment on duty in the Gurez region. The saint had come from Lahore in 1933 and was buried at Razdan pass.
The down hill road from Razdan reaches to the small village of Kunzalwan, where the border is just across the hills. A famous tributary of Jhelum – Kishen Ganga River with a length of 180 miles, rises in extreme eastern Tilel and flows westwards to be joined by Raman Sind and Burzil stream. Kishen Ganga River starts and re-enters Pakistan via Gurez valley. A plain road journey of more than an hour makes a way to the most spectacular view of Habba Khatoon peak (a limestone mountain) in Gurez.