Gurez – Heaven Wrapped in Concertina

Gurez is heaven within a heaven but one cannot ignore the overarching presence of the armed forces and the concertina wires

Located about 130 kilometres from Srinagar, Gurez is a picturesque valley on the banks of the Kishanganga river. At about 2,400 meters (8,000 ft) above sea level, the valley is surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The Kishanganga River flows through the valley. The road to Gilgit runs through Gurez. British author Sir Walter Lawrence has called the Gurez Valley ‘one of the most beautiful scenes in all of Kashmir,’ where the tourmaline waters of the Kishanganga River are framed by ‘mountain scraps of indescribable grandeur.’ In the book, he wrote after travelling throughout the then princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.  For security reasons, from 1947 onwards the valley was declared off-limits to outsiders — meaning virtually everyone other than local tribespeople, the army or government workers were barred from travelling there. The ban lasted for 60 long years.

Checkpoints to Gurez

The valley comes under the Bandipora district. The road to Gurez from Srinagar is filled with breathtaking views and a jarring military presence. The road has three major checkpoints where anyone travelling to and fro Gurez. The first checkpoint is at a place called Tragbal about 97 kilometres from Srinagar. Every car is stopped and the details of the people travelling are noted in three different registers. One is asked to produce two different identity proofs usually an Aadhar card and a PAN card. The license number of the driver are noted separately. The details that are noted down include name, address, destination address, age, occupation, the purpose of visit etc. This exercise takes at least 20-25 minutes even when there is no other car at the checkpoint. A token is provided at the checkpoint which is to be submitted back while returning from the valley. This allows the forces to keep a track of all civilian movement in and out of Gurez. Curiously no women are allowed to get out of the car while all this is happening.  I will come to Gurez someday.

The next big checkpoint after Tragbal is at Kazalwan, just outside of Gurez. The same exercise is repeated at Tragbal where apart from the military the local police also note down the details of all the travellers and another token is provided that is to be submitted at the time of returning. Apart from these big checkpoints, there are multiple small checkpoints where one is stopped and questioned. 

For a population of almost 40 thousand people, the number of military personnel is humongous. There are multiple army camps scattered in the area along the Kishanganga. Taking a trip to Badoab was an experience in itself. Apart from the non-existent road, what stood out were the hundreds of meters of concertina along the banks of the river cutting off access to the river. Some of this concertina was around the existing army camps and some were left behind after moving a camp. The left-behind wire is a hazard in itself. Anyone from children to cattle can get stuck between the wires and potentially die. For an area that thrives on livestock, this can prove to be an economic hazard as well. 

The government is actively promoting Gurez as a tourist destination. In July this year, the government held a three-day Gurez festival that aimed to highlight the heritage and culture of the area. But the question remains to be asked that how many holidaying tourists would want to be frisked and stopped only to be frisked and stopped again after a few kilometres.

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