We were on the arduous journey to Gurez, a valley tucked deep in the Bandipore district of J&K, the turquoise blue waters of the Kishenganga river bisecting it between India and Pakistan. The inhabitants of the valley belong to the Shina-speaking Dard tribe, a mountainous people who have spent centuries in the Himalayas; a larger section of the tribe now living in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan. The isolation has been a boon, which has preserved the cultural heritage of the place.
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Gurez is a valley located deep in the high Himalayas, about 86 km from Bandipore/Bandipura and 133 km from Srinagar in northern part of Jammu and Kashmir. Gurez was part of ancient Dardistan, stretching from Sharada Peeth in the west, Minimarg in the north, Drass the east, and Baghtor in the south. The Gurez Valley falls along the section of the ancient Silk Route, which connected the Kashmir Valley with Gilgit continuing further to Kashgar.
Bandipora is situated on the banks of the Wular, the largest freshwater lake in Asia which is home to a lot of migratory birds. Inadvertent dumping of the polluted river waters and sewage affluence has led to a pandemic growth of algae in the waters of the Wular which is threatening the lake and its supporting life itself. The main source of pollution to Wullar Lake is Jehlum river. Jehlum river carries all the wastes from Srinagar city and other surrounding areas and deposits it in Wullar Lake. Despite being the richest wetland of South Asia and largest freshwater lake in Asia, no steps have been taken to save Wullar Lake. Bandipora is also a stepping town to the higher reaches of Razdan, Gurez and Tragbal.
When I first laid my eyes on this beguiling lake, my jaws dropped. I stood on the mountain peak opposite to the lake and was wonder struck by its beauty. It was hard to believe and I pinched myself to check if I was dreaming. I had never come across such a gorgeous water body in my entire life. It was stunningly scenic with mountains on one side and the sun shining bright. The sun rays were shimmering on the water making it look magnificent.
Tarsar is one of the brightest blues, if not THE brightest blue, I have seen in nature so far. Add to that the horses lazing and grazing on the meadow covered with cinquefoils, the whispering wind, the lake's crystal-clear water splashing on the rocks—the effect is hypnotic. It's not for no reason that the Tarsar-Marsar trek is also called the ‘Paradise Trek’. Trekkers, don't miss this one.
As we packed our tents and got ready everyone were drowned in their own thoughts. Few were anxious to reach the base camp and many more were saddened that the trek had come to an end. With mixed feelings we started our final leg of the trek. I bid one final goodbye to Mt. Harmukh which stood head high in all magnificence.The trail started with a small ascent and then it opened into meadows where we started to bump into people.The feeling of trek had passed and it was more like a walk through the forest. How mistaken I was to think this way! Post lunch the actual challenge began.The initial descent was steep and full of rocks with slippery sand. Many had their first, second and innumerable falls here.The trail got steeper as the time progressed and the knees were abused to glory. One was forced to descend without stopping as legs had started to shiver in agony. After four hours of descent we reached Naranag. It took a couple of minutes to adjust to the voices around and realize we were back into the civilization. An aura of accomplishment filled the room and everyone burst into loud cheers!!!
This was one of the most beautiful campsites.The Nundkol lake lies at the base of the Harmukh peak. The Harmukh glacier hangs on the the sides of the rocky edges of the mountain. Both the Gangabal and Nundkhol are famous for trout fishing. Several trekkers, trek up from Naranag side to camp at Ganagbal Twin lakes.
While the rest of the country stops in Srinagar in Kashmir, Gurais Valley remains untrodden and exquisite. The off-season is the best time to visit this place, so that you can have a closer look at the natural beauty around. The Kishenganga flows fearlessly across the valley and you can experience tranquility watching the Habba Khatoon peak all covered in pristine white snow! Truly spectacular, this off season place to visit in India, will leave you breathless!The nearest airport is in Srinagar and you can reach there by hiring a taxi from Srinagar (123 km).
Some things that mesmerised me about Srinagar were the Houseboats and back waters of Dal Lake. A shikara ride till one of the houseboats in the lake is an experience that is a must in a lifetime. As the Shikara passed through the various channels, we passed many houseboats which were managed by sincere dexterity by the locals. Kingfishers and other birds become a frequent sight once past the house boats into the backwaters. The kingfishers sit on the tops of houseboats nonchalantly almost within the touching distance of humans who seem to be equally unmindful of the birds. We moved further into the calm waters of Anchar Lake where we were in a totally different world, no crowd of boats, no motor boat engines to be heard and the mood was different altogether. It felt almost like we actually were in Venice, just with a lot of fauna instead of architectural structures.
Next day we drove towards Sheikhpura Tuleil. Sheikhpura is one of the hamlets on the banks of River Kishenganga called Neelam by our neighbours Pakistan. there is a bridge which connects the village and around a dozen houses some red in color and some wooden. The village is free from pollutants seen always in towns and cities. No television, No coverage and food so tastty you would want to eat your fill.In short If your soul aches for serenity and solitude, for crisp fresh air and a surround which will remind you of your first love. Then Gurez is a must.
Next stop on this tour with the two girls was Jamia Masjid.For those looking for a silent spot to spend a great afternoon, this sacred shrine in the centre of the city can be a great hideout. Even for those who don't believe in God, the aura of Jamia Masjid evokes a certain calmness and it would find a place in your travel recollections for years to come.