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 snow-capped mountains. Due to heavy snowfall, the valley remains cut off for around six months in a year. The road to the Gurez Valley is broken and difficult, but the stunning scenery and the majestic Habba Khatoon peak make it completely worth the pain. Special permission is required to tread into this valley that can be obtained from the police station at Bandipur, which is on the way to Gurez.Location: Around 123km from Srinagar, through the Bandipura and Razdhan PassHow To Get Here: Get a shared taxi for Rs 250 from SrinagarWhere To Stay: At the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation hotel in Dawar or tents in GurezTulail Valley
Gangabal Lake is the highest lake in the Kashmir Valley fed by surrounding majestic glaciers. It is an alpine high altitude lake that flows into the nearby Nundkol Lake, which is equally beautiful. The lake is located midway on the Kashmir Great Lakes trek that takes you on an exclusive trek around the lakes in the region.
Surrounded by Pir Panjal ranges, Dal Lake has been globally known for its natural beauty, serenity, houseboats, Shikaras, floating markets, floating gardens and many more things. After Wular Lake, it is the second largest lake of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Being an integral part of state’s tourism sector, it is often called as ‘The Jewel on the Crown of Kashmir’. The 15.5 km long shorelines of the lake is encompassed by commercial and tourists places like Boulevard Road, Dal Gate, Nishat Bagh, Shalimar Bagh, Hazrat Bal and large numbers of houseboats and hotels. From the wooden balconies of the houseboats of Dal Lake, tourists can enjoy breathtaking views of snow capped mountain ranges of Himalaya, sunset, bird life, and cruising Shikaras and so on and so forth.
The almond-shaped Tarsar Lake in the Kashmir Valley is yet another majestic spectacle on the Great Lakes Trek. The lake is separated from its twin waterbody Marsar by a mountain. The lakes are surrounded by the Kolahoi mountain. Located at 14,000ft of elevation, these twin lakes are some of the most stunning high altitude lakes in India that have become a haven for trekkers.
Along the trail of the lakes of Kashmir, lies another high altitude lake of India called Gadsar Lake or the Yemsar Lake. It is also known as the 'lake of flowers' owing to the blossoming flowers along the route during the summer season. The name Gadsar in Kashmiri means the lake of fishes. The lake is named so because of the abundance of trout fish here.
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.
The river Krishanganga flows adjacent to the untouched land of Gurais. Through scattered villages on the hills and inhabited slopes, you reach Gurais; pristine and natural. The beauty cannot be questioned of the tiny cottages built in the shade of the Deodar trees. The ever smiling locals always ready to welcome new people and available guest houses solve the problems of a safe stay in the valley. Gurais is just another valley unexplored and undiscovered by the touristy flock of the country who otherwise rush to Srinagar. Travel to Gurais and enjoy the ultimate silence. The road to Gilgit also goes through Gurais; Permits are required to travel here.
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.
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 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.