Travelling in Kashmir is quite different from travelling in many parts of the country. Firstly the misconception tourists carry that travelling in this region is unsafe. From all my years and experience of travelling in Kashmir, one thing I have understood is that nobody troubles the tourists – not the locals, not the army, in fact tourists have it easier than Kashmiris in Kashmir. Other deterrents are lack of phone network in certain parts of the state, and lack of great content on the internet about lesser known places.
Our founder, Neeraj Narayanan a.k.a Captain Nero went to Gurez soon after leading a group trek to Tarsar Marsar. What was supposed to be a two day leisure trip, got extended to five days, and Neeraj and his friends fell in love with Gurez completely. On His Own Trip will start organizing group trips to Gurez from the summer of 2022.
In Nero’s words, “Gurez doesn’t really know whether it wants to be a Ladakh or a Kashmir. It doesn’t really know if it wants to be barren and bare, or lush and green. It is confused if it wants to be a rugged alpha male or a pretty girl. So it decided ‘why choose, when I can be both Ladakh and Kashmir.”
Gurez is, to put it simply, surreal. Cast your eye in one direction and you see tall brown mountains. Look over to the other side and you see green meadows, a river snaking through and houses dotted red and brown on the landscape. You will see snow capped peaks in the distance, a river that mysteriously changes colour from blue to grey, sunsets that render the sky gold and pink, flowers that spring wildly orange, white and yellow. Gurez is like a painting, and its fitting that its one of the remotest parts of the country – for one should really have to go some distance to see something beautiful”
Here is a complete guide to Gurez Valley.
A.Is it Safe to Travel to Gurez? Can solo travellers/girls go to Gurez?
As mentioned above, it is safe to travel to almost all parts of Kashmir whether you are a group of tourists, solo travellers, boy or girl. As much or less as any other part of India. The locals are mostly very warm towards tourists, especially in Gurez where they are very curious as not many visitors come to the valley.
Girls, a point to note. One doesn’t see many local girls in the streets of Gurez, unless they are out for some work or to buy something.
B. How to reach Gurez Valley:
Gurez is about 86 kms from Bandipore and 123 kms from Srinagar. You can hire a private vehicle from Srinagar and it’ll take about 5-6 hours to reach the Valley. If you want to use public transport, take a bus to Bandipore from Srinagar, and from Bandipore take another bus to Dawar village in Gurez.
Midway between Bandipore and Gurez, you will cross the highest point on the route – Razdan Pass. At an altitude of 3550 metres (11,627 feet), it offers gorgeous views of the mountains and gorges around. There is some incorrect information on the internet that the route/road is scary/dangerous. It’s a smooth mountain road, and there is nothing to worry about.
During winters, Razdan pass receives heavy snowfall, and is closed for six months.
Note: As of now, there is only one bus journey from Bandipore to Gurez and back, every day.
You can also go to Gurez from Srinagar by helicopter. The service is available only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, both ways. The ride is only 35 minutes long. The booking can be done either at the airport, or at the TRC office, Rajbagh, Srinagar. At TRC, go to H block (2nd floor). Helicopter is the only way to reach Gurez during winters.
C. Best time to Visit Gurez Valley:
Gurez receives heavy snowfall in winter. Even the passes leading upto it receive a lot of snowfall, so its shut for six months in a year. The valley remains open to tourists from May to October. The best time to visit Gurez is from late June to mid August.
D. Documents needed to visit Gurez Valley:
Domestic tourists wont face any hassles while visiting Gurez. There are many army checkposts, starting from Razdan Pass but all tourists need to do is show their Aadhar Card.
E. Internet in Gurez Valley:
Till 2020, there was no internet in Gurez (or minimal). Now, the Valley is connected by Jio network. Airtel, Vodafone, Idea will not work at all in Gurez, but Jio works perfectly with 4G data. Every village in Gurez and Tulail have their own Jio tower, and there is superb connectivity.
Note: None of the hotels in Gurez have WIFI.
F. Where to stay in Gurez Valley:
The first major village that you shall reach once you enter the valley is Dawar. It makes most sense to stay here as the other villages are much smaller. Dawar’s probably the only village in the region with a proper market, access to ATMs, access to cab service. There aren’t any proper hotels in the other villages as well.
You wont find any luxurious hotels in Dawar or anywhere in Gurez. Please understand that it’s a remote area, with almost nascent tourism. But you will find 4-5 hotels in Dawar, that provide decent amenities, and fulfill regular requirements.
We stayed at the Kaka Palace in Dawar. Other hotels in the area are Hotel Grand Gurez, The Wood Vibes, and Gurez Retreat. There is also the JKTDC run TRC hotel in Dawar.
Nero’s reccos : Since we stayed at the Kaka Palace, its easier for me to recommend this property. It’s a 8-10 room double storey hotel, with a mix of double rooms and triple rooms. They have delux and super delux category where the latter are all on the higher floor. The property has an in-house restaurant. Run by Mr Mohammed Younis and his brother Eijaz, the two have tried to put Gurez on the tourist circuit. The staff is polite and try their best to help you with everything. They organize fun get togethers in the evenings and post dinner, and the rawness of it all will make you smile.
I did visit the TRC guesthouse as well, but just like many other state run tourist guest houses, the maintenance of rooms is very shoddy. They have a huge space, a beautiful garden that is proudly maintained by an old caretaker. But the rooms are small and not well maintained.
Wood Vibes hotel has a modern feel to it. Similarly priced to Kaka Palace.
G. Where to eat in Dawar/ Gurez:
There aren’t any cafes in Dawar village or any where in Gurez Valley. There are small dhabas and joints posing as restaurants. But they all serve Kashmiri food. There is a small restaurant called Nurani, and though it looks like a small dhaba, they gave us delicious food. They charge by number of pieces of chicken/mutton you eat, and we were surprised that when some portion of our food was left over, they did not add it to the overall bill and only charged us for the pieces we ate. The same practice is followed in a couple of other restaurants as well.
At the market, there are local thelas selling fried chicken and kebabs. If you like non veg, you must try the Tuji and Seekh kebab. Ask the seller for some dahi and chutney. Yum!
H. Places to visit in Gurez Valley:
There are a few points you must not miss out on at all during your Gurez Valley trip. Let me rank them in the order that we liked (most liked top most)
1.The Kishanganga river : Flanked by tall imposing mountains on both sides, the Kishanganga river is the heart of Gurez, flowing languidly. It merges with the Jhelum near the Line of Control, and is knows as the Neelum river in Pakistan. At its best, the colour of the Kishanganga is a startling turquoise blue, very unlike the colour of usual long rivers. With the rains and the mud they bring along, it changes colour often to grey and clear. We were lucky enough to see it absolutely turquoise when we entered Gurez, and it was one of the highlights of the trip.
2.Khandiyal Point: If you are driving from Gurez market towards the sole petrol bunk, turn left after it and wind up the mountain. At the top of the hillock, known as Khandiyal Point, you will see beautiful 360 degree views of the mountains, the lake (far in the distance it appears very blue) and Dawar town and nearby villages. From here there are walking trails going high up the mountains, and you can go for a hike if you have the time.
3. Habba Khatoon Mountain and spring: In some ways, the Habba Khatoon peak is the soul or symbol of Gurez. It’s named after a poetess, Habba Khatoon (1554 – 1609). Born and raised in Pampore, she fell in love with the emperor of Kashmir, Yousuf Shah Chak. They got married but in 1579, Akbar captured the king and imprisoned him in Bihar. Habba became an ascetic and wandered around the valley for years, penning down many songs of sorrow and separation.
The peak can be see right from the time you enter Gurez. Its perfect pyramid shape makes it stand out from the other mountains around. In the evenings, as daylight changes to dusk and twilight, it becomes grey and pink and silver. There is a small spring (locally known as Chashma) nearby that flows with tremendous force and joins the river. Visiting the spot is easy, its only 3-4 kms from main town.
4.Tulail Valley: Reserve a day on your trip to visit Tulail Valley. There are dozens of villages on either side of the dusty highway when you leave Gurez and go further ahead. One side is absolutely bare, barren and brown. The other side of the highway is green, a river flows merrily, and you can see wooden houses with sloping roofs dotting the landscape. Perhaps the most popular of the villages in Tulail is Angaikot, and tourists usually head there but it’s a three four hour drive from Dawar. In Tulail, most people don’t know Hindi and converse in theirl language -Shina (the language of the Dardic tribe)
5. River bank: At night, go sit by the river for some time. The sky is very very clear and you will spot a few shooting stars easily.
I. Treks in Gurez Valley:
A few websites suggest that tourists aren’t allowed to go trekking in Gurez, but that’s incorrect. There are treks organized to Madhumati lake (four days) and a longer trek starting in Tulail goes till Gangbal and Naranag (7 nights).
J. People of Gurez:
The locals usually get excited to see tourists, as not a lot of people visit this valley. We often found small throngs of boys standing a few feet away from us, whenever we would visit a shop or eat at a stall. People are super friendly and curious and would help if you ask anything. We were invited to houses for chai and food, but that is a hallmark feature of Kashmiri hospitality.