We are in love with Kashmir :). It was second time that we decided to back-pack in Kashmir and we again returned with our souls full of Kashmir’s fragrance and aroma. Kashmir’s blissful beauty and simplicity of its people always give you a sense of belongingness and we carry a part of it entrenched deep inside us even long after leaving this heavenly land.
During our first trip (2016 winters), we had back-packed mostly through South Kashmir (Gulmarg, Yusmarg, Achabal and Chatpal) travelling in shared jeeps, sitting tight with locals, talking to them, smiling and laughing with them. This time, we decided to go for trekking in Himalayas and went for Kashmir Great Lakes Trek, considered to be one of the most beautiful treks in India (Read here – Kashmir Great Lakes Trek Photo Blog: Beautiful Himalayan Trek). After this beautiful trek, we rented a bike from Srinagar and left for our next offbeat destination in Kasmir – Gurez Valley.
Gurez Valley – Land of Dards/Shins
Part of ancient Dardistan (Land of Dard people), Gurez is a beautiful valley located in high Himalayas of Kashmir. Once an important town on Slik Route, Gurez Valley is now tucked far away into a corner, visited only by those who want to drive to this land in their quest of exploring the unexplored Kashmir. With its remote location (bad roads making it even more difficult to reach here) and a population of only around 38,000, Gurez is a perfect destination in case you are looking for a hidden gem in Kashmir – Something off the beaten track, indeed !!
Inhabitants of Gurez are known as Dards/Shins. During our interaction with them, we realized that they carry a completely different identity from Kashmiri people. They made a point to clarify this when we spoke to them about Gurez and its people.
How to Reach Gurez Valley: Srinagar to Gurez Bike Trip
While we were excited for another offbeat trip in Kashmir, we had no clue – How to reach Gurez Valley? Where in Gurez should we head to? Road condition from Srinagar to Gurez? How much time would it take? Are there any good guest houses in Gurez? Do we need a permit for Gurez and how should we get it? Is it even safe to go to Gurez as it is on India Pakistan Border? So many questions !! We inquired around, researched online but still could not find complete information and were confused.
Finally, we decided to pick a bike from Srinagar and leave for Dawar (main city in Gurez Valley). Thankfully, it turned out to be an amazing bike trip for us. To help our fellow travellers plan their Gurez trip, we have written a separate blog with all important details (including Permit Requirements for Gurez). Read here – Srinagar to Gurez Bike Trip – Travel Guide and Planning Tips
When we searched Google Maps, it showed that Dawar was only 137 kilometers from Srinagar but it did not tell us the condition of road :). We had hired Royal Enfield Classic 350 prior evening only and left from Srinagar at around 7 AM. It turned out to be a smooth drive till Bandipora (reached at 10 AM) as there was no traffic in the morning and road was mostly plain. Real thrill started here on as it turned out to be a steep ascend till Razdan Pass and then an equally steep descend. Road condition was really bad, actually there was no road – rather stone and mud for most of the stretch. We kept on driving our Enfield in first gear all along to reach Dawar at around 6 PM – including an hour stop-over mid way at Bagtore village sipping tea and chatting with Army Jawans 🙂
Places to Visit in Gurez Valley
We drove slowly enjoying both morning breeze and panoramic views that gets better and better as you gain height. Dawar is the main town in Gurez Valley and your trip to Gurez valley is more about exploring either enroute Dawar or in and around Dawar.
Srinagar to Dawar
Wular Lake is not in Gurez Valley, rather you see it to your left as you drive up to Bandipora. When we parked our bike on road side, it took us some time to realize that the vast green cover in front of us was Wular lake, one of the largest fresh water lakes in Asia.
Peer Baba Dargah
Our next stop was Peer Baba Dargah. We were driving behind Army Trucks and just before Razdan Pass, all trucks took a detour for a place which looked like a religious place. This Dargah has been constructed by Indian Army and is a halt point for all force personnel passing through Razdan Pass.
Razdan Pass and Harmukh Peak Views
Razdan Pass is the highest point (11672 ft) that you pass through while driving from Srinagar to Dawar. Take a halt here to enjoy the panoramic views of mountains and valley. In case, you are lucky and clouds do not play games, you could also see Harmukh Peak from Razdan pass. Harmukh Peak is the highest peak in the vicinity. Ask Army Personnel at Razdan Pass and they would help you to locate Harmukh Peak far behind floating clouds.
We could not spot Harmukh from here as it was hidden behind clouds. Felt a little bad but it was fine as we had camped right at the feet of Harmukh just 2 days ago during our Kashmir Great Lakes Trek. Read more: Kashmir Great Lakes Trek Day 6: Satsar to Gangabal Lake (Harmukh Peak)
Just before Dawar, we took a detour for Bagtore, a small village next to India -Pakistan Border (LoC). We drove by the side of border fence till we reached Bagtore Army Check Post. You can see both India and Pakistan Check Posts on hill right in front of you. This is an active infiltration zone and army personnel check ID proof even for locals going beyond. We sat and chatted with Army Jawans for almost an hour as they welcomed us with tea and biscuits.
This hill in Bagtore has India and Pakistan Army posts face to face. This remains a heated zone with regular infiltration bids from Pakistan side. With this, Bagtore’s jungles observe persistent firing.
In and Around Dawar
We reached Dawar at around 6 PM, all covered with dust and mud. We straight way headed to J&K Tourism Guest House, took hot water bath, had dinner and went to sleep. Next day, we went on to explore Dawar town and places around it.
Dawar is main town of Gurez Valley and only place to stay for your Gurez Valley Trip. Right on the bank of Kishanganga River, Dawar is so small that you can cover the whole town end to end in couple of minutes. But people of this small town have a big heart and that makes it a special place to visit. Everyone was smiling looking at us and if we asked for anything, they eagerly helped us, at times even inviting us for tea at their home- “Ghar Chalo, Chai Peeo” – Come home and have tea, please. Go for a walk around Dawar and meet its amazing people.
This is a beautiful rocky mountain peak, named after famous poetess Habba Khatoon (Read more: The Life & Legend of Habba Khatoon) and will catch you attention from anywhere in Dawar. It looks amazingly beautiful in evening when sun shines on its bare face from opposite side. Next day morning, we drove to its base but things did not turn up as beautiful as we had observed previous evening. There is a small waterfall at its base, known by the name of ‘Habba Khatoon ka Chashma’.
As you drive further up Dawar, you enter Tulail region. There are several small villages as you drive along Kishanganga River for approximately 60 kilometers. Usually with 25-30 households, these villages look beautiful and are a treat for your eyes and senses. Chakwali is the last village on this route adjoining Pakistan Border and Barnoi, Shaikhpora, Puarana Tilail, Badugam, Hasangam, Baduab, Miru, Angaikot, Gujran are some other villages between Dawar and Chakwali.
Do not forget to observe houses here which are built only through interlocking logs and with no nails. You can easily find there unique log houses (interlocked with no nails) in Dawar and Tulail Region.
You may decide how long to drive. We drove up to Shaikhpora and turned back from there as road was really bad with loose soil making it difficult to drive. You need a Special Permit for Tulail which you can get on the spot from Dawar Police Station.
Chorwan Army Check Post
There is another Road from Dawar that leads to Chorwan, few kilometers ahead. You can drive up to Army Check Post through Achoora and Shahpora villages. Entry beyond Check Post is allowed only with prior approval from Army HQ in Dawar. You can see Pakistan Check Post right opposite if you manage an entry beyond check-post. If interested, please contact Dawar Army HQ in advance to seek approval (not usually granted as this is sensitive border zone). Being a Border Post, clicking pictures was not allowed. So here is our picture at Chorwan 🙂
Drive along Kishanganga River
You start driving next to Kishanganga River as you approach Dawar and most of the time in Dawar and Tulail, you would be driving next to Kishanganga River only. It is an altogether different experience crossing those Army Iron bridges, sitting by the side of river and listening to its thundering flow.
At times, it gets challenging with rough road and blind curves –
Drive along India Pakistan Border (Line of Control)
This is another unique experience as you happen to drive along India Pakistan border, at times even driving within barbed fence which has been put by Indian Army, a few kilometers from Pakistan Border (inside India) to stop infiltration from Pakistan side. And a good number of times, you would be driving either next to or inside this barbed fence.
Is it safe? Yes. very much as you have Army at almost all the places to help and guide you. Just be careful not to venture around without appropriate guidance.
Our Visit to a Gurez Family
A place is as beautiful as its people . If people make you feel warm and comfortable, you get a sense of belonging to that place. As soon as, we entered Dawar, we met two ladies (Atika and her sister in law). Within minutes, we mixed up so well that they invited us to their house. Next day, we walked up to their house hesitantly and when they saw us at the gate, they welcomed us with big smiles, served us Namkeen Chai (Tea with salt) and delicious rotis.
As we were leaving, Atika’ family gifted us Kaala Jeera (Black Cumin). Kaala Jeera grows up wild in the Jungles of Gurez and you can not buy it from market. There is a special tradition that one fine morning, a call is given and whole town goes together to collect Kaala Jeera. Due to its limited quantity and strong fragrance, it is considered as a prized possession.
Thanks so much, Atika and family !! We promised them that we would come back next time in winters when snow covers all of Gurez valley. Looking forward to another trip to this beautiful land !!
Gurez Valley Kashmir – Stories hidden in its Past !!
It was just not the people of Gurez but a special person from its past that made it a memorable trip for us – Mr. C. K. Ramachandran. He was first SDM of Gurez back in 70s and had come back to Gurez more on a nostalgia trip to meet his people. In those times, there was no road connectivity for Gurez and hiking through mountains was the only way to reach Bandipora or Srinagar.
He had loads of interesting stories to share how once people of Gurez had marched to Pakistan border with a resolve to free Pak occupied Kashmir and he had tough time to stop them, another time when he had to handle law and order situation with only one gun and that too without any ammunition. There was another when few people went to jungles to collect Kaala Jeera (Black Cumin – considered to a precious) even without informing other villagers and he had to make few arrests (there is a tradition that one fine morning a call is given and all villagers go together to collect Kaala Jeera), his hike far into mountains to meet Bakharwals and unfurling tricolour first time with them.
He had photographs in his diary, black and white, back from 70s and allowed us to shoot a video while he narrated those stories to us. A big thanks to Ramachandran Sir for his service to Gurez and also these narratives that he told us full of enthusiasm and energy.
Gurez Valley – Best Time to Visit
May to July are best months to visit Gurez valley. Weather remains pleasant and valley turns green. You can even visit in August but it starts turning brown with grass getting dried though weather still remains pleasant.
Gurez valley looses road connectivity as soon as it starts snowing (Nov to Mar) and roads get closed. With heavy snow fall, Gurez gets cut off completely in winters and helicopter is the only way to reach Gurez. There is a private helicopter service that operates from Srinagar to Dawar (~INR 4000 per person). If interested, you may enquire about this at J&K Tourism Center in Srinagar.
Gurez Valley Guest Houses
There are limited Guest Houses in Dawar. Best option to stay is J&K Tourism Guest House (TRC – Tourist Reception Center). You may book the same by calling at 9419444670/01957255284. Please note that Gurez has poor mobile connectivity so please try fixed line number. We did not find the staff at Gurez Guest House as warm as has been our interaction at other J&K Tourism Guest Houses but there is no better stay option than this in Dawar. There are 2 to 3 other private guest houses too for which you can get details through quick online search. There is also another J&K Guest House at Shaikpora (Tulail Valley) with 2 rooms. It will be another 1 hour drive from Dawar. You may enquire at above number only if you want to spend a night at Shaikpora.
TRC Dawar also does not have an in-house Kitchen. There is Noorani Restaurant right opposite TRC. This again is your best option for food in Dawar :). They also have a guest house of their own (9469129349)
Gurez Valley Map
It was not easy for us to locate all Gurez places on map. It made it difficult for us to plan our Gurez Trip as places are also spread out. To help our fellow travellers, we are marking all Gurez Valley top places to visit on Google Map below –
We hope that this information helps you plan your Gurez Valley trip better. We have also separately written a post detailing out all common questions that you may seek answer for planning your trip – Srinagar to Gurez Bike Trip – Travel Guide and Planning Tips. Still, in case you have any questions or want to share more from your own experience, please feel free to drop us a comment below, we will reply to you within a day or two max (unless we are out to an offbeat destination :P)