Gar firdaus bar-roo-e zameenast!
– Amir Khusrau
The above couplet is said to be written praising the beauty of Kashmir, which translates to “If there is heaven on earth then, it is here, it is here, it is here”. The couplet is gospel truth for entire Kashmir but, it definitely hold its essence for the Gurez valley, as the beauty of this valley is mesmerizing and spellbinding.
Gurez is an isolated valley in Kashmir, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and is extremely picturesque with a wide range of flora and fauna, including the Himalayan Brown Bear and the Snow Leopard. It is located about 86 kms from Bandipura and aprox 156 Km from Srinagar in the higher Himalayas. At about 8,000 feet (2,400 m) above sea level, the valley covers a geographical area of 362 sq. km and is home to about 40,000 people.
Gurez : Historical Perspective
Gurez was once considered gateway to Central Asia and a vital stopover on the Silk Route connecting Kashmir to Gilgit. The Valley’s renowned potatoes would be taken to Skardu on a day’s march from Chorwan, a short distance from Dawar – the Headquarter of Gurez, and after a quick barter, traders would return with mules laden with apricots, apples and salt.
Gurez became a hub and a vital link between towns such as Kashgar and Gilgit in the North and Srinagar & Kargil in the South. All that changed when India & Pakistan gained independence in 1947. The trade routes were sealed, goods stopped coming in, as did the news.
Historically, Gurez was part of erstwhile Dardistan, stretching between Sharada Peeth in the West, Minimarg in the North, Drass in the East, and Baghtor in the South. Archaeological surveys in valleys have uncovered hundreds of carved inscriptions in Kharoshthi, Brahmi and Tibetan. In particular, the carvings provide insights into the origins of the Kashmiri people and the early history of Buddhism.
Dawar was the ancient Capital of Dards. Another place of importance is Kanzalwan, where the last council of Buddhism is believed to have been held and
further downstream, the ruins of the ancient Sharada University are preserved along the Kishenganga / Neelam River. There are a total of 54 villages that form a
part of GurezValley. The people of the valley are Sunni Muslims. The language spoken is Shina language, which has a few words of Sanskrit.
Gurez- Tilel does not find significant mention in the history of Kashmir. Dard was a sect of Aryans who had been the sole occupant of this area. The Dards were initially Buddhists but later embraced Islam sometime in the 14th century, during the reign of Shah Mir, who was the first Muslim King of Kashmir. The Chak Dynasty which ruled Kashmir in 16 th century also belonged to the Dard tribe. After the decline of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Zorawar Singh, a Dogra General of Raja Gulab Singh’s Army occupied these areas and reorganised them into the Gilgit Agency.
The Dards are ethnically and culturally different from Kashmiris. Over the years, Kashmiri culture has had a significant influence on the Dard culture but, the people of Gurez have still maintained a distinct socio-cultural, traditional and linguistic identity.In 1947, Pakistan launched an attack on Kashmir Valley wherein Pak troops also planned operations in the remote, semi arctic and barren areas of Baltistan, Tilel and Gurez. The formidable Himalayan Range between Kashmir and this area afforded easy opportunity for such activities and resulted in Pakistan troops moving uptoTragbal (South of Razdhan Pass) overlooking Bandipura and the Wular Lake.
As per various accounts from locals in Gurez, Pakistani invaders consisting of defectors from State Forces and Gilgit Scouts troops carried out immense atrocities on locals of Gurez- Tilel Valley from Oct 1947 till 25 Jun 1948, till they were pushed out by Indian Forces. Once again, during 1965, Infiltrators were sent through Tilel Valley on their way to Srinagar, but even this attempt by Pakistan was successfully out-maneuvered by Indian Army. Prior to the Partition of Kashmir, Gurez had been a popular destination for foreign tourists, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who is known to have visited some time before becoming the US President. During the colonial period, Gurez was often visited by trekkers. Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi accompanied by Sheikh Abdullah were among those who visited in 1940s.