The Dard-Shins draw their lineage from early Aryan settlers who arrived in the Indian subcontinent approximately two thousand years ago. They were spread across the Himalayas and migrated to Western & Eastern regions of Himalayas subsequently. These areas were portions of North Eastern Afganistan, Giglit & Jammu Kashmir. Presently, majority of Dard-Shins are settled in Gurez Sub Division of Bandipora district. Most of the area of Dardistan, the capital of Gilgit, falls under the Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK) under the name of Northern Areas. The language Shina is spoken over a vast area of 12,352 square miles. Currently the Dardic population is present only in Gurez, Tilal Chanderkote and Drass areas of J&K state and all the other areas are either in the direct control of Pakistan or under Chinese occupation. Historical references can be drawn to Dard-Shins of Gurez to pre-historic time. Several references are found in writings of official court poets of neighbouring and European kingdoms.
Dard-Shins are an ancient community that is believed to be descendent of ancient Aryan settlers, who came to India during 2000-1500 BC. Part of the Aryan settlers, decided to settle in Hindu Kush range and with time they migrated to lower regions of Himalayas before Christian era. It is also said that Dard are the linguistic descendants of proto Rig Vedic culture, tracing the feature in certain Dardic dialects that has continuous peculiarities of Rig Vedic Sanskrit. The famous ancient Greek poet Herodotus also mentioned about Dard-Shins during 430 BC, which provides the evidence of presence of Dard-Shins in the region of Himalayas. Gurez also pronounced as “Gorai” was a gateway to the famous silk route which lasted till 14th Century and was connecting India with China, Persia, Greece, Italy and Arabia. The route passed from Chorwan village (which is a border village of Gurez Sector) and used to connect Burzil Pass and finally to Astore & Gilgit (POK) providing access to Central Asia. Silk route existed since 100 BC and it provides evidence of existence of Dard-Shins in the area. Kalhana, a Kashmiri historian during 1145 AD wrote Rajatarangini (“The river of Kings”) in Sanskrit which particularly focuses on the kings of Kashmir. References were made to Dard-Shins as “Darads” or “Darada” in Rajatarangini and they were described as the descendants of Aryan race. In Modern days, references can be drawn by various writers of Mughal Era that Gurez was part of Dardistan kingdom extending from North Eastern Afganistan, Gilgit, Kargil and Gurez and was ruled by ruler of Dard-Shins tribe and subsequently taken over my Mughal emperor Akbar. The control of the region kept on shifting from Mughals to Dogra ruler.
Gurez people speak Shina. The Dards even know Urdu & Kashmiri; however they use Shina language for communication. Shina language and the related culture are better maintained in Gurez. Shina is much like Hindi-Urdu and, sometimes, English as “two” is “du” and “three” is “tra/tre”. Shina language is very Indo-Aryan. Actually, it is close to Sanskrit for instance, they call the sun “Suri” (from the Sanskritic word for Sun i.e “Surya”). Their word for hand is “hath” and the tongue is called “Jeeb”. As the Gurez valley remains cut off for an extended period of six months due to the snow cladded passes and surroundings, dress of people are based on weather. Gents and ladies are seen wearing Zuba (Over-coat) , Khoi Cap ( Pakol round cap) , Chhulu & Chalini ( Kurta & Payjama) and Feraq. However, Ferans are also worn but it is not the traditional attire of Gurezis. Their favourite food is Aaloo & Rajma or Lungoo(Spinach) with rice as these are locally cultivated and produced by the people of the village. They also like Gosht (Meat of Goat/Sheep) in their regular meals. Waz-a-wan is also prepared by the locals and “Noon-Chai” or Salt tea is generally taken by the locals.
If official records are to be believed then there are 27 un-electrified villages among the total 41 villages of the Gurez valley. There is no electricity available in the area; the government has installed diesel generators in the villages. A single generator feeds a village of about 60 households and provides regular 5-hour electricity daily from 7 PM to 11 PM besides two-hour electricity from 5 AM to 7 AM. Very limited households from villages are using LPG cylinders while rest of the people prefer to use natural sources to keep their houses hot in freezing temperature. People in Gurez are still using wood as fuel for their Chulas and heat up the houses in deep freeze instead of using LPG cylinders which are now the top essential entity of kitchen in every household of the state. Most of the households in the Gurez valley prefer to use the wood following the long old tradition of locals besides it is easily available in the localities. The telecommunication system in the area is very weak. This place had limited connectivity of BSNL which was too fragile to be termed as stable network. However, Jio network has expanded its user base in the Gurez valley from past couple of years and has installed several towers to provide connectivity to remotest of the villages. It was because of Jio networks, students in the time of pandemic were shifted to online studies.
In recent years, with the influx of network connectivity, this isolated & secluded valley is not under isolation in literal sense. The valley observed a leap of tourists to 1.5 lacs in a period of 4 months from different parts of the country and being mesmerised by its beauty, Gurez is picking up swiftly as one of tourist destination. With the collective efforts from the locals and Indian Army, several plans were worked upon to do away with isolation. With the several events organised by the Indian Army targeting popularizing Gurez has got the eyes of the country. The increase in number of tourists, film crew, researchers & philanthropist is outcome of this initiative. Various contributing factors towards this drastic change are the construction of Kishanganga Hydro Electric Project, introduction of homestays for tourist, camping & trekking sites, cafe culture, famous bloggers & personalities visiting this place are changing the cultural geography in such a way that in coming few years one can hardly guess that there was a tribal living on the peaks in the Gurez valley. With the relaxation of J&K’s government Film Policy, in the successive years, Gurez valley will turn out to be a cinematic destination for production house.
Gurez is a virgin tourist destination and has the potential to attract national and international tourist. However, the same can be only achieved after consistent efforts from Tourist Department, J&K Govt bringing in govt schemes promoting construction of new hotels, electricity arrangements, advertising and marketing. It is recommended that civil administration and elected representatives should at least bring up the standard of available basic amenities. Health & Education dept being on the priority.
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