Nestled between the snowcapped high-altitude mountains of the Great Himalayan Range and the Shamshabari Range in north Kashmir is the pristine Gurez Valley - probably the last remaining Shangri La since the Zanskar Valley in Ladakh was discovered a few decades ago. Spouting near Kaobal Gali, a pass that links the Gurez and Mashkoh Valleys, the Kishanganga River meanders purposefully through the narrow, 80-km long Gurez Valley and flows into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir at Kanzalwan.
Nestled between the snowcapped high-altitude mountains of the Great Himalayan Range and the Shamshabari Range in north Kashmir is the pristine Gurez Valley — probably the last remaining Shangri La since the Zanskar Valley in Ladakh was discovered a few decades ago.
Spouting near Kaobal Gali, a pass that links the Gurez and Mashkoh Valleys, the Kishanganga River meanders purposefully through the narrow, 80-km long Gurez Valley and flows into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir at Kanzalwan. Full of rainbow trout and other exotic fish, the Kishanganga is an angler’s delight. Foaming over the massive boulders in its path, gurgling under the ice floes on its frozen surface and snarling with a vengeance through the avalanches that dare to block its path, the Kishanganga adorns the valley like a beautiful string of pearls at the foot of the majestic mountains. Lapping gently here and roaring purposefully there, it dances gracefully through the terraced fields and glides softly by the quaint villages dotting its gentle gentle banks towards its confluence with the Jhelum near Muzzafarabad — like a blushing young maiden hurrying for a tryst with her lover.
High up and away from the evil gaze of man, the elusive snow leopard and the nimble-footed ibex share their habitat in the virgin snows and the pine-scented forests with bears, musk deer, foxes, wolves and other Himalayan wildlife. The hardy Gurezis, one of the tribes of the erstwhile Dardistan, mostly live off the land. Their major source of employment is the Indian army deployed on the Line of Control on the high mountains north of the Kishanganga. They work as porters for the army and provide their ponies for ferrying loads to the army posts along treacherous trails in some of the toughest terrain in the world, Razdhan Pass, on the road from Kashmir, remains closed for six months during the winter. It snows heavily on the mountaintops and some of the army pasts accumulate 15 to 20 feet of standing snow. Even in the Gurez-Tilel Valley, the total snowfall ranges between 30 and 40 feet during the winter.
So, like the army, the Gurezis too habe to stock up for the winter months. As their needs are simple and the funds available to them limited, they make do with frugal supplies. The inclement weather forces people to remain mainly indoors. Once in a while the sun breaks through the menacing clouds and the warmth of the sunshine lights up the soul.
In marked contrast with the bleak winters, the summer season presents an exhilarating experience. A mellow breeze whistles endearingly through the tall pines and a myriad flowers sprout magically to cover every bare patch with joyous colours and a heady fragrance. Soon after the snow melts, lush green grass emerges to cover the sprawling meadows and the Bakarwals trudge back up the mountains from Rajauri, Punch and the foothills of Jammu to set up their Deras on the upper reaches. Through the day they shepherd their flocks from one green patch to another — cajoling, chasing, goading their sheep. The docile flocks huddle together — bleating loudly, bells tinkling. At night their campfires burn bright and their songs fill the sickly sweet summer air with haunting melodies. Indeed, a paradise here on earth — if ever there was one.