Bandipora- Once known for death and destruction due to cross-LOC shelling, and frequent firefights between militants and soldiers, the picturesque Gurez Valley in this North Kashmir district has emerged as a favorite tourist destination, drawing thousands of visitors from the country and abroad.
Nestled in the Himalayas and surrounded by beautiful lush green forests, the Gurez Valley falls along the ancient Silk Route which connected Kashmir with Gilgit. It also falls on the military Line of Control (LOC) that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. People here speak the Shina language and are mostly living in wooden houses.
Last week, Gurez Valley bagged the best offbeat destination award 2022.The award was given to the Tourism Department for promoting Gurez in the category of offbeat tourism destinations.
The Outlook Traveler Awards are the benchmark of quality in the travel and tourism industry for the last two decades and congratulate the best of the best each year, a J&K tourism department official said.
“Credit goes to hard working officials and especially to young volunteers and entrepreneurs for creating such a tourist friendly environment within a short span of time,” tweeted Deputy Commissioner Bandipora, Dr. Owais Ahmad Ahmad tsoon after the award was announced.
From the past two years, Gurez has become a favorite tourist spot for the locals and domestic travelers and has witnessed record breaking tourist footfall.
“However, this wasn’t possible without the help and cooperation of local youth volunteers who put up every means to facilitate the tourists,” said Chief Planning Officer (CPO), Bandipora, Imtiyaz Ahmad.
Ahmad said the volunteers put-up tent colonies which gave a lot of boost to tourism, although the concept was floated by the administration. The tents can accommodate around 250 people per night.
“The private-youth entrepreneurs of the Gurez came forward and the administration helped them to establish tent colonies in scenic places,” Ahmad told Kashmir Observer, adding that the administration has also encouraged home-stays and registered over 200 houses from Gurez sub-division for the same.
“The concept of home-stays has boosted the economy of the region and the youth are also able to earn their livelihood,” Ahmad added.
The locals have also started a number of restaurants and are earning their livelihood.
Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Gurez Mudasir Ahmad told Kashmir Observer that around 25000 tourists have visited the Valley so far this year, while around 12000 visited last year.
“The administration is holding various road shows, car and bike rallies to promote tourism in the Gurez,” the SDM said.
He further added that the award will boost more tourism in the valley.
Officials and locals attribute the rise in tourist footfall to the ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan that came into effect in February 2021.
The last time Gurez witnessed the cross border shelling was in the month of September 2021, when six structures including a government school and a madrasa were partially damaged in shelling along the Bagtore area of Gurez.
“Since then there has been no shelling,” said Javid Ahmad Khan, resident of Dawar, Gurez.
The border villages off the Valley which used to be a no-go zone for the people, are now witnessing a spurt in tourism.
According to Chief Planning Officer Ahmad, Gurez is witnessing unexpected tourist footfall this year. On 15 August eve, he said, over 502 tourist vehicles crossed Razdan top to Gurez.
He said the administration is gearing-up to cater the footfall of tourists with more infrastructure and other facilities. He said a number of hotels have come-up but the administration is focusing more on tent colonies keeping in view the ecologically fragile zone.
“We have made it clear to the young entrepreneurs that their tent house won’t be received next year if they don’t take care of solid waste management,” Ahmad said.
The administration has also blacktopped over 90 percent of the road from Bandipora town to Gurez which is 80 kilometers in length.
“Besides we have also blacktopped the internal roads of the Gurez and have installed hot mix plants in Gurez, which have made us easy to macadamise the roads,” the CPO Bandipora said.
Earlier, the administration had to get the material from other districts of the region which was time consuming and expensive.
The administration is spending around 35 crores on the developmental works in Gurez.
Although the valley remains abuzz with tourists in the summer, however as the snow falls it remains cut-off from the rest of the world. The locals maintain that there is a good scope of winter tourism but the roads get blocked due to snow.
“The only way out is the tunnel from Bandipora town to Gurez and for that the Center needs to take a call,” Ahmad added.
The scenic views of hills and famous Neelum (Kishanganga) River, Gurez Valley is being promoted as a prime tourist destination. Other places to visit in the Gurez are Habba Khatoon Peak, Habba Khatoon Waterfall, Khandiyal Top and Tulail.
With more tourist footfall, the environmentalists of the district have expressed their concern that it might disturb the ecologically sensitive zone.
However the administration is coming up with a mega solid-waste management plant at Bandipora town that will cater the waste management of the entire district.
“We are working on a solid-waste management plant and the issue will be resolved once for all,” Ahmad said, adding that they are going to ban the use of Polythene in Gurez and will be enforced strictly.
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