By Team EarPeace
During the 27 days that I spent motorcycle riding in beautiful Kashmir, I was fortunate enough to visit some of the most remote areas of Kashmir. Places where even most Kashmiris haven’t been to yet, since they aren’t well connected to the mainland. Gurez Valley was one of them, and by far one of the prettiest nooks of Kashmir.
The name often popped up during the 7 day trek of the great alpine lakes of beautiful Kashmir. My trek guide was originally from Gurez, and he often spoke about how magnificent the Valley was. He talked about the emerald green Kishenganga river flowing through the Valley, the quaint little villages built on either side, the mighty Habba Khatoon rising up towards the East and flanked on the North by our not-so-friendly neighbours, literally being a stone’s throw away. Gurez was also one of the few areas of Kashmir where the Indian Army was on good terms with the locals. Most of my motorcycle trip was planned around recommendations by locals, and Gurez topped the bucket list.
After resting for a couple of days in Srinagar, I packed up my tent and decided to go camping to Gurez on my motorcycle. It’s not too far from Srinagar, it lies towards the North of the city and the first village of Dawar is around 140 kms from the capital. The twisties start post Bandipora, and the roads are fine till Razdan Pass which lies at an elevation of 3,500 metres, post which the roads are a mix of dirt patches and metalled roads. One can reach Dawar, which is the first village of Gurez in around 5-6 hours from Srinagar, on a motorcycle.
Once you hit Dawar, be prepared to say goodbye to the roads, because it’s all off-roading from here on now. I reached Dawar around 2pm, famished and thirsty and asked a guy for a restaurant and he literally walked me to the tiniest of the places in the village. It looked quite ancient, run by two old gentlemen, and seemed like the hidden gem of Dawar. Wazwan, a multi-course meal in Kashmiri cuisine, was served and devoured within minutes, and I moved on in search of a camping spot for the night.
As I rode beyond Dawar, the graceful and gigantic Habba Khatoon rose up in the distance. It’s a pretty sight, shaped like a pyramid, and giving birth to countless legends. A few locals suggested I go visit the Habba Khatoon spring before heading on so I followed their advice and reached the base of the mountain on the outskirts of Achoora village. The spring water was the sweetest I’ve ever tasted, and is also known for its medicinal values. I was gathering a lot of attention since I was riding alone, and a lot of locals came up to talk. Most of them who spoke to me offered to help in any way they could, also sharing their phone numbers in case I needed anything. The people of Gurez were by far the friendliest I had come across in Kashmir. As it was getting late, the locals suggested that I camp at the Dawar campsite itself, since the next village was at least an hour’s ride and it would be dark soon.
On my way to the Dawar campsite, I came across a group of guys in a hatchback who were camping there for the night and offered to take me into their wolfpack, so I gladly agreed. Thus, on the 21st of August, four of the funniest, friendliest, heart-warming souls from Barahmulla and one lone biker from Delhi camped together at Dawar and had a blast. To be honest, it was one of my best nights in Kashmir. They were carrying marinated meat from home, and I rode into town to get some fresh bread and chai. We barbecued and sang and danced under the moon till our eyelids dropped shut. In the morning, we had chai and bread and sun-bathed for a while before my new-found friends prepared to make their exit. As we were saying our goodbyes, another biker rode into the campsite. We made conversation, and he suggested we ride deeper into the valley together. To answer the question I’ve often been asked before, “why do you ride / travel alone”, well, you’re actually never alone.
My new friend was from Srinagar, in his late forties, but riding like he was in his late teens. His Xpulse 200 complimented my Himalayan perfectly, especially on the trails. I enjoyed his riding style, as our pace synchronized really well. He loved ripping across the trails and we fit in like two peas in a pod right from the start.
There are no roads beyond Dawar, just dusty old trails. We rode along the beautiful Kishenganga for a couple of hours, crossing multiple army check-posts and police barricades trying to head towards the last village of Chakwali which technically falls in Tulail Valley. The most annoying factor about Gurez is the number of army posts you need to stop at and fill in your details at, maintained due to the close proximity to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, or POK. So after multiple interviews with the Army, we managed to head deeper and deeper crossing Purana-Tilel, Badogam, Malangam, finally being halted at Badoab. The last village of Chakwali was a mere 30-minute ride, but the army decided to not let us go any further. Disappointed, we headed back and decided to set up camp at Sheikh Pora for the night. Pro-tip; the trail goes on from Chakwali to Kabul Gali village, and then towards Dras which connects to the Srinagar-Leh highway. You need “special” permission to use that route, and need to have the right contacts of course.
Gurez is the northernmost valley of Kashmir, and the isolation from the rest of the world is there to see. The locals stare at you, the children simply run away or face the other side if you try to make conversation. They stare at you because they haven’t seen much of the outside world, simply because they’re curious. In the winters, the entire valley gets cut off from the rest of the country as all the roads are blocked.
The next day, we decided to head back to the spring once more to fill our water bladders, and then head back towards the city as the army wasn’t letting us ride beyond Badoab. Slightly disappointed, but touched by the beauty of the place and its people, I left Gurez with nothing but good memories to last a lifetime. I was an alien in their midst, but it felt like home.