Are you going to be in Kashmir anytime soon and thinking about visiting some offbeat areas like Gurez Valley? In this travel guide, I will provide details on how you can plan a trip to this hidden gem of Kashmir Valley.
There are several places in Kashmir that remain hidden under the cover of anonymity. These places are hardly known to anyone but hold the potential to attract thousands of tourists each year if made known. Usually, when you talk about visiting Kashmir, it is mostly and only 4 places that come to mind; Srinagar, Gulmarg, Sonamarg, and Pahalgam. Even Srinagar just acts as a base to explore the other three places.
But Kashmir is so much more than just these destinations. There are so many other places here that will leave you mesmerized if visited. Sadly enough though, due to all the unrest in Kashmir and the sensitivity of the region, tourism in these areas is not really that great. One such destination that I want to talk about in this post is the beautiful Gurez Valley.
For a brief introduction, Gurez is a valley located in the high Himalayas; at a distance of about 123 kilometers from Srinagar. At an average altitude of 8,000 feet (2,400 meters), the valley is surrounded by snow-capped mountains; and has diverse fauna and wildlife including the Himalayan brown bear and the snow leopard.
The Kishanganga River flows through the valley before merging into Jhelum River near Muzaffarabad in Pakistan. Dawar is the largest town in Gurez. Due to heavy snowfall in winter, the road to Gurez valley remains blocked for about six months a year. (Wiki) Until 2007, the valley was off-limits for tourists and has recently been added on the tourist map of Kashmir.
Why Visit Gurez Valley?
The first question that comes to mind if why visit Gurez valley at all. There are multiple other places in Kashmir itself that are equally beautiful and easily approachable so why not head there. If you are someone who likes to visit places like Manali and Shimla; wants to eat at fancy restaurants; visit crowded markets and spend time shopping, then yes, you may as well head in another direction because Gurez is not the place for you.
If you however intend to visit an offbeat destination and see a place that not many people can claim to have been to then Gurez is the destination you should visit. It is what you may even call as the virgin natural beauty that has not yet been spoiled by the tourist craze and crowd.
Another great reason to visit Gurez could be to witness the life that our soldiers out here spend. The place is dangerously close to the border and the risk of a gunfight is ever-present. There are soldiers all around who will be surprised to see a tourist in the area and would love to share their stories.
If you want to feel the thrill of traveling right next to LOC and see Pakistan occupied hills then go to Gurez. Once you reach the end of the road here, mountains under the control of the Pakistan Army will be right in front of you.
Is Gurez Valley Safe to Visit?
Which then brings us to the question of how safe is it to be in Gurez. For tourists and common people like you and me, it is quite safe as long as you stay on the road, do not start climbing hills, or start to go trekking or go off-road. If you did that and ended up in a place where you aren’t supposed to be then you may even end up getting shot at by the Indian Army itself.
As long as you continue traveling on the main road, reach Dawar and stick to the main towns of Gurez Valley then it is absolutely safe to visit here. If you wanted to know how safe is it to visit all of Kashmir in general then I have covered this in a different topic and will suggest that you read How Safe Kashmir is for Tourists to Travel?
Where is Gurez Valley
Gurez valley is at a distance of about 86 kilometers from Bandipore and 123 kilometers from Srinagar in northern Kashmir.
How to reach Gurez Valley?
Now there are two ways to reach Gurez Valley. You can either take the road from Srinagar and reach Gurez via Razdan Pass. Or you can also use the Gurez Chopper service; for which you will board a Helicopter from either Srinagar or Bandipore. I have explained both these options in detail further in the article.
For both these choices, however, you will first have to reach Srinagar which is not really that difficult of a task. If you were traveling by your own vehicle, then you can just drive to Srinagar city by either the regular Jammu – Srinagar highway; or via Mughal road through Shopian. Of the two, the Jammu-Srinagar highway is the better maintained and most used road but is also the more crowded one.
Mughal road is the more scenic of the two and there is hardly any traffic on this. Road condition too is a mix of good and average. For more details on how you can reach Srinagar via Mughal Road, please read How to Plan a Journey on Mughal Road. Once you arrive at Srinagar, you can then make a road trip to Gurez Valley which will at least be a 2 days journey.
If you were however not traveling by your own vehicle, then Srinagar is well connected to the rest of the country by Air, Train, and Bus service. No matter which part of the country you live in, you can easily reach the city by either flying or boarding a train. Once you land in Srinagar, then you can either rent a taxi or a motorcycle for the trip; or reach Yusmarg by public transport. More details on all these options are further provided in the article.
How to reach Gurez Valley from Srinagar
Once you have arrived in Srinagar, there are 4 ways that you can reach Gurez valley; depending on how you were traveling and at what time of the year. The first one is by your own vehicle, either a car or motorcycle, and the second is by a Helicopter. Alternatively, you can also rent a car or motorcycle from Srinagar for the trip. Or if you were traveling on a budget, then you can opt for public transport.
Gurez Valley Helicopter
Let me first mention the Gurez helicopter service since it will be the shortest detail of all. This helicopter service is operated by the department of tourism in Kashmir, and was introduced in 2017 for locals and tourists to promote Gurez’s tourism potential. This service is available from both Srinagar and Bandipore. Fare per person is Rs. Rs 3,000 per person from Srinagar airport and Rs 2,000 from Bandipore.
Also Read: How to Plan a Trip to Doodhpathri?
Srinagar to Gurez Helicopter Booking
You can book your tickets from either the Airport itself or from TRC office, Rajbagh, Srinagar. At TRC, you will need to go to H block and 2nd floor. The service is available only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, both ways. The entire chopper ride from Srinagar to Gurez is of about 35 minutes.
By Helicopter is the only way to reach Gurez in winter season.
Gurez Valley Road
Now let me explain how you will reach Gurez Valley by road from Srinagar if you were traveling by your own vehicle. The route is just one, as mentioned below.
Srinagar – Sumbal – Brar – Bandipore – Razdan Pass – Kazalwan – Wampore – Dawar
This entire journey is of about 140 kilometers in total depending on where you start from in Srinagar. Total time will be 6-8 hours depending on your speed so ensure that you start by 10 AM latest. From Srinagar, till Bandipore, it is pretty much a flat road and in about average condition. Do not forget to tank because after Bandipore, there may not any fuel station till Dawar. On the way, you will also see Wular Lake, one of the largest fresh water lakes in Asia. You will be greatly disappointed by it since it is not pretty or scenic at all. You will then climb up Razdan Pass and somewhere along, the road will start to deteriorate.
Just before Razdan Pass, you will register yourself at the check post and from here on, you will continue to register at about every 25-30 kilometers. Do not forget to bring your Aadhar Card along because without it, the Army will not let you pass. Road conditions will continue to turn from bad to worse. So bad in fact that it will start testing your stomach, your butt and your vehicle’s suspension. Did I mention that I actually broke one of my motorcycle’s rear suspensions out here? Yes, that happened. That is how bad the road will be.
Valley of Gurez
Dawar has the only available accommodation in Gurez and this is where you will have to stay. The road however continues further ahead, deep within Gurez. If you are staying here for a day to explore, then the route after Dawar will be like this.
Dawar – Barnoi – Purana Tilel – Sheikhpora – Dukar – Badugam – Hasangam – Badoab – Gujran – Chakwali
All this is what Gurez valley really is. The valley is divided in two Tehsils or districts, Dawar and Tilel / Tulel. Until Barnoi, it all falls under Dawar district; and then from Barnoi until Chakwali is all Tilel district.
This entire stretch till Chakwali is about 60 kilometers; so 120 kilometers of travel in total from Dawar to reach Chakwali and then the return journey. But it will take you the entire day due to extremely bad roads. The entire stretch is a non-stop series of potholes, one after another. This is where I actually broke my motorcycle’s suspension. The last check post is at Chakwali where the road also ends. Standing there, the Pakistan occupied mountains of Gurez will be right in front of you.
Also Read: How to Plan a Trip to Srinagar?
Srinagar to Gurez by Private Taxi
If you were however not traveling by your own vehicle, then the best, easiest and most convenient way would be to rent a private taxi for the trip. Depending on the type of cab you chose, your total charge for the day would come out to be between Rs. 2000 to Rs. 2500 per day; including fuel and driver. But this is actually the usual charge for anywhere in Kashmir. Considering the fact that a trip to Gurez means traveling through some extremely bad and broken roads, taxi drivers tend to ask more for a trip here. Do not be surprised if you are quoted an amount of Rs. 5,000 for a drop to Dawar in Gurez.
Srinagar to Gurez Taxi Fare
I will mention the rates as per the standard fare. It would entirely depend on which cab you chose. For an SUV like Scorpio or Innova, expect the per day fare to be around Rs. 2,500 including fuel. If you chose a hatchback like Etios, this charge would then be around Rs. 1,800 to Rs. 2,000 per day.
For booking a taxi in Srinagar, talk to Faisal at 9596410670. He is a great guy and will be able to get you a cab for the lowest possible price.
Srinagar to Gurez Bus
Reaching Gurez valley by Bus can be a bit tricky. There is a bus service available but the catch is that it is not all the way from Srinagar to Gurez. Your journey will actually have to be broken in two parts; from Srinagar to Bandipore and then Bandipore to Dawar. SRTC & private bus service are available from Srinagar to Bandipore throughout the day. But from Bandipore, there is just one early morning bus for Gurez Valley.
Also Read: How to Plan a Gulmarg Gondola Ride?
Srinagar to Gurez Shared Taxi
These are available in plenty from both Srinagar and Bandipore. Chances of getting a shared cab from Srinagar to all the way till Dawar are however very less. A better way would be to first board a Bus from Srinagar to Bandipore. Then from Bandipore, look for a shared cab going towards Gurez valley.
Nearest Airport to Gurez Valley
Srinagar Airport is the nearest airport to Gurez. The major airlines operating regular flights to Srinagar are Air India, Jet Airways, Spice Jet, Air Asia, and Indigo.
Nearest Railway Station to Gurez Valley
Srinagar railway station is the nearest railway line to Gurez. Problem however is that it is not yet fully operational and connected. At the time of writing this article; it will take at least another 18 months to 2 years for a full connectivity. Right now, you can reach till Udhampur by train. From Udhampur, you will then have to board a bus or taxi for Ramban.
After reaching Ramban, you will then board another train from Ramban to Srinagar. An easier way thus would be to just board a bus or shared taxi directly from Udhampur to Srinagar.
Gurez Valley distance from Srinagar
Gurez Valley is at a distance of about 130 kilometers from Srinagar. But it will actually also depend on where exactly you are starting from in Srinagar. If you were for example coming from a place near Shalimar Bagh then the distance is about 130 kilometers. But if you were starting from somewhere near Lal Chowk then the distance would increase to about 140 kilometers.
Gurez Valley Permits
You do not need a permit to visit Gurez Valley till the town of Dawar. You will however register yourself at around 7 or 8 different check posts between Srinagar and Dawar; and will have to produce your Aadhar Card at all of them. So don’t forget to carry it along otherwise you would be turned and sent back to Srinagar.
But that is only till Dawar. If you want to explore the valley further from Dawar till Chakwali, then you would have to obtain a permit from the J&K police station in Dawar. The police station is towards the end of the town. Just ask any of the locals and they will point you in the right direction. You will have to submit photocopies of your Aadhar Cards after which, someone will hand-write your permit on a piece of paper.
If you are a foreigner, then you will have to get a permit from District Commissioner’s office in either Srinagar or Bandipora. Without permit, you will be turned back from the first check post itself and will not be allowed to enter Gurez.
How to reach Gurez Valley in Winter
The road to Gurez valley gets blocked in winter after Razdan Pass is completely snowed out. By Helicopter is the only way to reach here from December till April. The entire Valley in these months gets buried deep under snow. I was talking to a villager here and he told me that sometimes, it can snow as much as 15 feet. Most of the locals here move to other parts of Kashmir like Srinagar looking for work in winter. They then return in summer for farming. If you were planning to visit in winter, then my best advice would be that you call a hotel here and confirm your booking if you want to stay. Otherwise you can just make it a one day trip; arrive in Gurez by Helicopter, spend some time and go back the same day.
Also Read: How to Plan a Journey to Aharbal?
Gurez Valley Weather
Due to its high altitude, weather of Gurez remains cold and pleasant throughout the year. In January and February, the place remains buried under snow and is impossible to reach by road. Snow starts to melt in March and is gone by end of the month from the lower areas. The high altitude pass of Razdan Pass however remain covered under snow till April.
Spring arrives towards late April and the next three months till June are considered among the best of the times to visit Gurez Valley. The road opens sometime in the month of May so from January till April, you can reach Gurez only by a Helicopter.
Monsoon arrives in the month of July and lasts throughout August. Amount of rain that Gurez receives however is not that high. But when it does rain, it can make the road conditions even terrible. After Razdan pass, the road is just a dirt trail throughout Gurez valley which then turns into slush after it rained.
September is another good month to visit Gurez. The monsoon would be gone but would have left plenty of greenery behind. Autumn arrives in the month of October and all this green turns into Orange and the valleys of Gurez convert into a magical golden. This is another good month to be here, specially if you are into photography.
However, it can snow anytime at Razdan pass after October, blocking the road temporarily. The snowfall increases at the pass in November and the road is declared closed for civilian traffic. By December, the snowfall would have reached lower areas of Dawar and nearby villages as well.
For a detailed description on weather conditions in Gurez Valley, please read A Month by Month Breakdown of Weather of Gurez.
Best time to visit Gurez Valley
Now based on the information above and considering the fact the Gurez remains closed during winter; the best time to visit the valley would then be anytime during the spring and summer months; from April to June or Late August, September and early October. However, if you want to visit here to see several feet of snow covering everything around, then the months of February or March will be the best.
Also Read: When is the Best time to Visit Gurez?
Clothes to pack for Gurez Valley
You do not really need to pack anything specific just for Gurez. Whatever you packed for your Kashmir trip will suffice for Gurez as well. Between April till September, your regular cottons accompanied with some light woolens or a light jacket will do. Actually, after walking around for a while, that one jacket too will start to feel warm and you will end up removing it.
If a winter trip was on your mind then you must bring in your woolens, a heavy and warm windproof jacket and some good quality gloves and socks. Ensure that your jacket has a hood to protect your head and neck from the cold. If there is no hood then pack a cap and muffler.
What to See in Gurez Valley
Waterfalls tumbling down ridged slopes; snowy mountain peaks towering in the distance; beautiful fields of potatoes and maize bordered by dazzling wildflowers; small wooden villages dotting the landscape; and a razor-wire fence all along the river and the hills constantly reminding you where you were. This is what you visit Gurez Valley for. People here are very warm and will be eager to invite you into their homes. For them, a tourist is a rare sight and the kids will be quick to come close to inspect you.
With that being said, there are a few places that can be called as the prime attractions of a trip to Gurez. I have actually covered the topic in details at a different post, Tourist Attractions in Gurez. I will list down the names below but if you want to read about these in more detail, then take a look at the Tourist Attractions page.
- Wular Lake
- Razdan Pass
- Habba Khatoon
- Kishen Ganga River
- Harmukh Peak
- Chorwan Gurez (A small beautiful village)
- Chakwali Gurez (This is the last village on the border)
- Gurez Dam (A huge dam built on Kishen Ganga river and a great view)
Also Read: The Life and Legend of Habba Khatoon
Things to Do in Gurez Valley
There is not really a whole lot of options on activities that you can do in Gurez Valley. Due to its close proximity to the border, your movement will anyways be restricted. You cannot go trekking around the hills and risk getting confused for a militant and then getting shot at. Apart from visiting all the places I listed above, fishing in Kishen Ganga River is something you can do. Photography will probably be the first on your to do list here in Gurez. There is plenty to point your camera at and you will end up getting some great shots definitely.
People here are very friendly and warm so do indulge yourself in talking to them and learn about their lives and culture. There are soldiers here at every corner and they too are fun to be talking to. Trust me, they can tell you some great stories if you had the time.
Gurez Valley Accommodation
Earlier, there was just a J&K tourism Dak Bungalow or rest house that use to serve as the only option of stay in Gurez Valley. There are however a few hotels in Gurez valley now that have opened up after the tourist footfall has started to increase. The biggest one here is the Kaka Palace Guest House.
The owner of this hotel is Younis Khan and you can contact him at 9419600027, 9469389643, 7006238430 or 01957255232. There were two more that I noticed by the names of Sikendar Hotel and Noorani Hotel but I don’t have their contact numbers.
The best of the stay would be the J&K tourism Dak Bungalow. It is a great and very well maintained property. There is an old Dak Bungalow and a new one as well but chances are that you will find them both locked. If that did not work out then try either of the other three hotels. I stayed at the one called Kaka and you can read my detailed review of the hotel here at Hotel Review – Kaka Palace Guest House, Gurez.
Mobile and Data Connectivity in Gurez
MTNL / BSNL has coverage in this area and since Jio too uses the same network, their phones work in Gurez. There are a couple of mobile shops here actually that sell Jio connections. Apart from BSNL and Jio, no other network works in Gurez Valley.
Important thing that you need to remember however is that only postpaid connections work in the state of J&K. So if you were actually carrying a prepaid MTNL, BSNL or Jio phone, than it will be dead the moment you entered Kashmir. All postpaid phones will work till Bandipore; but once you cross over Razdan Pass, only a postpaid BSNL or Jio phone will continue to work.
Connectivity however will be pathetic and intermittent. Network will keep coming and going. Actually it will remain gone more than staying. Voice clarity of the call (when the network will actually hold long enough for you you to make the call) too will be actually bad. Good part is that you will at least be able to send text messages.
Data connectivity too will keep coming and going but the speed will again be too slow. I was actually able to send messages on Whatsapp; and a few pictures as well after trying and failing several times.
Banks / ATM
There is a branch of J&K Bank here but there is no ATM yet.
Petrol Pump / Mechanic
There is in fact a functional petrol pump here at Gurez. It remains open till 7 PM and then opens at 9 AM again in the morning. We got a tank-full done here at this petrol pump. Right next to the fuel station is a mechanic who can help you with minor fixes or flat tires.
Yes, there is in fact a hospital available here too. But keep in mind though that the medical assistance will be basic. If it was anything serious, then the patient would have to be brought back to Srinagar. Army base is all around here so in case of any critical situation, you can seek medical help from Indian Army as well.
Also Read: Tourist Attractions in Gulmarg
Shopping in Gurez
There are plenty of shops here in Gurez. As a matter of fact, there is also a high school, a degree college, a girls college in Dawar along with several other government offices. Yes, that is how big the town actually is. But there is no shopping choice as such. The shops here are just the ones for buying day to day groceries and items. Your shopping would have to happen in Srinagar only, not Gurez.
Electricity in Gurez Valley
There is electricity in Dawar but for limited duration only. They actually do not have it coming from outside of the valley. Instead, there is a huge generator installed in the village itself. They turn this generator on at sunset and then it works till about 10 or 11 PM. At 10, they will turn the generator off after everyone has eaten and retired to bed. Then in the morning, just before the Azaan for morning prayers, the generator will be turned on and electricity will remain available till about 7 AM. After that, it will remain unavailable till sunset.
Terrible is the word that best describes the road conditions in Gurez. From Srinagar till Bandipore, the road is a mostly all good. It will then get bad as you start climbing Razdan Pass. The road will then be good again towards the top of the pass and will remain so for a few kilometers on the descent as well. Once you enter Gurez Valley though, it will turn in a completely broken dirt trail and will remain so throughout the valley.
3 Days at least is what I will recommend for a trip to Gurez. Any more than that will just give you time to explore the valley and villages further. On Day 1, start at around 9 AM from Srinagar and you will reach Dawar by 4 PM where you will stay for the night. Then on Day 2, travel all the way till Chakwali and return to Dawar by evening. On Day 3, you will travel back to Srinagar.
This festival is supposed to happen each year but it really doesn’t. In 2017, it was held in the month of August after a gap of 4 yeas. In 2018, the festival was held in first week of September. The Festival showcases folk songs and dances by Gurez locals, performances by local school children besides a rafting camp in the scenic and unexplored valley of Gurez.
During the festival, various departments including horticulture, sericulture, apiculture, floriculture erec their stalls to promote their products. Some other cultural programmes by locals, adventure events like mountain biking in Dawar and Tulail Valley, white water rafting, mountaineering and camping are also held over a period of 3 days.
Gurez Valley Altitude
The average elevation of Gurez Valley is 2,580 meters (8,460 ft)
Gurez Valley Trek
Due to the sensitivity of the region and its close proximity to the border, there is no trekking allowed in Gurez Valley; at least not that I know of. You can walk around to the villages in the valley but that will be all. No climbing up the hills and no going into the forests. As a matter of fact, there is a barbed wire fence all along the river and the mountain lines which will ensure that you remain on the road and do not go wandering anywhere else.
Gurez Valley Trip – Conclusion
In 1895, the British author Sir Walter Roper Lawrence in his book The Valley of Kashmir called Gurez Valley as one of the most beautiful scenes in all of Kashmir. He wrote, “Gurez is a lovely valley of substantial length lying at an elevation of about 8,000 ft. above sea. The Kishan Ganga river flows through it, and on either side tower mountain scraps of indescribable grandeur.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful scenes in the whole of Kashmir is the grove of huge poplars through which the traveler enters the Gurez Valley.”
He went on to describe the beauty of this part of Kashmir and predicted that Gurez one day would be Kashmir’s most popular tourist destination. He writes, “Many of the Margs are visited every year by Europeans, and Gulmarg, Sonamarg, and Nagmarg are charming places for a summer holiday.
Perhaps Pahlgam, the village of the shepherd which stands at the head of the Liddar valley with its healthy forest of pines, and Gurais which lies at a distance of 35 miles from Bandipura, the port of the Wular lake, will before long rival in popularity the other Margs.”
As Sir Lawrence predicted, Pahalgam has received its fare share of tourism; but tragically and for circumstances that he could never have foreseen, Gurez is still waiting with 123 years already gone. I hope the information above on visiting Gurez Valley was of help. If you have any other questions; or need any further help; please feel free to ask in the comments section below; or at our Community Forum; and I will be glad to answer.