Braving the Winter to Go to a Valley Shrouded in Snow and Secrets and techniques


Because the chopper rose into the sky, my coronary heart raced with pleasure and a twinge of worry: This was my first helicopter trip. The person beside me glanced over and requested why I’d select to go to the Gurez Valley now, when it had so little to supply. “Even the locals keep away from it if they will,” he stated.

I had no clear reply. All I knew was that the Himalayan valley, shrouded in snow and secrets and techniques within the far reaches of Indian-controlled Kashmir, held one thing vital to me, and I used to be prepared to courageous the perils of winter to find it.

Throughout my childhood within the city of Baramulla, in northern Kashmir, I used to be surrounded by storytellers who conjured photographs of snowy Himalayan lands. Later, once I first noticed photographs of Gurez, it appeared to embody the tales I’d heard, and I felt compelled to go to. My alternative lastly got here in early 2022, because the pandemic started to wane.

Tucked away within the Himalayas alongside the traditional Silk Street, the Gurez Valley has traditionally been part of Dardistan, the homeland of the Dardic folks, which stretched as far west as Afghanistan. When the departing British colonial rulers partitioned India and Pakistan in 1947, the valley was cut up alongside the disputed border, generally known as the Line of Management, chopping its connection to its roots and inserting Gurez — simply barely — on the Kashmiri facet administered by India.

Lengthy forbidden to each international vacationers and most Indian residents, the valley — a closely militarized frontier with razor-wire fences as a continuing reminder of the continued battle — lately opened its doorways to vacationers. Now, it bustles in the summertime. However as winter descends, the realm turns into inhospitable and remoted, with the one highway in or out buried underneath as much as 15 ft of snow.

After I landed within the central city of Dawar, my eyes had been instantly drawn to the majestic, pyramid-shaped Habba Khatoon peak, standing tall behind a line of passengers awaiting a helicopter trip. I used to be warmly welcomed by Bashir Teroo, a cheerful man who labored as a medical assistant within the well being division. Mr. Teroo, who later proved to be a trusted information, gave me precious insights into the every day struggles of the communities in Gurez.

I used to be stranded in Dawar for the primary three days due to heavy snow. However on the fourth day I awoke to the hum of a helicopter — the sign of a sunny day. I known as Mr. Teroo and requested him if he may take me to Chorwan, one of many final villages alongside the Line of Management. He warned of hazard: Sunny days after heavy snowfall could cause avalanches, he stated. He steered ready till the snow had settled.

We set out for Chorwan by automobile the subsequent day. All alongside the route, the snow-laden terrain appeared gorgeous, with clean, white slopes giving approach to majestic granite cliffs. Empty roads stretched earlier than us.

As we approached the village, I noticed a number of locals. One in all them, Jaleel Ahmad, guided us to his home. Like all the homes within the village, it was constructed from sturdy picket logs stacked horizontally. Right here, the decrease flooring are sometimes used as stables for livestock, whereas the higher flooring function dwelling quarters.

As winter units in, the villagers flip to their looms and knitting needles to create quite a lot of handmade items from regionally sourced wool. A prized handcrafted treasure is the pakol, a flat, folding hat that is still a cherished image of the native identification.

In Mr. Ahmad’s dwelling, as I sat on a raised platform within the heat kitchen, sipping conventional salt tea infused with butter, I felt an uncommon sense of belonging.

All through my keep, Mr. Teroo had piqued my curiosity with tales of Tulail, a smaller valley deep within the mountains that he stated embodied the essence of Gurez. It wasn’t till the twelfth day of our go to that I lastly got down to discover it.

The solar blazed down, casting a silver sheen on the panorama, as I employed a person named Ajaz to take me there in his Tata Sumo, a big 10-seat S.U.V. with off-road capabilities. Winding roads led me by way of rugged terrain not like something I had ever seen earlier than: The mountains grew sharper and towered over us like jagged knives. The villages I handed felt like portals to a bygone period.

The valley of Tulail felt timeless, and as daylight waned I had no selection however to rearrange for an in a single day keep. By the subsequent morning, a lightweight snowfall had turned every little thing uninteresting and grey. I trudged on the slippery highway, a raging snowstorm engulfing the valley, as winds whipped the powdery snow right into a thick fog.

I felt a way of awe on the resilience of those that name this harsh panorama dwelling. Snow and isolation make even a minor emergency a possible demise sentence. Contemporary greens are a luxurious between November and April, and a few residents trek miles simply to make a cellphone name. Regardless of a brand new energy venture within the coronary heart of the area, residents nonetheless depend on oil turbines for simply six hours of energy every day.

And nonetheless, the folks of Gurez persevere.

As guests arrive and the skin world presses in, residents worry that their customs and conventional methods of life will probably be misplaced. Some see tourism as a possibility for progress and prosperity, however others fear that the lure of economic features will threaten the communities’ real heat and erode the very essence of the place.

And it’s not simply guests: The arrival of web entry in Gurez in 2018 additionally had profound results, particularly on younger folks, providing them a wealth of data and a worldwide perspective, and altering the best way they be taught exterior the classroom. Social media has related them with others everywhere in the globe and has given them a platform to specific themselves.

Nonetheless, many residents are decided to carry on to their wealthy cultural heritage, particularly their musical and poetic traditions. In Dawar, I met a gaggle of younger males who’re a part of a singing membership, led by the musician Fareed Kaloo. The group performs songs in Shina, an historic language distinctive to the area.

On my ultimate day in Gurez, I awoke with a heavy coronary heart; I knew it could be stuffed with bittersweet farewells. My new buddies kindly supplied to take me to the military cafe for a cup of espresso. As I sipped my brew, the primary rays of daylight gracefully peeked over the horizon, illuminating the majestic white peaks of the Himalayas within the distance.

As I admired the panorama and mirrored on my journey, Zahoor Ahmad Lone, a sturdy man with a bushy brown beard and blue eyes, came to visit to speak. “Folks suppose we’re unfortunate as a result of we don’t have the luxuries of cities,” he stated. “However they don’t understand that God has blessed us with higher sources.”

Mr. Lone defined that regardless of the tough circumstances of dwelling in Gurez, the folks right here had discovered to understand the easy issues in life. They had been hard-working and self-sufficient, he stated, content material with their plain meals and the peace of thoughts and good well being that got here with dwelling in such a distant place.

Later that day, once I arrived on the helipad, I discovered that the helicopter was on its third flight of the day, ferrying folks between Gurez and Bandipora, some 50 miles away. It could full two extra journeys earlier than the crew known as out my title and I rushed over, slipping previous a piece of razor wire to board the chopper.

As we lifted off, I mirrored on the folks I’d met and the cups of tea they’d shared with real kindness. The mountains appeared to look down at me, as if beckoning me to remain slightly longer.

However quickly we had been flying over a valley ringed by jagged peaks. The winds had been fierce, and the helicopter swayed violently, terrifyingly. Ultimately we emerged on the opposite facet, the mountains bathed in a brand new gentle.

Showkat Nanda is a Kashmiri journalist, photographer and educator. You may observe his work on Instagram: @showkatnanda.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.