Bandipora

Nestled on the banks of Wular Lake which is the largest freshwater lake in Asia. Bandipora has a brief history with a major link connecting Northern India with central Asia via the Silk Road, it is nicknamed the ‘Gateway to central Asia’ due to this Silk Road. Darul-Uloom-Rahimiyah which is a school of philosophers is the largest religious institution in the state. The terraced gardens of Bandipora are similar to Nishat gardens of Srinagar. The place is well known for its rich literature and the name is derived from folk singing band as Band e Pur.

The temple at Kaloosa is known by the name Sharda Mandir in the district dates back to old times, it has an old and rare type of tree popularly known by the name Bran. There are few Pashtun villages near the border and has a sizeable number of Shina speaking population, Bandipora is also an adventurers paradise with mountaineering, trekking, and angling present. The Arin Nallah is famous for its exotic trout fish.

Wular Lake

Wular Lake called the Mahapadmasar during ancient times is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia fed by the Jehlum River. The vastness of the lake with its big dimensions gives rise to high leaping waves called Ullola(Sanskrit) meaning stormy high rising waves, became a transition as Bolor by Al-Biruni and over centuries changed to Wular. A designated Ramsar site today, it is of international importance under Ramsar convention. The lake is home to various varieties of fish and birds, it faces environmental threats with the conversion of large catchments areas into agricultural land, hunting, and weed infestation in the lake itself.

Kashmiri Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin is said to have ordered for the construction of artificial island of Zaina Lank in the middle of the lake in the 14th century. Some water-based activities like water skiing have been introduced by the tourism department.

Gurez and Thulail Valley

Gurez and Thulail Valley which falls in the ancient silk route which connects Kashmir with Gilgit and further to central Asia, home to the Dard tribe an old civilization who had their homeland spread across the valley in northern Kashmir, the Indus parts of Chitral, Yasin, Gilgit, Chilas, and Bunji.

It is a hidden gem of Kashmir divided between two countries struggling to preserve their vanishing culture and language. The physical isolation has helped a little in preserving the cultural and environmental treasures of the valley. The breathtaking scenic beauty of Gurez, its forests and wildlife have had very little changes, the Dards have their mention in various history books like Rajtarangni, in Greek and Roman history. The language of the dard tribes is Shina and it goes by various other names.

Gurez was once a vital stopover on the silk route connecting from Xinjiang province of China, it was a strategic route during ancient times, Dards were highly powerful tribes due to its unique location. They are also ethnically different from Kashmiris. With its glorious history, it’s a home to archaeological treasures.

The ancient capital of Dards is Dawar in the valley which is an important archeological site along with Kanzalwan where the last council of Buddhism is believed to have been held and further downstream ruins of ancient Sharada University is preserved along Kishenganga River. Archeological surveys have uncovered various inscriptions in Kharoshthi, Brahmi, and Tibetan giving insights into the origins of Kashmiri people and earlier history of Buddhism.

Even during the colonial era, the valley was visited by the likes of Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and Sheikh Abdullah. Gurez is divided into 3 regions Neelum district consisting areas of Toabat to Sharada Peeth, Astore district consisting of Kamri and Minimarg administered by Pakistan, Bandipora district consisting of Toabat to Abdullae Tulail administrated by India.

The valleys most popular peak is Habba Khatoon named after the Kashmiri poetess, a beautiful woman from saffron village and daughter of a peasant, she was married off to a peasant boy named Zoon and she was ill-treated by her in-laws for she spent her time in poetry and singing. Later she was found by the emperor of Kashmir Yousuf Shah who was awed by her beauty and married her. Habba Katoon wandered near the peak in search of her husband who was killed by Akbar.

One of the most notable inhabitants is Mohammad Noor Khan who had repelled the tribal invasion during independence. The valley these days is slowly gathering popularity among tourists and remains an unexplored gem of Kashmir. The Gurez thulail road leads to Drass connecting Kashmir with Ladakh, the area is not allowed for civilian movements as it falls under the Line of control between the two countries.

Razdan Pass

Razdan Pass a high altitude pass on a steep ascending journey from Bandipora at a height of 11,672 ft. lies in the Gurez valley. It has breathing taking views of high mountains and valleys. There lies a shrine of Peer Bubo at the pass, the saint who had come here from Lahore was buried at the pass. The pass remains closed for 6 months a year due to snowfall, the roads are currently in bad shape and have very fewer tourists flocking it, once an integral part of the silk route connecting to central Asia. It is also a link connecting Gurez with the rest of Kashmir.