WINTER WONDERLAND WORRY | Gurez Valley basks in sunshine, missing snow brings concerns

Bandipora, Jan 3: People in north Kashmir district’s Gurez Valley are enjoying bright sunshine during Chillai Kalan, the harshest days of winter.

With life bustling around, the 30,000 people are also finding relative relief from the biting cold, as near-zero snowfall for this season has kept the 85-km Bandipora-Gurez road open in January, a rare occasion that people have witnessed in recent years.

Even though mornings and evenings are extremely cold, the happiness from the mild weather during the daytime is also bittersweet, as people are concerned about the changing climate, which may affect them negatively.

“People here are happy at this time of the year. We are enjoying bright sunny days in January. However, deep within everybody is worried,” Abdul Raheem Lone of Dawar said.

Although Gurez, which has become a preferred summer tourist destination, witnessed light snowfall in November, the traces are visible nowhere on the ground, giving a feeling to the locals that things are unusual.

“We have had dry spells in recent years, but what is disturbing us this year is that there is no snow on the ground or the nearby mountain tops,” Lone said. “Only the highest passes are snowcapped, which is normal in warmer months too.”

The November 2, 2023, snowfall triggered the Bandipora-Gurez road’s closure, but it was temporary. The road that would remain closed for almost six months starting November is open.

Talking to Greater Kashmir, Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Gurez, Mukhtar Ahmad said, “The road is open, but we are allowing one-way traffic given the slippery conditions at places like Zadkhushi and Razdan Top, at nearly 12000 feet, which witness extremely low temperatures.

The villagers in Gurez are used to consuming sundried vegetables, lentils, and Gurez’s famed organic potatoes for winter, which they keep stored in pit-size holes in the earth.

Also, people do not venture out much due to snowfall up to 10 feet with activities traditionally happening within the warmth of the houses.

The Gurez Valley would remain closed for traffic for six months, however on average it now witnesses 3 to 4 months of closure due to continuous snow clearance operations by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO).

Besides this, heavy snowfall consistently brings life in Gurez to a standstill, with medical emergencies concerning people daily due to road closures.

Besides all the internal links connected, the far-away tehsil of Tulail and Bagtore-Kanzalwan regions within the Gurez Valley are also witnessing unusual winter bustle.

However, the road being open is letting them savour fresh vegetables too this time, a rare treat for the mountainous valley.

“The road is open and we are recording the daily flow of traffic besides a chance to enjoy fresh vegetables,” Lone said. “God has been kind this time so far, but the situation can change anytime.”

The Gurez Valley, like other parts of Kashmir, has witnessed a shift in the weather pattern.

In 2022, the Gurez road was kept open till December when there was snow on the ground.

Locals said that this time it is all dry.

The valley witnessed a similar weather pattern in 2018 when roads were open by January end.

However, at that time, the valley had witnessed heavy snowfall in December 2017.

Later it was opened again after a prolonged dry spell.

The weather forecasters in Kashmir have also indicated no major Western Disturbances in the coming days.

Meanwhile, no snowfall has dampened the spirits of cricket enthusiasts in the valley too, as with snowfall, youth in Gurez have been organising snow cricket tournaments.

The practice though old, has garnered widespread attention in recent years.

“There has been no snowfall yet and we are waiting,” Irfan Ahmad Lone, a youth who organises and plays in the tournament told Greater Kashmir.

Deputy Commissioner (DC) Bandipora, Owais Ahmad told Greater Kashmir that Gurez valley attracted 50,000 tourists in 2023.

It is more than what has been witnessed in 2022 and 2021.

Before that, the valley would only receive a couple of hundred local tourists.

Notably, Razdan Top forces Gurez Valley road’s closure as during inclement and even light snowfall, conditions become tough, forcing the administration to suspend the traffic.

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