‘Land of Ancient Aryans – Dardistan’
By K S Correspondent
A ride along the Gurez road from Srinagar is not only reflective of the beautiful valleys and meadows but also the rich cultural and archaeological diversity, most of which is yet to be explored. Gurez is a valley located in the highHimalayas, about 86 kilometres from Bandipore and 130 kilometres from Srinagar. At about 8,000 feet above sea level, the valley is surrounded by snow capped mountains. It has diverse fauna and wildlife including the Himalayan brown bear and the snow leapard. The Kishanganga River flows through the valley. The road to Gilgit runs through Gurais.
There are no two opinions that Gurez, also known as Dardistan (the land of Dard community) was once a major link connecting Kashmir with Central Asia and Afghanistan. There are hardly any doubts that this link houses some of the important historical places, monasteries and other archaeological treasures. But what has marred the exploration of this rich cultural and archaeological diversity is little effort by archaeologists on this front, primarily in the wake of restricted movement in the area, which would connect Kashmir to Gilgit, the central point from where sub-links to Central Asian countries would emerge.
Being situated very close to the Burzil Pass, which leads into Astore District of the Northern Areas, the inhabitants are ethnic Dards/Shins. They speak the Shina language. Dawar is the central township in the area. The population of the area is estimated to be about 30,000, and is scattered among fifteen villages. Due to heavy snowfall in winter, the valley remains cut off for six months of the year.
Gurais’s most formidable peak is Habba Khatoon, around which legends abound and at one time, even a film starring Dimple Kapadia was planned. This pyramid shaped peak was named after the Kashmiri poetess Habba Khatoon.
Gurez has been one of the major links of Kashmir with Central Asia and Afghanistan. Hordes of traders, pilgrims, adventurers and missionaries have taken up this route to enter and exit Kashmir. While archaeological surveys along the Silk Route have reportedly revealed inscriptions recorded in stones (in Tibetian and Hebrew), it is also believed that the 4th Buddhist Conference might have been held in Kanzalwan area of Gurez, barely a few kms before Dawar, the main township of Gurez.
Interestingly, the mention of Dards has also been made in Kalhana’s Rantarangni. It reads: “The Dardas are the modern Dards. Their seats, which do not seem to have changed since the time of Herodotus, extend from Chitral and Yasin, across the Indus regions of Gilgit, Chilas, and Bunji to the Kishenganga Valley in the immediate north of Kashmir. The tribes inhabiting the latter valley (Kishenganga) are meant in most of the passages in which the chronicle mentions the Dardas or Dards.”