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A shabby signboard in this beautiful valley, 30 kms from Gurez, reads: “Welcome to the heaven on earth.” The signboard, which is almost invisible, is placed amidst lush green pine trees on the Gurez-Tulail road, which is out of bounds for civilians, except those who move along the area with prior permission of the armed forces stationed there.

One thing that distinguishes this Valley, which has all the ingredients of a trekkers’ delight, from rest of the places is the unique architecture of houses built here. And coupled with meadows and mountains of green and brown tinge, the place makes a perfect combination of Gulmarg and Pahalgam [two famous tourist destinations in Kashmir] at one place.

The road to Tulail is dilapidated. At several places, it seems to have been dug and left as such. The through-cut excavation has turned the leftover portions too curvy and sharp. It has left behind isolated trees which seem to be falling on the road. The rocks and stones, of all shapes and sizes, are scattered in abundance around the way, indicating the labour and time that it would have consumed to do the blasting of hard-rock portions.

However the serenity of the place, especially the wildflowers of different types, captivates your attention to the extent that you forget the dangers associated with the road.

In midst of mountains—of different shapes and sizes, mostly changing their colour with sunlight—are situated the log houses of mud and brown colour. This, the locals say, is the identity of Tulail Valley. The architecture—with logs of wood one over the other—is same in villages of Tulail, some of which are situated atop the mountains while a few on their banks. The houses, not more 20 to 30, form a stair-like structure, as if all have been built one over the other at a stretch. Inside the houses, which have been assembled without use of nails, there are two to three rooms, mostly furnished with traditional Namdas [traditional Kashmiri carpet]—something which seems to be an extinct entity in most of the rural areas now.

People in this Valley have to encounter extremely tough living conditions, especially during the months of winter when it snows too heavily.

The snowfall, according to locals, blocks their movement for almost six months.

“We remain confined to our houses,” says Muhammad Hussain, a shepherd at Tulail. “We happen to have dumped all our food items for six months. And if we required any kind of assistance, we happen to be at the beck and call of the armed forces.”

A cursory look at the “development” of Tulail indicates total absence of the state government. This has, directly, furthered the dependence of people on alternative sources of help, including that by the armed forces.

“We get power through Diesel Generators and Solar Lighting for not more than five hours a day,” said a group of Tulail residents. “We have been craving for basic amenities which we hardly get. There is hardly a politician who seems to be bothered about our plight. We lack basic amenities in health sector, which affects us too badly during winters.”

The Gurez-Tulail road ultimately leads to Drass, connecting Kashmir with Ladakh. However, with area being out of bounds for civilian movement for “being situated below the Line of Control that divides Indian and Pakistani sectors of Kashmir”, there are little hopes of free movement along it, at least in near future.

“We don’t know when this road shall be thrown open for all types of vehicles. That could give a tremendous boost to the economic activities in Gurez and Tulail apart from connecting the Valley with Ladakh via an alternate route,” says Hussain. “There are hundreds of foreign tourists who visit Ladakh every year. If the Drass-Tulail road is thrown open for traffic, there is every possibility that these tourists would love to visit Gurez, which is a famed tourist destination.”

This time around, people are all engaged in dumping the food and fodder for winter months. “Our sole livelihood rests on harvesting potatoes and cumin seeds, which are very famous in this Valley. If the economic activity along the road gets a fillip, it would lead to a considerable development in Tulail and Gurez,” said Gafour Khan, a local.