A jouney to Turtuk, Ladakh
A jouney to Turtuk, Ladakh
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” Martin Buber.
During my recent stay in Ladakh during the winters of 2016 while we were conducting the Chadar trek on the frozen Zanskar, We had some time before our next batch arrived in Leh. I preferred to be on the treks on Chadar instead of doing the management work in Leh. Winter Leh can become boring and monotonous, especially if you are here for a long duration without any work or objective.
I just made a plan with my friends Visharad and Rohan, to visit the Nubra valley across the Khardungla pass. We had 5 days before the next batch flew in from Delhi. We have a common friend who runs a homestay in Diksit. We decided to spend the night at his place. My friend in Leh Sanju arranged a Xylo jeep, with a crazy driver named Gurmet.
So all was set, and then started the skiddy ride on the road towards Khardung La. An inch of snowfall had fallen a couple of days earlier. The jeep skidded on many times, and even we had a 360 degree turn once, but we always were lucky to remain on the road. Gurmet was too casual about it and just said “ Kuch nahi hota Sir”. We were on top of the pass at about 1.o clock in the afternoon. It was cold and and only people from the army were there. The descend towards the other side was better with gourmet now gaining better control over the Xylo. We reached Diskit in the evening. Nubra was warmer this year then in last winters. We stayed at Norphel achoo’s place named Siachen guest house.
The morning was cold, but the sun was coming out nicely. So we could guess it was going to be a nice day. After a quick breakfast we drove to Hundar, which is famous for it’s double humped bactrian camels and sand dunes. After a short walk on the sand and a few pictures clicked, it was time to embark on a journey which I had always dreamed of since this place had been open for civilians. The region beyond the Hundar Dunes. The area was under the Protected Area Permit Regime till 2009.
Turtuk, the last village till where you are allowed to venture on the Indo Baltistan border. The last village is Thang which is a few kilometres from Turtuk, but special permission is needed to go till Thang. There is a another village between Turtuk and Thang which is Tyakshi. Across the LOC Phranoo is the first village of Pakistan. The road to Turtuk goes all along the Shyok valley and the condition is good. There is very less traffic on the way, and you mostly cross army vehicles. After crossing a village named Boldong, you have cross a bridge, your Names are entered here. Be sure to carry Identity proofs. We reached Turtuk early in the evening, It was still sunny and bright.
Turtuk is 205 Kms from Leh, and 90 kms from Diskit. It is located on the left bank of River Shyok. It has on one side Ladakh and on the other side Baltistan province of Pakistan. It was in Pakistan earlier, but came under Indian territory after the Indo Pak war of 1971. It still carries on with it’s Balti traditions and culture, and is the only place in India where you can get a glimpse of the Balti culture. All culture practices such as language, marriage traditions, folk music, attire, food, are all Balti. Turtuk has about 300 homes and all are Muslims.
We got ourselves a nice lodge by the name of Balti guest House, owned by Abdul Qadir, He is wonderful and down to earth person. His caretaker Faizullah is a amazing cook and a great host. We sure were treated with some awesome meals, especially the egg curry during Lunch.
The Masjid at Turtuk is also known as Jama Masjid, and is over 300 years old. The interiors and the tower are all made of wood. The people were all very friendly, and a person specially opened the Masjid for us and explained every thing with so much detail.
Even as the entire population of Turtuk is muslim, there is a monastery here. The monastery was made by the Army. The most amazing fact is that the same people who maintain the mosque, burn the lamps in the monastery. The name of the person is Ali. We tried to find Ali, but he was busy in the fields so we could not have a word with him.
The Balti language does resemble the Ladakhi dialect. The people are simple, hardworking and the main source of livelihood is agriculture. In fact there is so much agriculture here that this is surprise for a traveller who happen to be here for the first time. This is the greenest place in ladakh. There are vast fields which have vast orchards of apples, apricots, walnuts, cherries, grapes, mulberry, pear, peach, Lokat, and there are a couple of Chattul tree, the fruit of which is stored in pots of Barley flour, which adds flavour to it, and the fruit remains preserved for months.
There is more than these orchards here. Vegetables like Tomatoes, cauliflowers, potato, pea, cabbage, capsicum, brinjal, chillies, carrot, spinach, and cucumber are grown in abundance. The food is harvested and stored for the harsh winters and the surplus is sold to the Army. There are vast farms on which wheat and barley are grown. If you happen to visit Turtuk during the summers, it is a vast expanse of greenery in contrast to the otherwise barren and desolate Ladakh.
The local food is simple and nutritious. There are a lot of Yaks here and so lot of food items are derived from it’s milk. Preserved Yak paneer which is called Shurpey is used quite abundantly. Yak is also used for meat also, and mostly is preserved for winters, and is called Skas-Kham.
The winters are harsh and the temperatures fall to -20 in the winters. The spring season is relatively pleasant and so are the summers, but temperatures can go upto 35 degrees centigrade. The winters are barren and by the month of march greenery starts to fill in which remains till September. In the month of October the leaves start to go reddish and it’s a wonderful sight to behold. The fall season is the most beautiful time of the year here.
The people of Turtuk still follow the old rich and vibrant culture of Baltistan. On 21st March evry year the Baltistan festival is celebrated with great joy. There is lot of dance, music and merry making.The main attraction of this festival is the polo match. The locals dress up their traditional attire known as Qabai. This is one of the few places outside Baltistan whee you get to see Balti culture.
There is a natural fridge near the village which is engraved into a hill, which keeps water frozen even in temperatures of 30 degrees celcius. See it to believe it. If you have time you can visit a huge waterfall, which is a two hours walk from the monastery. The view of the Karakoram ranges from here is breathtaking. There is an old fort or Khar which belonged to the king. This takes 3 hours to reach. The village has a museum which was closed in winters, which has old artifact, ornaments, dresses, weapons and utensils for the days gone by.
One thing about Turtuk, that struck me was the friendliness of the people. Every one is ready to help you anytime. There are smiling faces all over. It was indeed a wonderful part of my life spent here.
The time spent here was amazing, and will always remain in my memories for ever. Mr Abdul Qadir, the host at Balti Guest house helped me gather all this information about turtuk. We spend the evening in the dining area, which had a sitting area on the floor. there was a thick carpet and the area was warmed by two stoves. Faizullah was yet again at his best when it came to making dinner. It was amazing. We talked and sang bollywood songs late into the night. Abdul sang a song in Balti language, and even I for the first time in my life gave singing a try and thank God one one ran away.
The stars were out, and the night was chilly, and like most mountain villages, Turtuk had gone to asleep early. I wish I could stay more, but for the treks on the Zanskar I could not. I had to be back in Leh the next evening, and with the thought of Gurmet driving me back on skiddy roads, made me doze off early so that i started the next day early.
Turtuk and it’s people have made a stong place in my heart. Wonderful people with very less demands. Happy and contented with their lives. The pain of leaving their near and loved ones across the border is slowly fading away. They live straight from the heart, and are amazingly friendly. May God bless this land always.
Some Important Information a traveler should know about this place.
Carry you ID proofs. They are verified by the army at a post before Turtuk. No special permit is required.
The only phone network available is BSNL. If you are from another state only a post paid BSNL connection will work in the entire Nubra valley.
There is a Primary Health Centre with well qualified Doctors.
Nearest working Petrol pump is at Leh. The pump at Diskit is working off and on.
The locals like it when ladies are well covered. Thats the way their culture is.
There is daily one bus between Diskit and Turtuk. It takes about 4 Hrs. You can even get shared cabs.
Electricity is generator powered and is available from 5 P.M till 11 P.M. Do all your gadget charing during this time.
Turtuk is the last village you can travel on this line. You need special permission from the army to go beyond.
wishing you all happy exploring
cheers and regards