Once upon a time, in a far, far away land there was a quaint little village nestled between the Ladakh and Karakoram ranges with the Shyok River accompanying it on one side. Known as the erstwhile Baltistan, legend has it that prior to the Indo-Pak war of 1971, this village was a part of Pakistan. Post the war, India gained control of this strategic location. So here I present to you, perhaps the nicest, cleanest and the most beautiful village I’ve ever seen – Turtuk.
Turtuk is the last Indian outpost in Ladakh before PoK and the northernmost village in India. It is a very secluded, military-dominated, and sensitive area, as merely ten kilometres ahead is the border or line of control between India and Pakistan. Turtuk has been opened to tourists only as recently as 2009, which is why it is a mysterious gem. To write about it, is like letting a big cat out of the bag.
Getting to Turtuk is an excursion in itself. It takes roughly about 8-9 hours from Leh and about 3 hours from Nubra Valley, before which you have to cross the mighty (rightfully called so) Khardung La pass. The extensive traveling is absolutely worthy of Turtuk. Unknowingly, your face lights up almost the instant you reach.
You need to cross a rickety wooden bridge to enter the village. Once inside, the breezy wind, the burble of the Shyok River and the lush greenery, all enchant you. Some houses and fewer guesthouses dot the small cobbled lanes. Shy, curious and welcoming faces jaunt around the village with smiles for the mysterious guests. The changes in the language, behavior, and physical features of the people are just a glimpse of the Balti culture. It’s a small village of roughly 3000 inhabitants. They consider themselves to be of Central Asian origin and follow a number of Zoroastrian practices. A major one being celebrating Navroz, or “Navras” as they call it. They begin their harvest season from 21stMarch, as they believe that is amongst the most auspicious days. The villagers are avid Polo players and have an annual tourney of 10 days, commencing from Navroz.
Perhaps the first thing anyone would notice on entering the village is the abundant green cover. The villagers are extremely self-sufficient, with each family owning average sized farmlands. The village is covered with agricultural fields of Barley with Apricot, Mulberry and Poplar trees all around. These fields are provided with pure glacial water from the small canals running beside the narrow roads. Each house in Turtuk is two storeyed, the ground one is to keep the cattle safe whereas the inhabitants reside on the top storey. Each and every door in the village is of the same size, shape and wood so to bear some common semblance.
A part of the village is reminiscent of the 1971 war, with demolished Pakistani bunkers seemingly untouched, as is the old Pakistani Mosque, which is also a place of worship.
While you are exploring the multiple small alleys of this village, do ask the locals to guide you to the museum and house that belonged to the rulers of the Yabgo Dynasty of Baltistan. The museum and house, currently occupied by one of his descendants, Mr. (Yabgo) Mohd Khan Kancho also houses multiple artefacts and belongings of the former King. What is more intriguing is the fact that this new generation doesn’t affirm to the stereotypes that are associated with rulers. His livelihood is simple, a modest man with very limited means. He takes great pleasure in showing the museum to tourists while giving his brief ancestral history.
As you hike your way through the plush greenery, up to the Monastery, you unearth a view so pure that you would look twice to believe it. You are treated to a spectacular view of the riverbank, underlying plains all while the Indian and Pakistani glaciers are glancing down on you.
Just four hours in this village already had me planning my next trip here. With the constant hustle and bustle of the city life, the calmness of Turtuk almost seems like a parallel universe. You are transported into an era, where a lot depended on just earning to sustain your basic needs, feeding your cattle and idly whiling your evenings with a bunch of friends. Once in a while, everyone needs a break from his or her busy schedule, but to live that break all your life, one sure has earned a lot of good fortune.
Besides the very few home-stays available, one of the best places to stay in Turtuk would be the TURTUK HOLIDAY CAMP, which comprises of tented accommodation with modern sanitation facilities and delicious food. The entire staff is extremely courteous and humble. The owner, MR. REHMATULLAH and MR. RASHID take great pains to ensure your stay is comfortable and lovely. On special requests, they even accompany you on your tour of this beautiful village.