Turtuk- A village with equally interesting history and geography is the northern most village of India. As we reach Turtuk, the barren landscapes slowly transforms to green pastures. The chortens, the Buddhist prayer flags and and the ubiquitous landmarks of Ladakh suddenly disappear. The village was opened for the tourists in the year 2009 and is literally the last village on the line of Border Control. A village which was poverty struck and a part of Pakistan till 1971 till India won it back from Pakistan. There are a lot of crazy stories about the time when the small village of Turtuk came under India’s control- One of the most famous being that during this partition many married couples got separated from each other in just one day. The reason being the husband went for some work in other village which was under India’s control by the evening. Eventually the wives secretly ran to their husband in the darkness of the night. When I asked the owner of the guest house if he is now happy in India, he delightfully said- ” Sir we are very happy here in India. We have work opportunity and peace in India. There use to be poverty and violence back in Pakistan. The owner himself was born in Pakistan and has lived for around 4 decades here.
The scenic village of Turtuk is located on the banks of meandering Shyok river. River Shyok (literally “the river of death” in Yarkandi or Central Asian – probably given by the Central Asian traders who ventured on this treacherous route for centuries and perished) a roaring, turquoise torrent rushing to converge with the mighty Indus in Pakistan is the only thing noisy and brash in an otherwise tranquil and peaceful Podunk. Its water is augmented perennially by the countless little streams originating from the Himalayan glaciers. One such gushing glacier-stream cuts across Turtuk, dividing the village into two sides known as the Youl and Farol. Youl, the original Turtuk village, is clustered below the old fort and palace on the west bank of the stream. Farol is the newer village area among terraced fields on the east bank of the stream. About 300+ Balti families belonging to Tibetan origin stay happily together on either sides.
The boys posing for a picture
Residents of the place belong to an ethnic community- Baltistan and follow Islam. They speak Urdu and Ladakhi as well. Balti people have distinctive facial features and are different from Ladakhis, actually being a blend of Ladakhis and Muslim people.
We were honored to meet the Khan of Turtuk, Mohammad Khan Kacho of the Yabgo Dynasty of Chorbat Khaplu. He is the direct descendant of King of Western Turkistan that ruled over this area (called Baltistan Chorbat) for over 1000 years (800 AD – 1800 BC). His ancestors derived their power and wealth from Turtuk’s strategic location on a feeder road of the Silk Route going on to Central Asia via Skardu and Yarkand. The old Khan now lives a poor life while his wife and young son stay in Jammu for his higher education.
Khan has his own private museum of family artifacts that have been passed on for generations. A proud historian himself he has written up the history of his village and compiled the family tree from a cloth version that was passed from generation to generation. A very humble and hospitable man, he warmly welcomes one and all to his humble abode and talks about his royal history with pride in fluent Hindi. I didn’t know that he was the direct descendant of the Yabgo dynasty till some other person told me but I surely noticed that his voice had a royal touch.
A land that is not frequented by the tourists manages to cling on to its slowly dying Balti culture. A visit to this little village sure makes you feel like you are on top of the world!
Till then- KEEP TRAVELLING. KEEP WANDERING.