Turtuk Diaries: Tales of a wonderland
My Dad put me in the habit of reading and writing right when I was as little as 4. As I grew, he often bought home varied titles right from Puss in Boots to Thumbelina and authors from Enid Blyton to Rudyard Kipling. He also helped me in my school essays, and I was so inspired by the stories he would create back then. One such story stayed with me, and that was of a town lost in time. Where rivers graced the town bearing crystal clear waters, where the sky was the most pleasant blue you may have ever seen, where the trees were so tall, they seemed as if they were kissing the sky.
Cut to July 2018. I visited a place that brought this fantasy story to life. It was my third day on the Leh-Ladakh trip. We had just left Khardungla top and headed towards Nubra Valley. Now, most people take a halt here, or explore this place and get back to Leh. That is because very few people know of a wonderland that is around a 4-5 hour drive ahead. We had a quick stopover at Nubra for lunch and then continued ahead excitedly.
The place was quite hyped by our tour organizer friend Stallon Ferns, so we were quite excited. But the excitement soon started wearing off. The roads became scarier, the Shyok river keeping us company all along became mightier and louder, the mountains kept changing colours from purple to black and all shades of brown. There was not a soul in sight for the longest time. This 4-hour drive seemed never-ending as if we were driving to the end of the world! We were tired and hoped that all the hype better lived up to the expectations.
Just about 15 mins before reaching the place, the landscape started changing. We could see rivulets in the purest turquoise blue joining the mighty grey Shyok. The browns and blacks turned to greens and blues. As we were just beginning to appreciate the changing landscape, the driver stopped and announced that we had reached.
Seeing the hype live up to expectations
As I got off the vehicle, a rare breeze seemed to hit my face. There right in front of my eyes was a pure white waterfall stream that flowed in all its glory. A walking bridge overhead connected both the parts of the town. I was overjoyed when I learned we were to cross the bridge to reach our homestay. (I have a thing for bridges, flyovers & tunnels, don't judge) When I stood on that bridge and just looked around, it dawned on me. This place is exactly the same as was in that story years ago. Turtuk. It was right out of a fairy tale, a wonderland that did exist.
My heart was dancing as I matched its beats to race towards our homestay. Karim Bhai, our host, had come to receive us and was leading the way. After 10 mins of walking through lush green fields, surrounded by some crazy mountains, we reached Bagdour Guest House. A wonder(ful) home in a wonderland, indeed. Karim's home had a stream flowing along its stretch with water so clean, fresh, and cold. This water is used by all the households in the village to drink, cook, bathe, et al. There was a bridge connecting the home to a private sit-out area, which was the first place we ran to. Fresh cherries (picked from the trees around the sit-out), a warm cup of Kahwa (the special Kashmiri tea), and biscuits were laid out to welcome us! At that moment, we knew we wanted to stay there more days than we actually had planned to.
Soon it was dark. After a good session of Jenga, we headed to relish the organic spread of Kashmiri home-cooked food. That night I slept like a baby, reminiscing about my dad's stories and drawing similarities with where I was!
Things to do in Turtuk
Here are some exclusive things that you could indulge in, when in this wonderland. Make the most of it as you are going to treasure these times for your lifetime. Mark our words!
1. Take a village tour
Karim Bhai, our host, led the way to show us this wonderland he called home. We started near his house and went all the way to the K2 viewpoint and back. Along the way, we passed by local homes, the community well, local farms, trekked on edges as the Shyok river kept company alongside, way below. My, my, what an experience! One must-do while on the tour? Grab as many apricots as you like and keep gulping them down along the way. You'll be tired but the apricot trees will keep tempting you!
2. Visit the LOC at the last village of India, Thaang (just 2 km from Pakistan)
This was the closest we could get to POK, just 2 km away! We could literally see Pakistan and it looked equally beautiful. I remember when we were there, it was the last day of the Maratha regiment soldiers and we were glad to meet a few of them and spoke to them in Marathi as well. It was such a proud moment to see those Bravehearts on duty, narrating the bravest stories with such humility. So Turtuk, Thaang, and all of these villages here were part of Baltistan, Pakistan(POK) until India won these regions in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. There are families here who have their close relatives across the border but can't meet them. Tourism started here quite later from 2010. Even then, this border wasn't accessible to tourists. However, we got lucky that it was opened a few months before we went there. There's also a restaurant there which serves maggie, kahwa, etc. We had maggie with a view of the LOC, how often does that happen? Errr. Never.
3. Catch the shooting stars in the (super) starry skies
I will say this again. The Turtuk night sky will show you stars as many as you may have never seen in your life at the same time. The night sky is a treat. I could spend the entire night just counting the number of shooting stars, but eventually, forget the count because they are that many. We were out in the open for about 15 mins and we saw about 10 shooting stars. So incredible!
4. Visit the Balti Heritage House and Museum
Super insightful to gauge the Balti culture and heritage. They have a part of their home converted into a museum, preserving the antique vessels, pots, clothes, instruments, weapons, and much more. It's a great place to experience the culture up close. You get a guided tour by the host and there are nominal charges.
5. Just relax
It's the place that demands your calm. Sit still, read, write and just relax. Every corner of the village is serene and you can't 'not relax'. Turtuk is literally the 'Nature's lap' and you wouldn't mind sleeping in it a just bit more.
Things to know
You will have no network whatsoever (a good way to detox yeah)
They have electricity only from 7 pm to 11 pm in case you want to charge your phones etc. that is the time.
Buy apricots/walnuts from here, as they are freshly plucked and packed just for you and you can benefit the locals too.
At the LOC, please behave as per the instructions of the army personnel and be respectful towards them.
So go pack your bags and visit this gem before it gets commercialized. We are absolutely sure of the fact that Turtuk will leave you spellbound and you'll thank us for the recommendation (just as we thank Stallon even today!) Also, do stay with the locals and try to give back to this community that strives hard in one of the most difficult terrains with very little resources and extreme climatic conditions. For any more details, get in touch with us, and we'd be happy to help as always!
Whatever I may write about this place, or how beautiful the pictures here may seem, trust me when I say, they don't do justice to the place that Turtuk is. You need to see it, live it, and let it etch an irreplaceable place in your heart.
Have you been here? Or planning to go? Let us know in the comments below-