Being on my first solo trip I was wondering whether I will be able to complete the trip without feeling lonely and bored. All those thoughts kept bothering me till I landed in Leh. On my fourth day in Leh I met Ian, a nice English guy who was on the same shared vehicle as mine to Pangong Tso. ‘Where else are you planning to go, Ian?’ I asked. And that question shaped my otherwise unplanned trip to Ladakh.
Two days letter I joined my new found friend Ian and his wife Nickey for a trip to Nubra Valley with a plan to stay the night at Turtuk, a small village in the Indo- Pak border. This village is the biggest village in the entire Nubra Valley and it became a part of India only in 1972 after the India Pakistan war. We started our journey around 7 AM. On this two days trip to Nubra valley we stopped at Nubra, Hunder and many more small villages but Turtuk was the main highlight of the whole trip. Although the distance of 200 KM from the Leh town to Turtuk appears to be a small distance but it took us almost the whole day to reach the village. Since we had the whole car to ourselves, we could stop at every place we wanted and we utilized this advantage to the fullest.
As we drove through the seemingly endless curves of The Himalaya we saw the landscape changing from Snow covered roads in the Khardung La pass to sand dunes in Hunder and finally it turned green as we reach near Turtuk. But the Shyok River gave us company till the end. After almost 10 hours of journey we reached the village around 5 PM.
Surrounded by the mighty Himalayas, Turtuk is like a village straight out of fairy tales. A stream divides the village into two parts namely Yul and Farol and these two parts of the village are connected by a pretty little bridge. Our driver had already arranged a homestay for us run by a local guy named Mr. Karim, so we parked our car near the bridge and entered the village walking through the bridge. As we entered the village I was mesmerized by the beauty of the village. There were green paddy fields inside the village, a concrete footpath through the houses and paddy fields leading to the end of the village and a beautifully arranged canal system which brings water from the nearby stream to the fields. As we walked though the village to reach our homestay, the incredible view of the village and the mountains wiped away all my tiredness of the day long journey in a moment.
The sun was still shining on the afternoon sky leaving yellow shadows on mountains. Since Sun sets around 7 PM in this part of the world we decided to take a tour of the village before calling it a day. On our request Karim Bhai agreed to show us around the village. After freshen up we went out. As we walked through the fields, Karim Bhai explained us about the life of the locals. We were told that most of the people in the village have Balti connection therefore they look different from other Ladakhi people. Farming is the major livelihood in the village, especially apricots and walnuts. In fact this small village produces majority of the apricots produced in Jammu and Kashmir. Karim Bhai amused us with several stories about the village, like why every family in the village owns a donkey, how walnut and apricots are grown and processed, how they regulate the flow of water to the fields and many more.
Since border is just 10 KM away from the village presence of Indian Army could easily be seen. This village is also the gateway to the Siachen glacier and the villagers and army help each other in protecting the border. After the tour of the Farol part of the village Karim Bhai left us at a café near the bridge with a promise to show us the other part of the village next morning.
Next morning we woke up early as we had to see the other part of the village before leaving for Leh. As promised, Karim Bhai came on time to take us for a tour of Yul part of the village. As we crossed the bridge over the stream to enter the other part of the village, we saw the villagers getting ready for the day. The main attraction of the morning was the museum of the village. The museum has beautifully preserved various objects relating to Yagbo dynasty, the Balti rulers who used to rule the area including the village. Luckily Yagbo Mohd Khan Kacho, the current successor of the dynasty was present at the museum and he briefed us about the kings who ruled the region, their legacies and the items stored in the museum. He said that his father had to fight against Pakistani authorities in Lahore court to free the village from the occupancy of Pakistani armies. I was thrilled to hear all these stories about the history of Turtuk. We also had a plan to give a visit to a family which makes stone utensils, which is famous in entire Ladakh region, but unfortunately we could not meet them as they were not available that day. But I didn’t miss the opportunity to buy some apricots before leaving the village.
As we were leaving the village we met lot of small kids who were on their way to school, talking and laughing amongst themselves. We had a box of cherries which we bought from Nubra the previous day and Nickey offered some cherries to some of the kids which they gleefully accepted. Seeing that, many other kids came near us and we were happy to distribute cherries to them as well. The box of cherries was finished in no time. But after getting the cherries they had even broader smiles on their faces and we could easily make out the feeling of euphoria on their faces. As we drove by, they waved us good bye and only thing that came to my mind was, no matter wherever we go the language of love expressed through a smile and is always the same and if one can speak this language one will never feel lonely.
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