From Narnia to Turtuk — (Part 2)
In 1971, the people of this little village went to sleep as Pakistanis and woke up as Indians — Turtuk. I visited this little Kingdom, nested away among the mountains on the banks of River Shyok during my solo trip to Ladakh. You can read the detailed itinerary here.
After meandering through a never ending vista of barren mountains which reach towards the sky, I appeared to have suddenly stepped into a green lush hamlet — for a moment I stood wondering if this was a mirage. No, the sound of the gushing waters seemed very real. The bridge across River Shyok also seemed very real.
I had reached the northernmost village of India — Turtuk.
It was way back in 2005 that I first saw the “Chronicles of Narnia”. Sitting in a cinema hall in Chennai, when I saw the larger than life landscapes of the mountains in the final battle scene, I remember attributing the magnificence of the vista to CGI effects.
After 4 days of traveling in Leh, I had finally come to acknowledge that the God created reality is even better than any CGI effect. And on the 4th day of the solo trip, I had reached a small piece of heaven, still hidden away from most of the world.
As you enter the village, you see the gushing waters of River Shyok which creates a sort of division of the village. I later read somewhere that these two divisions are called Youl and Pharol. There is bridge built across it. I crossed over to the left and saw a flight of steps leading up. At each point, I stopped — and not just due to lack of breath. Wherever you stop and turn around you are left spellbound by the majestic mountains, the tall and lean Poplar trees. Your field of vision confuses your mind — is this real or is my imagination on overdrive?
A couple I had met at a previous destination and befriended were on their way down when I reached Turtuk. Seeing me stand atop the bridge with my mouth wide open, they gave me a tip for which I will forever be grateful to them. They told me, “This is not your destination. Walk ahead. It’s just a little more than a kilometer ahead to the Turtuk Monastery. Climb up. And that is your true destination”.
I have never been more grateful for any advice.
I started my walk. I had stepped into a village which came out of children’s tale. Neatly laid out houses made of wood and stone. While there is hardly any space for an elaborate garden for each house, outside each home you will see a chump of flowering plants or creepers as a testimony to a summer that is almost gone. Most of these houses claim to be homestays; many are multi-storied.
Narrow, clean lanes and rivulet flowing through the side of the village makes you forget that you are gasping as you are going up a slope. Interspersed within the village are rectangular plots I noticed some kind of crop growing. They are beautiful with white flowers. And as a backdrop to these lovely fields you will see more of the mighty mountains. It is a truly majestic sight. I later discover that these are Buckwheat plants being cultivated.
Half way through to Turtuk Monastery ( or at least what I hoped was halfway), I entered an orchard. Ripe yellow fruits seemed like fairy lights strung across the greenery. I plucked and had a few — the most delicious apricots I ever had! The Mowgli in me was very happy. Next to it was a dark green thorny bush full of Leh berries. I plucked a handful and joyfully stuffed it into my mouth. Yeww…The sourness just about killed me. Happy that I did not have an audience to watch the myriad expressions flitting through ny face, I plucked a few more apricots and continued my walk towards the monastery.
From here on there were no houses. I had crossed a school on the way. Now walking through the orchard, I could see that Shyok was flowing quite near.
I walked ahead. The path was gradually rising . The ragged stone steps began to worry me a bit. I am not known for my sure foot. But slowly, one step at a time I reached the summit. The monastery itself is a small box like structure. The 3 or 4 monks who were up there were climbing down presumably for lunch as I reached the top.
I sat outside the monastery. You could not have found a more humble setting. A small yet pleasant structure with the omnipresent prayer flags; very small verandah where out of breath travelers like me can sit, a few flowering plants — all this surrounded by mountains on ALL sides.
This was one of those moments in life when you know with surety that you are in the presence of something divine.Mountains forming a wall behind the monastery. An unbelievable divine valley where the Shyok river flows and the other branch of the mountain ranges guarding this little heaven in between. I wish these pictures did half justice to that experience but they don’t.
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And here I met an old King
No trip to Turtuk is complete without a visit to the erstwhile Palace of Baltistan, which is now a museum and here I met the current day “King” of Yagbo Dynasty — Yagbo Mohammed Khan kacho.
I had just disturbed his siesta — the King who was now the caretaker and guide of a palace converted to a museum to preserve and share the stories of this beautiful land with the little children who run in the narrow lanes of the village and curious tourists like me..
I had managed to pique his curiosity when he realised that my fellow traveler was my driver and that I had traveled alone to his land. Apparently, it is not often that a female solo traveler comes along.
This was the end of my day at Turtuk. Having spent the day walking up and down the mountain side, I was happy to sit and chat with the King.
He was keen to know about Kerala. I think he learned as much about Kerala as I did about the history of Gilgit-Baltistan that day.
If our sense of identity is closely tied in with your nationality, then stop for a moment and wonder what goes through the mind of a handful of villagers who went to sleep in Pakistan and woke up in India.
History speaks that no border stays static forever. But the villagers of Turtuk still think wistfully of the relatives who are “lost to them” across the border.
Parting Note:- If you are planning to travel to Leh, please make sure that you stay in Turtuk for a day or two. I know I plan to… when I visit next 🙂
If you have traveled to Turtuk, do share your thought here . I would love to hear from you 🙂