TURTUK – A WORLD WITHIN ITSELF
TURTUK – A WORLD WITHIN ITSELF
India prouds itself of being home to a number of mesmerizing and picturesque destinations, each unique and distinct in its own way. But if you yearn to visit a village situated along the bank of a prominent Himalayan river, where a small natural stream divides the village into two parts, which is home to the only Balti population on the Indian side of LoC and which is famous for its apricots and walnuts, then Turtuk has to be on your to-visit list for sure.
- Turtuk is one of the northernmost villages in Ladakh and is a part of Nubra Tehsil in the Leh District of the Ladakh region. It is 205 km from Leh (an approx. 8 hours drive from Leh), the district headquarters, and lies on the left bank of the Shyok River. Ironically, the literal translation of Shyok is “the river of death” but the village of Turtuk, on the opposite, gives you reasons enough to live.
- The village is situated merely 10 kms from the Indo-Pak LoC (the de-facto border between the two nations). It is situated at an altitude of around 9800 feet (approx. 3000 mtr).
- Geographically, Turtuk lies in the Baltistan region and is one among four such villages in India, the other three being Tyakshi, Chalunkha and Thang (the last village on the Indian side of LoC). The village is flanked by the Karakoram ranges and lies on the ancient Silk Route.
- Historically, the villages of Turtuk (along with the three other villages of Tyakshi, Chalunkha and Thang) have been a part of the larger Gilgit-Baltistan region, now under the occupation and administration of Pakistan.
- The Chorbat-Khaplu region of Baltistan including Turtuk was ruled by the Yabgo dynasty from before the 16th century. Later it went into the hands of the British East India Company and then taken over by Pakistan in 1948 and ultimately landing in the hands of India in 1971, when India gained control over this strategic area in the Indo-Pak war of 1971, under the command of Major Chewang Rinchen (a revered war hero in this part of the world). It led to an overnight change in the citizenship of many residents of Turtuk (they slept in the night in Pakistan and woke up in the morning as Indians).
- The inhabitants of Turtuk are mainly Baltis, speaking predominantly Balti language, along with a few speakers of Ladakhi and Urdu as well.
- Turtuk is predominantly a Muslim village and home to two mosques dating back to around 16th century. But interestingly, Turtuk also has a few gompas (monasteries) located on the plateau above the Shyok River – a symbol of religious and cultural integrity.
- Like any other popular tourist destination around the globe, tourism remains an important contributor to the overall economy of the village.
- But, tourism being a seasonal source of employment and revenue generation – Turtuk still remains out of bounds for rest of the world during winters – is well supplemented by other sources of employment and revenue generation, with agriculture being the prominent one. One can easily find a huge expanse of buckwheat fields along with plantations of apricots and walnuts along with other seasonal horticultural plants.
- Some people are engaged in building roads and related infrastructure, under the control of Border Roads Organization (BRO). A few people work as non-agricultural labourers as well.
- Turtuk finds itself in close proximity (roughly 10 kms) to the volatile LoC between India and Pakistan and hence was off limit to tourists (both domestic and foreign) till the first decade of 21st century.
- Turtuk was opened to tourists only in 2010 and since then has seen an ever-increasing influx of tourists (both domestic and foreign).
- A lot of guest houses and homestays have come up in the last decade or so to cater to the needs and requirements of the tourism industry.
A Few Tips on planning a visit to Turtuk
- The nearest airport from Turtuk is Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport at Leh. There is an airstrip in Thoise as well (65 kms before Turtuk), but it is mainly used for military and emergency purposes only.
- Turtuk is approximately 205 kms from Leh and could take anywhere between 8 to 10 hours of drive, depending on your duration of stay in Diskit and / or Hunder.
- Arrange for Inner Line Permit (ILP) from DC Office, Leh to visit Turtuk. Do keep sufficient copies of the permit as you will be required to submit a copy each at multiple check points en-route Turtuk. If you want to avoid standing in long queues, there are multiple shops around the DC office that will help you to arrange the ILP (of course they will charge a little extra for their efforts and services).
- The route to Turtuk passes through the mighty Khardung La (at more than 17,800 ft) with the roads being not in their best shapes. Therefore, leave early in the morning from Leh to avoid being struck up in seasonal nullahs along the route because as the day progresses, more snow starts melting that leads to overflowing of these nullahs, making it difficult for the travellers to cross them.
- One can visit the LoC view point near Thang (a 10 kms drive from Turtuk), provided you cross the check post just after Turtuk before 1600 Hrs., else you will not be permitted beyond that point and you have to wait till next morning. No special permit is required to visit the LoC view point near Thang. The ILP issued from Leh will suffice.
- Turtuk is home to a number of places of significant tourist importance which you don’t want to skip, a few prominent ones being:
1. Natural Cold Storage
2. Historic Polo Ground
3. Ruins of Brokpa Fort
4. Balti Heritage House and Museum - a must visit
5. Buckwheat fileds
6. Water Mill
7. 16th Century mosque
- You can find a number of guest houses and homestays in Turtuk. The Balti people are very friendly and known for their hospitality. But ensure to respect their culture and tradition and you can expect a memorable stay in return.
Petrol Pumps - There are multiple petrol pumps in Leh. But once cross Khardung La, the only option for you to refuel your vehicle is the petrol pump at Diskit (115 kms from Leh and 90 kms before Turtuk). It is always advisable to carry extra fuel with you to be on a safer side.
ATMs – The nearest ATM services are available in Leh only. So make sure you carry enough cash as the locals are not very well connected via digital payment methods.
Mobile networks – The best service provider to help you connect to the outside world from Turtuk is BSNL, that too you have to be patient for a call to get connected. Don’t expect any wi-fi services in that part of the world. However, Government is working towards implementation of laying down of optical fiber network that will improve connectivity, but the project is still under progress.
Power – Electricity supply is not 24x7. At such altitudes and terrain, it’s difficult to provide round the clock electricity supply. In Turtuk, you will get an average 4-5 hours of electricity daily that too during evening-night hours. So plan accordingly.
Medical facilities – There is a Primary Health Centre in Turtuk that caters to the basic most medical conditions. Anything beyond that, you have to travel to Leh for better medical facilities.