#1 Travel Diaries- Turtuk(India)- Paradise on Earth

Have you ever been to a place that you’ve fallen in love with immediately? That’s how I felt when I visited Turtuk in May 2019. I can’t blame you if you haven’t even heard of the place. It is an under-appreciated tourist destination, opened to tourists only in 2010. But I’ll tell you, paradise on earth- that’s what Turtuk is. Being one of the northernmost villages of India, it’s remoteness from the rest of the country makes it seem like a boring place to visit. What’s so amazing about a village? This was the attitude I had when my family had planned a visit to the place. None of the other tourists we met on our Ladakh (Kashmir, India) trip had planned to stay overnight in Turtuk as we had. All of them thought the place wasn’t worth spending any time on. This only made me doubt our decisions more. When we reached, I realised how wrong I was. There was something special about this village- unlike any other I’d been to.

The fields of Turtuk
Jumping in the Turtuk fields

Before I get to the people’s culture and my experience in the village, I want to let you know more about Turtuk’s geographical location and history.

Geographical Location and Timeline of Conflicts

Turtuk is located at the India-Pakistan occupied India border.

Picture courtesy- Wikipedia


The Indo-Pakistani war of 1947-48: Turtuk was annexed by Pakistan.
The Indo-Pakistani war of 1971(Battle of Turtuk): Turtuk was recaptured by India.
The Kargil War(1999): Another major conflict between India and Pakistan.

Turtuk was juggled between the two countries.

The locals’ experience of being part of both Pakistan and India

One of the elderly locals who would’ve been around 25-30 years of age when India recaptured Turtuk said “Both the countries have wonderful people and terrible politicians. There is no difference in the feeling of belonging in either country.”

Many locals said that their families were separated at the time of the Battle of Turtuk. Their relatives were in Pakistan and they were able to visit only once in a blue moon because of the bad relations between the countries.

The people of Turtuk have gone through so much for India. Yet, the rest of the nation has a stereotyped image of them that they want to be part of Pakistan, are violent, and are the main cause for constant tensions between India and Pakistan. These presumptuous people badly need a visit to Turtuk, to learn how harmoniously these Muslim people live in a Buddhist region in a Hindu majority country. They do not impose their culture on anybody but simply practise what they want to. They are happy with what they have and do not mourn about the past.

The Turtuk way of life

The immense hospitality of the villagers left me spellbound. If someone or the other came into my street every second of every day, carrying cameras and whatnot, my irritation would know no bounds. I might even smack them on the head and tell them to get out. But here, there was not one person who didn’t greet us with a “Hello” or a “Julley” (the local way of saying hello). All the students coming back from school, bags held over their heads, greeted us with a smile and a polite “Hello”. It warmed my heart how welcoming all of them were. There was one girl of about 7 years age who was coming back from school with her little brother. She came to me and asked, “What’s your name?”. I said, “Shreya, what’s yours?” She stammered. She looked at me for a few seconds and asked “Aapko Urdu aati hai kya?” (Do you speak Urdu?) The girl had wanted to show off her English speaking skills to her brother.

The local children waving at us from their balcony
The school children of Turtuk posing for a photo

All the natives had a rosy tinge to their cheeks. It was perhaps the climate that gave them this colour, because on my second day there, I started to develop this tinge on my cheeks as well. All of them were absolutely gorgeous and had flawless skin. Maybe they looked extra beautiful because of how kind and giving each one of them was.

When asked for directions to the museum, instead of just showing us the way, one of the ladies guided us to it. I really couldn’t understand how they managed to be so patient and loving. Was it part of their culture? Were they doing it only because tourism promoted their lives? It didn’t seem like it. It seemed like they were doing it because that was how they were. Compassionate about everyone and everything.

Water

Turtuk has an everlasting natural supply of water. The water runs through a channel on every single road. Unlike the drainage water that runs through the streets of our metropolitan cities, this water is remarkably clear. The villagers follow strict rules to maintain the purity of the water. Not one person washes clothes or vessels in the water directly. The water is so clean that the villagers drink from it directly.

It amazed me how disciplined the people were. It is this discipline that had ensured that the place never ran out of water to date, even when water was scarce in the rest of the nation.

Water flowing in a channel through the side of the road
Water flowing through every creak and crevice
Lying on a rock in the Shyok river-a source of Turtuk’s water

Museums of Turtuk

There are two museums in Turtuk – the Balti museum and the Royal Palace of the Yabgo dynasty. We first visited the Royal Palace, which the locals called a museum. The Palace was only the size of an average city house, with two floors. The man in the museum claimed to be a descendent of the Yabgo dynasty and had displayed his ancestors’ possessions and gifts from the British during the time of the British Rule in India. He demanded the respect of a King through his demeanor, but the rest of the village treated him as the village crazy man.

The Yabgo dynasty family tree in the Palace(museum)
The display in the Royal Palace

The Balti museum was the highlight of the entire trip. The museum was basically a house, built around 100-150 years ago, showcasing the tools used by the villagers to keep the fire running, to cut meat, to walk in the snow and the like, and the clothes they made using the skin of Ladakhi animals that they wore to keep themselves warm. The house was so strategically planned that there’s even a little playroom attached to the kitchen for mothers to keep their babies in while they cook!

The kitchen of the Balti house (Balti Museum )
The ever-smiling Museum lady

I noticed that every article displayed was neatly labeled in English. I was confused. The museum lady could hardly speak in even Hindi(India’s official language and most spoken language) Who had labeled them so perfectly, then? I asked her this, and she proudly said, “My son.” She walked into a room and came out with all of his medals and certificates. She wanted us to see them. He was studying in one of India’s most reputed Universities. Just speaking to her filled my heart with happiness. She was ever-smiling. She walked us through every bit of her ancestral home, educating us how the people of Turtuk survived the harsh climatic conditions centuries ago.

A Sad Sight

When we were walking through the lush green fields, we noticed that the students of a nearby school came rushing out to meet us. I thought tourists fascinated them. They repeated over and over “Photo. Photo.” They wanted us to take a picture with them and we did. When we bid them adieu with a smile and a wave, they demanded money for taking photos with them. We were all shocked. They were all about 8-10 years old. The other tourists must have encouraged this and made it a habit for them. We tried our best to make them understand it is not good to demand money- not because we didn’t want to give them money, but because it is insane for children to be money-minded. We realised that they felt like we were betraying them and we had no other way than to give them a few rupees. We witnessed the same in Ladakh, a city a few kilometres away from Turtuk. There, it was a group of elderly women.

The school kids made us take a photo with them and later demanded money for it
The elderly women of Ladakh who like the school children, made us take a photo of them and later demanded money for doing so

Over 2500 kilometres from where I lived, I felt at home. I fear that with excessive tourism, the people of Turtuk may not feel at home right where they are.


55 thoughts on “#1 Travel Diaries- Turtuk(India)- Paradise on Earth

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        1. Wow!!! Turtuk sounds beautiful and I have fallen in love with it by your thorough description of every little detail.

          I’m already loving this series even though its only the first postπŸ˜‚ I’m glad this was such a great experience for you !!πŸ‘

          Liked by 2 people

  1. You’ve painted the picture of turktuk so clearly especially in the experience. One can imagine the serenity in the place from the lush green to pure water streams. I like how you captured the nature of the people, being kind, welcoming and patient. Then this “these Muslim people live in a Buddhist region in a Hindu majority country” simply amazing.

    Bad habits can corrupt a people, the pictures for money is an example. It’s sad but I think it’s ‘human nature’ that we evolved into over the last centuries of trade- pictures for money and vice versa trading for what you don’t have, but need. A magical place nevertheless. Nice post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Kinge. I’m glad you liked this post. Indeed, we’ve evolved to something dangerous and corrupt.
      It sure is a magical place. It felt like something out of a fairy land πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m having trouble deciding which place to do next. Would be amazing if I could get some suggestions from you πŸ™‚ I have been to Europe, North America, Asia and Australia. A country from which of these continents do you feel I should do next?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Wow. You are quite a traveller. Those are many continents. I’m honoured😏. It’s a tough one since I don’t know the specific countries you’ve visited. But maybe begin with Australia since it has the least countries in (its)the continent😐.. Especially if you had and experience with the natives.. aboriginals or samoans in the surrounding islands- Polynesian people. I find them really grounded and connected to earth and the old roots.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Ah, I’m afraid I don’t have that kind of experience. I lived the first two years of my life in Australia and remember nothing of my time there. I can only narrate the stories my parents tell of when we lived there. But I am very sure I will go there again and converse with the aboriginals to my best capability and write a post about that πŸ™‚ I was thinking I’d do Thailand next. Thank you for your suggestion πŸ™‚ I will surely write an elaborate post based on your suggestions some time in the future.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I would love to visit there 😍😍
    You wrote it very well. The pics, the lifestyle, the geography and history too.πŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒ
    Nice reading, Shreya.πŸ’œπŸ’«

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh wow! Must have been an amazing experience! Would love to hear about it. Did you communicate with them in Hindi ? What did you teach?

      It’s been on my bucket list to go to villages in the middle of nowhere and teach the students there. So this comment has me very intrigued.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was a dream. I and four teachers who were along with me- we yearn for those days and nights. That period could easily be the most beautiful and brutal at same time, phase of life. Yes Hindi/Urdu a bit, we learnt Balti. It was also that time when it had just opened in 2010-11. Many stories, someday you might read it in the blog. Till then you can visit my About Page, where there are two links, one of my journey, other a photographic essay published by The Yale Journal- which can take you to the land of Shyok(the river that passed through there).

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Sounds wonderful. I long for an experience like that. Will check your About page’s links right away! Looking forward to read your posts on your experience in Turtuk. Is Balti similar to Hindi or is it something completely different? I don’t remember seeing the locals conversing in Balti. Perhaps I wasn’t very observant.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Ah, I see. I should have talked more to the locals. I see now that I didn’t cover every aspect of their culture.

            Reading your travels brings joy to me. We are very similar in terms of exploring the world. I’ve read many posts of yours. Really looking forward to more.

            Like

          2. Haha, i was their teacher, learnt and understood them from their insides, their families, secrets, harsh lives.

            Ofcourse, it is very different to know things when you arrive and want to love all things at once.

            It is humbling to know Shreya, i would be happy to be able to share this life and whatever i learn with you.

            Things looks bright after months of darkness and uncertainties. You must be waiting to see newer lands!

            Liked by 1 person

          3. Yes. Your experience is very unique and unlike the other tourists. Naturally, you know and understand more about the Balti culture.

            I see you are a teacher by passion. Would love to learn what you have in your years of exploring by reading your experiences.

            I sure am waiting to explore the world and her riches!

            Like

          4. And meanwhile also making and creating your own dear Shreya.

            Yes, and once you are on the way within as much outside, there will be many secrets which the world slowly will start revealing to you.

            Strength and blessings to you. Nara !

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. πŸ™‚
      Umoja- a village in Kenya is my next travel destination. Did some research on the place and I’m simply fascinated! It’s a village founded by a woman, for the women.

      Like

  3. Amazing work, Shreya. Absolutely loved the way you took time to pay attention to detail and explained everything about this beautiful place in a beautiful way. Can’t wait for some beaches and tropical destinations to come up. Keep up the good work πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. I get indulged in a people’s culture to an extent you can’t imagine! I can’t say I’ve been to any tropical destinations in the recent past. I’d been to them many years ago, and my memory of the places are quite foggy. But hey! I live in a city which is famous for its beaches! I definitely will add a draft right away!

      Thank you! It means a lot when I read this first thing in the morning πŸ™‚

      Like

  4. This was so interesting to read! I’d never heard of Turtuk before, but it’s definitely on my list now. Sometimes you can learn more about a culture by visiting the small “underrated” places rather than metropolitan cities. I’m so impressed to hear about how they’ve kept the water in tact for all these years. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reading and taking the initiative to comment. That’s as true as true can get. I enjoy travelling to culturally rich places more than metropolitan cities. So much to learn and absorb from these hidden gems.

      Indeed! I think it’s really sad how we now get impressed by people embracing nature. That’s how all of us should be and it should be treated as something normal. Sadly, these cases are now an exception.

      Like

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