Turtuk: A walk through an ex-Pakistani territory
Turtuk lies in the Shyok valley of Ladakh district and the village is at an elevation. Currently, the roads lie below the village and the village is only accessible by foot, though its just a 15-20 minute climb to reach it.
In the winters, due to extreme weather, these villagers, most of them, move to lower lying areas. Some stay back to provide for their precious cattle.
Turtuk is a fairly unique place in India with a very interesting history.
About 47 years ago it used to be a part of Pakistan. The language they speak, Balti, is spoken by only 3000 people in the country and it's only in this region. There are a million more who speak the same but they lie inside the Pakistani occupied Kashmir territory.
The village is 100% Muslim but you ll find a monastery too here. The Muslims hardly eat any meat during the summer and only eat meat in the winters for survival purposes, unlike the typical Muslims whose meal generally contains a meat delicacy. Most of the food they eat is absolutely fresh as it is grown in the village. You will not find a single shop selling tobacco or alcohol over here.
The Shyok valley, where the villages of Turtuk, Tyakshi & Thang (the northern most village of India from where you can witness the Zero point) lie, is sort of an unexplored area compared to it's colleagues in other regions of Ladakh. The area was opened to tourism in 2010 for the first time since India claimed this land during the 1971 war (An operation lead by Colonel Chewang Rinchen). Not a bullet has been fired between the else hostile neighbours since 2004.
You travel further straight for almost 3 hours from Nubra valley to reach this interesting place. A few single digit kilometers from Turtuk lies the village of Thang which is famously known as the northernmost village of India. Interestingly, when the region was captured by the Indian forces, the local people were in a lot of fear as they had been brainwashed by the Pakistani army who told them Indian soldiers would come and commit barbaric crimes against you.
Hence, when the army arrived, the people hid inside their huts & homes. After the war ended, the Indian army went to these houses and offered people food, clothes and sweets. The locals were so touched by the gesture to the point that even till today, the region celebrates Independence day on 16th December, the date when the war ended and the region became a part of India.
Today, the army runs schools in the area and even serves students mid-day meals. In the morning, an army truck comes and picks up students and takes them to school. I couldn't take pictures of the school but it was very well maintained. I got the opportunity to speak to the school principal who was in a lot of awe of the army and the drastic improvement in their standard of living over the years since becoming part of India.
Funnily or annoyingly, relatives who got separated after the war, have to take 1000s of Kms of detour to visit their blood relations who live 5-7 Kms away from them.
The principal tells me when relatives across the border have a function or a wedding, they phone them and tell them to get their binoculars ready so that they can greet each other with the only convenient way possible.
The village has been seeing drastic increase in tourist arrivals both from foreign and domestic markets. Though the area offers some home-stays, full fledged guest houses can be seen under construction expected to open by next season
To access the Thang tourist area, you need to be an Indian national a permit for Turtuk which you can get online. Ask a local agent for help if need be.