September 7th, 2018: the morning after what one would call a “draining” day – as we flirted with mild AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), an ungainly acquisition from the last day after riding through Khardung La pass, the highest motorable road in India – began slow and steady at Olgok Guesthouse in Hunder, located at the Nubra valley of Ladakh. Diamox had worked its magic and once the breakfast was done, we were super charged to ride to Turtuk Village – a small village beyond the Nubra valley, that we had heard some captivating stories about.
The day begins @ Olgok Guesthouse, Hunder
Our ride across the Himalayas was… the Himalayan (pun intended). The best choice we made!
The road to Turtuk passes through Thoise, Skuru and Bogdang; the three reasonably sized villages along the Shyok river.
When we entered the village of Thoise, we were greeted by signs that read “Trespassers will be shooted without warning”. Yes, you read it right and it is not a typo. Photography was strictly prohibited, and we realized that Thoise is the last Indian military airfield in the region; and stands for Transit Hold of Indian Soldiers En route (to Siachen glacier, which is located at an altitude of over 5500m at the Line of Control). The ominous sign, the sight of the airfield and the numerous soldiers, and just the atmosphere; that you could feel was filled with patriotism, left us with abundant pride.
After crossing Thoise and the little village of Skuru, the Shyok River, which was flowing right next to the road all along, decided to cross its path with us, and then we stumbled upon a beautiful bridge with milkish blue water, rushing down from the glaciers in the mountains, underneath. The splendid sight brought our wheels to rest, and we had to click numerous shots, something which we had been doing like maniacs from the moment we landed at Leh.
Shyok, “the river of death”, was our tour guide to Turtuk
When the apprentice joins the master! Convergence of the milky glacier with the Shyok river.
Just a few kilometers further, we rode through Bogdang; the place where you start to see tall but tender Baltis instead of the short and charming Ladakhis. Bogdang was all smiles as we went past cheerful boys and girls, who were just returning from school in green uniforms for a lunch break. The massive cultural change and the prayers from a nearby mosque whispered that we were close to our destination.
Also Read: What to see in Nubra Valley
Calling the 82 km stretch from Hunder to Turtuk just “scenic” would be a massive understatement. It was breathtakingly spectacular! This, here, is the cute little village of Bogdang enroute Turtuk.
We realized during the ride that even a bridge can blow you away at first sight. We were “pontists” thenceforth.
We reached Turtuk in the afternoon, after a ride of about 4 hours with multiple memorable stoppages. Turtuk is the northernmost village in the Ladakhi region at the Indian border, and was part of Gilgit-Baltistan (of Pakistan) until the Indo-Pak war of 1971. It opened to tourism in 2010. As if the harshness of its geography was not enough, Turtuk is often the heart of conflict between India and Pakistan in the region; and the people of the village have endured extreme situations over generations, surviving through the intense wars and innumerable moments of tension between the two, supposed to be brotherly, nations. It is the knowledge of this adversity that left us dazzled, how could people who have endured so much in life, could still be with such charm and grace.
Now, the village itself was located across the Shyok River, connected to the road by a couple of suspension bridges, which you could walk on but not ride. We parked our motorbike near the bigger bridge of the two and started to walk, carrying all that we had brought with us, towards the village. There was constant drizzle throughout the day, nothing that we complained against, as it lifted our mood furthermore.
Once in Turtuk, the walk through the really narrow lanes of the village – with water flowing by the side to aid the green fields and apricot trees, greeted often (and guided at times) by both the elderly and the budding Baltis of Turtuk – is the best thing one could do within the village. There were several places of attraction though, like the historic Polo ground, the 16th century mosque, and so on, but we chose to not get ourselves too busy.
Arrived at Turtuk, and the photos started flowing.
The beautiful suspension bridge to the village
Nature adding to its masterpiece a touch of Flora
Fields, River, Trees and Mountains – perfect anywhere any day!
The view at dawn from our room @ Maha Guesthouse
Maha Guest House in Turtuk
We reached our stay at the Maha Guesthouse to rest a while, thanks to a good old man who walked with us all the way. Maha Guesthouse was a place that one would quip “not bad” in normal conditions; but is a great option to stay in a place like Turtuk. The room was comfortable and warm; the restaurant was decorated with thriving sunflower plants; providing a good ambience and the food was pretty decent. We loved to have their apricot pancakes, the best we had tasted in Ladakh; so much so that when a friendly farmer nearby offered us apricots from his trees, we couldn’t say no. Having gotten ourselves refreshed and rejuvenated, it was then time to visit Thang.
Thang is the farthest point of Turtuk sector towards the LOC, after which it was all Pakistan. We surrendered our identity cards at an army check post on the way; showed our special permits to Thang to the officers; heard some words of wisdom (or orders?) from one of the officers; and made our way towards the last village.
The journey got just a bit tricky for us, as we missed a turn near a bridge and headed straight towards the restricted part of LOC; until we spotted some vehicles on the other route and decided to reroute. And to remind us the remoteness and the harshness of the conditions; the road was turning worse and at one point there was nothing but a steep path laid with small rocks and gravel to roll over. We wouldn’t let our spirits down though and hustled our way to the last post at Thang.
The Soldier at the last Check Post
It was 5 pm when we reached, and the honorable Jawan who was holding guard there was just about to leave for the day. As soon as he spotted us reaching the place, he kept his things back and came to us with a bright smile to quickly guide us through. That moment was like “Wow!”. We had just witnessed the ultimate courtesy a soldier could show; and we felt so humbled and honoured.
Also Read: Hitchhiking to Pangong Tso and Return to Leh
We looked through an array of little scopes (can we call them “guide-oculars?”); each pointing an army post high and far in the mountains, some of India’s and some of Pakistan’s. The unobscured view of mountain ranges with Shyok running through was itself a sight to behold; and to know that we, men, have divided these mountains amongst ourselves with hostility; made us spend a few minutes of silence; wondering what we’ve been doing to this lovely planet we live in. With dusk lurking around, we clicked a few pictures and started our way back to Turtuk to call it a day.
The picture speaks for itself.
No sooner than we were awestruck by the view, we got moved with mixed emotions, as we realized the gravity of the situation. Spot the Indian bunkers along the Shyok, as it bids farewell to India and enters Pakistan.
The last accessible post at Thang. Greenery at distance is the actual village, which you can only view from a distance, just metres away from LOC!
The last of the Indian bunkers by the Shyok river. Talk about living at the edge! #respect
Scopes to sight the military posts on top of these mountains. Can you believe that the peaks here are split between India and Pakistan? #humans!
As if it weren’t a heartfelt moment already, we saw a military truck dropping children from school at their remotely located homes; with the soldiers giggling and waving ‘Julley’ to their little friends. To think how far we were from these treacherous conditions; feeling safe and happy at our homes; brooding over what went wrong with the boss in the office; and to realize how far the armed forces go to keep us at that safe distance crushes us to shed a tear or two every time.
Turtuk Village – Conclusion
Thus ended our first date with the serenely beautiful village of Turtuk. When we hopped on our motorbike at the day’s start in Hunder, we had indeed expected the travel to be great, just like any other in Ladakh, but it turned out epic. The scintillating ride on the winding roads, those that tend to feel small but private; the occasional convoys of military trucks, that would gladly give you way without a honk and wave as you pass.
The weather – oh boy, was it heavenly or what. With temperature hovering at the border of single digits in the ‘+’ direction; the occasional breeze that would bring a few droplets of rain to kiss your cheeks and the barren rocks; the Shyok river that is always gushing beside you; and the godly Himalayas all around you, that doesn’t miss a blink of yours; the beautiful little village and its truly amazing people – whoa!. This enchanting experience at Turtuk Village was all we had hoped to gain out of the entire trip to Ladakh; and a bit more. Julley, and Jai Hind! If you have any questions about visiting Turtuk Village, feel free ask in the comments section below; or at our Community Forum; and I will be glad to answer.