Nestled between the snow-clad Karakoram range of mountains, in the far northwestern part of India, sits a tiny village—Turtuk. It opened its doors to tourists in 2010, and with it, also a gateway to the Indian half of Baltistan.
Confluence of cultures
In the 800-1800 AD, Turtuk belonged to a region that was ruled by the Emperors from Turkistan. During the 13th century, it was influenced by Buddhism—a time during which beautiful Gompas sprouted all over the region. Over the years, Islam has become the primary religion in Turtuk.
Ironically, for a village lying just 10kms away from the India Pakistan border , Turtuk rises above it as a melting pot of cultures and ethnicity—the locals speak Ladakhi or Balti, but also understand Urdu and Hindi. This welcoming and accommodating way of life is something Turtuk has inherited from being on the legendary Silk Route and connecting traders from regions of Africa, Asia and Europe.
India lost Turtuk during the post-Independence partition in 1947. During the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, Turtuk found its way back into the Indian territory, thanks to the valiant efforts of Colonel Chewang Richen and the Ladakh Scouts.
Turtuk is a geopolitical fault-line between India and Pakistan, but it’s the shy rosy-cheeked smiles of its residents who welcome tourists and melt away any animosity that the region bears.
How to reach
Reaching Turtuk is an achievement—a region that is till virgin from the reign of technology. Secluded, but not isolated, Turtuk offers tourists a connection that is instant and long-lasting. Renting a car/motorbike or minibus from Leh is the most convenient option to reach this veritable last frontier.
Getting to Turtuk requires crossing the mighty Khardung La (one of the highest motorable passes in the world), numerous hairpin bends, and rocky roads, with a backdrop of jagged snow-washed mountains. It takes about 8-9 hours to cover a distance of 205 kilometres from Leh to Turtuk.
However, most people prefer making overnight stays at Hunder and Nubra valley, that lie on the way. Indian tourists need to show a government ID to enter Turtuk, while foreigners require a permit (obtained from a tour operator).
The journey to the top is an arduous one, leaving many travellers with symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness . However, the feelings of relief and tranquility that wash over as you enter Turtuk, are worth all the pain!
With a population of just about 4000, Turtuk offers the cosiest homestays. You may not be able to find the booking details on the internet, but you can always ask your tour operator or the locals here. Getting on the spot accommodation is in most cases easy but booking in advance is recommended in peak seasons. You will also find tented accommodations with modern amenities and garden cafes here.
Turtuk has much to offer
There is more to Turtuk than the scenic view of the K2 mountains and being a portal to the Siachen glacier. While here, you cannot miss out on biting into the juiciest and sweetest apricots and the crunchiest apples.
And since it lies on the Silk Route, you will see local weavers creating beautiful patterns of the softest and richest silk you’ve seen. If lucky, you also get to see folk dance here. The local museum called the Balti Heritage site is studded with local ancient artefacts and is aptly housed in a 15th-century house.
Pharol, one of the busiest villages of Turtuk is bustling with locals and tourists. Located close by is a war memorial dedicated to the martyrs of the Kargil war. Apart from this, the entire village is a breathing heritage site, giving valuable lessons on sustainable living to those who look with their eyes wide open.
Best time to visit
July to September is the best time to visit Turtuk. The temperature during these months is around 22 degrees Celsius during this stretch.
Images: Rohan Tulpule and Shutterstock.com