On our recent expedition to Ladakh, Turtuk, often referred to as the last frontier of North India, happened to be our pit stop for a night. Turtuk, one of the northernmost villages of India, was into Pakistani Occupation till the Indo-Pak war of 1971. The consequences of this war changed the lives of the people in Turtuk overnight as the entire territory along with its people following the culture of Baltistan became Indians. Turtuk is a Balti word and it translates to “a desire to stay”. Our experience in Turtuk could not justify its name better. With whatever time we had to spend in Turtuk, we gathered all the info we could and we have come up with A Turtuk village guide. Here, take a look:
WHAT ALL WILL YOU KNOW BY THE END OF BLOG
- Culture of Turtuk
- Where is Turtuk
- Permits for Turtuk
- How to reach Turtuk
- Best Time to Visit Turtuk Village
- Accommodation in Turtuk
- Things to see in Turtuk
- Things to do in Turtuk
Culture of Turtuk
While most of the Leh district follow Buddhism as its main religion, the folks in Turtuk follow Islam – owing to their origins from Baltistan. The people would speak Balti, Urdu, and Hindi while they still reminisce of their Balti days. The people love to play polo from the yesteryears – no wonder why there are so many polo grounds around in the region.
Once a standalone kingdom, Baltistan was ruled by the Yagbosduring 800 to 1800 AD. Yagbo Dynasty had its roots in Central Asia and the rulers belonged to Turkistan. By the end of the 13th century, Baltistan was pretty much a Buddhist region like Ladakh. It was the Iranian poet and scholar Mir Sayyid Ali Hamdani who stated it for the Islamic influences in the region. Interestingly, neither of the ideologies and beliefs could replace either and even today, the villages have Gompas amidst Muslim population and belief. If one were to take a closer look at the mosque in Turtuk, the architecture exhibits a perfect amalgamation of Iranian and Buddhist architecture. what is striking is the presence of swastika patterns opening up discourses of how things evolved up here in Turtuk since ages.
Where is Turtuk
Turtuk is situated in Nubra valley on the banks of Shyok river. Historically, it is a part of the Gilgit Baltistan. In the North of Leh across the Khardung La — one of the highest motorable passes in the world, Turuk is approximately 205 KM from Leh and 90 KM from Diskit. Unlike Leh, which is a part of the Himalaya, Turtuk at the road end in Indian territory is a part of the Karakoram Mountains. Besides, it is Turtuk from where the road to Siachen Glacier starts.
The entire village is divided into three parts:
Yul is the oldest part of the village and is densely populated. Yul has two mosques and one can get a hands-on experience of the Balti culture here.
Pharol is across the river and one has to cross a bridge to reach here. This part of Turtuk has wide buckwheat fields spread across till one can see. Godwin Austin is visible from this part of Turtuk. Almost all the guest houses and other places to stay in Turtuk are in this region.
This is the most happening part of Turtuk and is settled by the bank of the river. Almost all of the educational and cultural institutions are set up here. and Chutang is the settlement by the river bank. The population living at the heights come down here during the winter months.
Permits for Turtuk
Indians, as well as foreigners, need a permit to visit Turtuk. Permit for Turtuk can be obtained from the DC office in Leh City. It costs INR 420 that includes a one time cost of INR 300 for the environment, INR 100 for Red Cross fund and INR 20 per day per person for Indians. For foreigners, the rules are slightly different with higher prices.
This permit can be obtained online from the website of DC Ladakh. But it is not very reliable and even after one has applied and paid for it online, one must visit the DC office and get stamped it from there. So it is advised to get the permit directly from the Leh DC Office or one can get it done with the help of agents — this works best for the groups.
One must carry multiple photocopies of main permit while on a trip to Turtuk as there are multiple check posts where the officers prefer to keep the copy with them.
How to reach Turtuk
Turtuk is the last village in Nubra Valley on the Indian side of the line of control. Ladakh is an enormous landmass with rugged terrain which makes it not so ideal for having great infrastructure — resulting in inadequate public transportation in Ladakh. From Leh, there is only one bus for Turtuk and that too once in a week on Saturdays. However, reaching Turtuk in a taxi or personal vehicle is pretty easy.
- Leh to Turtuk
Turtuk is 205 KM from Leh. One can hire a taxi from Leh to Nubra and Pangong Tso, together for three days. An 8 seater SUV will cost INR 25,000. The road to Turtuk passes through Khardung La. and Khardung La is about 36 KM from Leh. Nubra Valley and its villages such as Khardung, Khalsar, Diskit, Hunder, Thoise, Skuru, Bogdang, Turtuk are located across the Khardung La. There are two army check posts on both sides of Khardung La, North Pullu and South Pullu. The 205km journey will take around 7 hours to reach Turtuk with multiple pit stops and lunch breaks. Here is how the route from Leh to Turtuk goes as Leh – Khardung La – Khalsar – Diskit – Hunder – Thoise – Skuru – Bogdang – Turtuk
- Hunder/Diskit to Turtuk
From Diskit, Turtuk is 90 KM. There is a daily bus from Diskit to Turtuk. Which leaves around 2:30 PM and reaches Turtuk around 6 in the evening. One can also find some shared cabs for Turtuk from Diskit or Hunder. The best option is to reach Hunder from Leh by shared cab and then travel to Turtuk by bus.
- Pangong Tso to Turtuk
Although these are not a part of popular itineraries, one can follow either Wari La route or Agham Shyok road. Until recent times the Agham Shyok route was not used much. However, the improved road conditions and reduced road blockages by Shyok and its tributaries have eased out the passage. The wari La pass route is one of the most difficult roads of Ladakh region.
Best Time to Visit Turtuk Village
Best time to visit Turtuk is between the Summer months of May and October. The village blossoms and goes fluorescent green by the end of May. July is when the village is full of Apricots season. The color of the village changes with every passing month and if you were here in September, you would find the autumn colors turning this entire region into a fairyland oozing golden colors.
Accommodation in Turtuk
Turtuk was opened for tourists in 2010 only. There were no homestays or guest houses back then but now, Turtuk has plenty of options to choose from. If we were to recommend the best place to stay in Turtuk, it certainly is the Himalaya Homestay. Right after we cross the bridge and enter Turtuk, just behind the Friends Cafe of Turtuk, Himalaya Homestay is the very first homestay you would cross. This homestay is hosted by Asadullah Khan, one of the most jovial and cheerful friends we ave made on our travels. Besides, Turtuk has got plenty of homestays and guest houses to choose from. These homestays and guest houses have all the modern facilities that Turtuk could afford. Electricity in Turtuk is only available during 7 PM to 11 PM — There is no cellular internet connectivity in Turtuk. However, the Friends Cafe has got some ways to provide you with their internet.
Places to visit in Turtuk
There are plenty of options when it comes to places to see in Turtuk. Here is a brief intro of places to see on a short trip to Turtuk Village:
Waterfall of Turtuk
The most recommended place to visit in Turtuk is the waterfall it has. The view of Turtuk village from the waterfall is totally worth the climb till here. The best time to visit the waterfall is before sunrise. The trail is a bit tricky and gets narrower at times. It is said that from here one can get a glimpse of the second-highest peak in the world. However, factually, the visible peak is not K2 but the Godwin Austin.
Polo Ground in Turtuk
Polo is the most famous and vastly played sport in the entire region of Gilgit Baltistan. Turtuk shares the same passion for Polo as rest of the valley. There is a Polo ground in Turtuk which is said to be from the 16th century. If on time, one can find the villagers playing a game and can choose to enjoy from outside or try their lungs.
This is the farthest point of Indian territory in Turtuk Sector that is open for civilians. After this, it is all Pakistan Occupied Gilgit Baltistan. Both Thang and Turtuk were under Pakistani occupation from 1947 to 1971. In the Indo-Pak war of 1971, they were annexed back to India. The border from here is only about 2 kilometers. The 10km ride from Turtuk to Thang is quite pleasant.
Brokpa Fort In Turtuk
Brokpas are said to be a nomadic tribe of Ladakh during a time period that dates back to 5000 years. There are some ruins from the fortress built by the Brokpa tribe.
Water Mill of Turtuk
There is a simple Greek-style watermill in the Turtuk, which is a good chance to look into the life of people in this remote region.
Natural Cold Storage
One of the natural wonders of Turtuk village is the little hollows which are used as storage for perishable things of daily used. These little hollows work as natural cold storage due to an underground glacial stream.
Some of the finest wood carvings on wood, ceilings, and pillars of the mosques in Turtuk are a sight to behold. These wood carvings are believed to be from medieval times and have been renovated over the years.
Even though when the majority of Turtuk is Muslim, there is a Buddhist Gompa, right above the village. The hike to reach this gompa is a perfect way to explore Turtuk village. The waterfall is located nearby.
Balti Heritage Home in Turtuk
There are two museums in Turtuk village, First of them is an old traditional Balti home which is now converted into a museum. The four rooms of the house are constructed in old Balti style with low roofs and small windows. A mixture of centuries-old royal, gifts, dresses, dishes and furs are on display in this house. The museum has an entry ticket of INR 50.
Balti Museum in Turtuk
Second, of the two museums in Turtuk, the Balti Heritage Museum is a place to learn about the history of the royal families, dynasty, and people of Turtuk. This museum has got some centuries-old artifacts on display.
Things to do in Turtuk
If going to all these places and learning about the life of people of Turtuk wasn’t enough for the explorer in oneself, then here are some more activities:
- Take a walk through the village and enjoy the beauty and silence of the place
- Stay at a campsite
- Trek to the waterfall
- Trek to the Gompa
- Take a walk along the river
- Learn about an entirely different culture
- Stay with a villager in their home and listen to their stories and observe their simple lifestyle
- Enjoy the beautiful Apricot and Walnut farms all around
Well, that’s all we could gather for a Turtuk Village guide. Do let us know if there is anything missing. If you have anything to ask and share about Turtuk Village, do let us know in the comments section below!
Meanwhile, do check our PHOTOBLOG ON TURTUK