As we entered the village of Thoise, we were greeted by signs that said “Offenders will be shot dead without warning.” Yes, you read that right and it’s 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 on the way (to the Siachen Glacier, which is located at an altitude of over 5500 m on the control line). The menacing signal, the view of the airport and the numerous soldiers, and just the atmosphere; that you felt you were full of patriotism left us with abundant pride.
After crossing Thoise and the small village of Skuru, the Shyok River, which flowed alongside the road all the time, decided to cross its path with us, and then we stumbled across a beautiful bridge with clear blue water running down the river. One could see Glaciers in the mountains below. The splendid sight brought our wheels to rest, and we had to click several shots, something we were doing as maniacs from the moment we landed in Leh. We crossed Shyok, “the river of death”, which was our tour guide in Turtuk.
Just a few miles further we crossed Bogdang; the place where you get to see tall but soft Baltis instead of the charming short Ladakhis. Bogdang was all smiles when we passed happy boys and girls, who were returning from school in green uniforms for a lunch break. The enormous cultural change and the prayers of a nearby mosque whispered that we were close to our destination.
To call the 82-kilometer stretch of Hunder to Turtuk just “scenic” would be a massive understatement. It was incredibly spectacular! Here is the small village of Bogdang, near Turtuk.
We arrived in Turtuk in the afternoon, after a tour of about 4 hours with several memorable stops. Turtuk is the northernmost village in the Ladakhi region on the Indian border, and was part of Gilgit-Baltistan (Pakistan) until the 1971 Indo-Pak war. It was open to tourism in 2010. As if the hardness of its If geography were not enough, Turtuk is often the heart of the conflict between India and Pakistan in the region; and the people of the village went through extreme situations for generations, surviving intense wars and countless moments of tension between the two supposedly fraternal nations. It is the knowledge of this adversity that has dazzled us, as the people who have suffered so much in life can still be so charming and graceful.
Now the village itself was located on the other side of the Shyok River, connected to the road by two suspended bridges, on which you could walk but not walk. We parked our motorbike near the larger bridge of the two and began to walk, carrying everything we brought with us, toward the village. There was constant drizzle throughout the day, nothing we complained about, as it raised our mood even more.
Maha Guest House Turtuk
We arrived at our stay at Maha Guesthouse to get some rest, thanks to a good old man who walked with us all the way. Maha Guesthouse was a place that someone played “not bad” under normal conditions; but it is a great option to stay in a place like Turtuk. The room was comfortable and cozy; the restaurant was decorated with thriving sunflower plants; providing a good atmosphere and the food was quite decent. We love having their apricot pancakes, the best we tasted in Ladakh; so much so that when a friendly farmer nearby offered us apricots from his trees, we couldn’t say no. After refreshing and rejuvenating, it’s time to visit Thang.
Thang is the farthest point from the Turtuk sector towards the LOC, after which it was all over Pakistan. We delivered our ID cards to an army checkpoint on the way; showed our special permissions to Thang to the officers; heard some words of wisdom (or orders?) from one of the officers; and we made our way towards the last village.
The journey got a little complicated for us as we missed a bend near a bridge and headed straight for the restricted part of the LOC; until we spotted some vehicles on the other route and decided to redirect. And to remind us of the remoteness and hardness of the conditions; the road was getting worse, and at one point there was nothing but a steep path with little rocks and gravel to roll over. However, we do not get discouraged and move on to the last post on Thang.
The soldier at the last checkpoint
It was five in the afternoon when we arrived, and the honorable Jawan on guard was about to leave for the day. As soon as he saw us arriving at the scene, he hid his things and came to us with a bright smile to guide us quickly. That moment was like “Wow!” We had just witnessed the utmost courtesy a soldier could show; and we feel so humiliated and honored.
We examined a number of small scopes (can we call them “guide eyepieces?”); each pointing to a high and distant army post in the mountains, some from India and some from Pakistan. The unobstructed view of the mountain ranges with Shyok crossing was itself a sight to behold; and to know that we men divide these mountains among us with hostility; made us spend a few minutes of silence; wondering what we are doing with this lovely planet we live on. With twilight lurking, we clicked on some photos and started our way back to Turtuk to wrap up the day.
As if it was not yet a sincere moment, we saw a military truck driving children out of school in their remotely located homes; with the soldiers laughing and waving ‘Julley’ to their little friends. To think how far we were from these treacherous conditions; feel safe and happy in our homes; pondering what went wrong with the boss in the office; and realizing how far the military will keep us at this safe distance leads us to shed a tear or two each time.
Thus we ended our first meeting with the serenely beautiful village of Turtuk. When we got on our bike earlier in the day in Hunder, we expected the ride to be great, just like any other in Ladakh, but it turned out to be epic. The sparkling drive on the winding roads, those that tend to seem small but private; the occasional convoys of military trucks that would give him the pleasure of honking and waving as he passed.