We spent a night at Turtuk, a village nestled in between the Himalayas and Karakoram ranges and less than 10km from the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. This village that lies on the banks of the Shyok River in Nubra is also the gateway to Siachen Glacier. It was once a part of an independent region (in the pre-British era, during the reign of Yagbo Dynasty) In the Indo-Pak war of 1971, this region was captured by the Indian Army, and is now one of the last few villages of India.
It opened its doors to tourists in 2010, before which Turtuk was a remote, secluded village that was inaccessible to outsiders. One of the first few homestays to open up in 2010 was Ismail’s, the very place we decided to stay for a night on our visit.
How To Reach Turtuk
There are only shared taxis that will take you from Leh to Turtuk, a distance of 220km that costs around 13,000INR. You will need to get a permit to visit this village.
Where To Stay
There are a lot of homestays in Turtuk, and thanks to tourism, a lot of resorts are slowly sprouting up all over the small village. The Indian Army has encouraged locals to develop and maintain homestays, and the locals support the Army and you’ll find them acknowledging and appreciating the Army’s help every now and then.
When I searched for Turtuk on Google, I read a couple of articles that mentioned Ismail Homestay. As luck would have it, our local contact connected us with Ismail because they had heard of great reviews of his space too. At 900INR per person (with dinner and breakfast included) we were satisfied with our arrangement and packed our overnight bags to head towards Turtuk.
Ismail’s Homestay turned out to be exactly what we had expected: a small, simple, comfortable and cosy space in a small village. We met Ismail while parking our car, and he offered to show us our rooms (at the cost of missing his evening Polo match that he was so excited to watch before he met us)
This room reflects his personality- warm, friendly, and inviting. He sat down with us and introduced himself over a cup of chai. Something must have clicked because he then offered to give us a tour of his village! So along we went, through narrow by-lanes, over bridges, alongside farms and orchards, while Ismail shared stories of love, loss, and war as he introduced us to his village.
Ideally, we would have gone a little ahead and visited Thang, a village from which you can see the villages in Pakistan, on the other side of the river. Unfortunately, this requires special permission from the Indian Army, and because we didn’t have any network or phone signal (even Airtel didn’t work here) we couldn’t get in touch with any of our friends to facilitate this visit. Ismail was kind enough to drive us to a spot from where he showed us the village located in the Gilgit Range, a peak that we realized was right behind our village! This is the closest I have ever been to Pakistan, a dream on my bucket list that makes too many people uncomfortable.
Turtuk has two parts, Youl and Pharol, connected by a wooden bridge over a gurgling stream. Our host Ismail had offered to give us a tour of his tiny and serene village, and we’re so grateful for this experience because there’s nothing like seeing a place from the eyes of a local. We were introduced to the villagers, their workstations, their farms, their yaks, their apricot orchids, and most importantly, their warm, friendly hearts that invited us for butter tea in their cozy homes.
We then returned to eat dinner. Dinner was a simple yet soul-satisfying meal of buckwheat dosa, rice, dal, spinach sabji and yak curry. Until the meal had finished, I hadn’t even realized that I was eating with my hands! I went in for the second helping and finished this meal licking my fingers.
After dinner, we retired for the night by 10pm (all plans of star-gazing were canceled when a sudden gust of strong winds brought in clouds from Pakistan) Turtuk has access to electricity from 5:30 pm-11:00 pm only, which is when we could use the internet (Ismail’s HomeStay offers WiFi during these hours) We made sure that we charged our phones before heading out on the long journey back home.
I woke up as early as 5:00 am when the rooster crowed (best alarm ever, isn’t it?) I got out of our room and was surprised to see the cloud cover- our driver had also halted at Ismail’s and was worried looking at the weather too. “Madam, jaldi nikalna padega, Khardungla pe snowfall hone waala hai aur hum phans jayenge” We sprung into action, wearing our warm woolens and sitting down for another soul-satisfying meal of Ladakhi roti and chai before heading out.
The drive back was adventurous, to say the least, with the clouds following us all the way till Leh. This also ended up being the road trip that would introduce me to my first snowfall at Khardungla Pass. At 18,000feet it was difficult to navigate through this snowstorm, but our expert driver Tsering Yangjor (details on this blog post) helped us cross Khardungla Pass in one hour (thanks to the pile-up due to the fresh snowfall (watching large vehicles skid on narrow roads at that height is nothing short of terrifying, being next in line is even worse.))
This journey ended on a high note, and we couldn’t help talking about Ismail with everyone we met. Ismail taught us kindness, trust, and honesty. When the time came to make the payment of 1800INR ( we were insisting on 2000INR) he refused to take a penny more than 1500INR. When we enjoyed garam chai and aloo paratha in the village, he refused to accept any payment because “guest ho aap hamare” He shared stories, he made us feel at home, he introduced us to his family and friends, and he left us with a profound thought that I remember even today, and am slowly finding myself applying to my daily life – What is money? What will you do with money? Strengthen bonds, share stories and knowledge, that’s abundance, the money flows in but you’ll realize that’s not what makes you happy. My father had so much, but he left with nothing, right? It’s all our land now, he didn’t take any of it with him to heaven. Life is in the little moments”
Ismail, a gem of a person, even ended up inviting us over to his house for the summer, and this is a promise we hope to keep.