Turtuk – a Paradise, Garden of Eden, a land far far away that you only read in fairy tales..
I was bedazzled, totally bedazzled. Not even for a moment I wanted to stay in the cozy neat room of the guest house. Everything was new about this place. The best part? No tourists!
I am not sorry to say this. When a place becomes popular, you do get hordes of people visiting it and it’s good and bad. You know that feeling right? When you see a beautiful place like this, in your selfishness you hope not many people should come here so it remains unspoiled and untouched.
The European,Israeli backpackers were there as usual but they truly knew how to blend in with the surroundings and the people without disturbing anyone unlike most of the Indian tourists.
My friend and me were eager to get out, out of the guest house, out of the group and just walk. It started raining and it didn’t deter us at all from wanting to take a walk. As we walked along we saw a beautiful bridge and almost all the locals were taking a diversion there. All the school kids – boys and girls were making their way home.
There are few moments in your life when you get stunned by the beauty in people, inside out. You just watch and you cannot help watching and you realize you don’t want to make them uncomfortable. I saw sheer beauty in it’s people.
There was something out worldly about them. An Innocence that you were scared to touch, scared that you would spoil it, a transparency in their faces that would shake you up because you didn’t have that in you. Their shyness, their shy smiles, their cautious looks and friendliness at the same time. I truly felt the pureness of a human being.
As we started walking straight, our guide confidently told us that the India – Pak border was just 5 kms away, so me and my friend started walking leaving others behind who were clicking pictures. I saw an Ayyappa temple – the revered Celibate god from South India, I realized there must be a South Indian Regiment stationed here.
At one point we stopped and marveled at what we experienced .Blue waters, finest silt and sand, so fine that it was rising and travelling like fumes,like how you see in a desert.
The Mountains were different here, so different.. How could Mountains be that varied, have so much character in them? The gushing of water as we were walking is something I can never forget. I wanted this sound to remain inside me forever..
Sun was setting, we came back because we came to know from a local that the border was close to 10 kilometers. We spoke to others for a while and this time we decided to check the bridge, yup the same bridge where the locals were going. One of the guys from the group joined us too. And just as we were walking towards the bridge we met two young boys, not more than 18-19 years.
They were very friendly as we started asking them where does this go and they were enthusiastic as they led us to the villages we were entering into. How do i explain how the walk was? It was ethereal. It truly felt like I was walking into the Garden of Eden. If this is true happiness, this is how it must feel.
We stopped at this really nice cafe called Friends Cafe perched way up amidst wobbly wet stones as a path and invited the boys to join us for Chai. They refused politely, so shy, so nervous. We had to tell them that we just wanted to spend time with them and know more about their beautiful place.. They finally agreed as another young friend of theirs joined us.
Here is where we heard, no wait, felt the pain, the separation ,the angst of what these young boys told. I am not going to pass a judgement on either side because there is none. It was all circumstantial.
Bashir and his two friends were studying in their 12th. Turtuk for it’s small place and remoteness had decent schools till their 12th. After this, most of them would go to Ladakh or Jammu to study further. Their language was Balti.
They weren’t born when it happened but they knew this from their parents and all the other families living there. Before 1971, Turtuk was a part of Pakistan and after the war it became a part of India. The people there had to cope with their Fathers, Uncles, families being divided. One war changed everything. Some of them still had their families their brothers their sisters living on the other side.
After 45 years, one man came from the other side to visit his family in Turtuk. A 90 year old woman finally saw her son after 1971..So many stories..
In 1999 Kargil War, the kids were very young and had a recollection of the shelling that was happening. They said they remember their parents running and hiding with them as the army came up till this very same bridge and fought the other side.. Yet they were so plain hearted, happy and content.
No anger, no animosity, no bitterness against anything or anyone. They were very well aware of the atmosphere and tension in Srinagar as one of them was pursuing his first year engineering in Srinagar and had to come back. He was waiting for the situation to ease up. And so intelligent too. They spilled it out loud. All the young boys joining these terrorist organizations were driven by poverty.
One of them said that since the Hurriyat started it’s activities and gained importance, Kashmir worsened. What young people need is education, then they wouldn’t join such groups. I was so amazed by their insight. They were laughing and saying we don’t do the daily Namaaz except Friday. Our parents might do it not us.
We take so much for granted is an understatement. These boys and girls helped their parents with the work, most of them who were in the business of apricots. Apricot gardens, selling, cleaning. They would help their parents after school.Their biggest pastime was walking around Turtuk, exploring,climbing. Nature was their biggest teacher and friend.
There were villages -Youle, Farol and Chagtung Village. There was both a mosque as well as a Buddhist Monastery there.
They came to know Cable TV would be coming here for the first time sometime soon. There is no electricity from 11 pm to 7.30 pm. Can you Imagine that? Can you? They just had those 3.5 hours of current every day and no one complained.
They said it’s good that the Army governs Turtuk, if it was in the hands of a Civilian government, things would have gotten really bad.The Army built the schools, hospitals, the roads and facilities.
When my friend asked them, so would you want to stay in Turtuk or move? All of them unanimously said yes we do want to work outside our place, maybe Jammu, maybe Delhi. I only hoped the innocence shouldn’t go, what I see in their eyes right now.
As we walked back in the dark helped by these boys, we were so overwhelmed and silent. We were struck by their innocence, amazed by their awareness, pained by their families experience of being divided by war.
As my friend put it like it is, ‘One day you are a Pakistani and one day now you are an Indian’. How do you deal with this?? And yet how could they be so content? My friend gave all of them a big warm hug.
I felt so much joy and blessed at that moment. How lucky was I and what should I complain about anymore? How could I be so selfish that I could only look at the petty things in life and lose my sleep over it? While all this time, it was my own ego, my own desires that made me unhappy most of the times.
Everything I believed in stubbornly, the righteousness I held on to which was an ego boost, the issues that I thought was important to me was getting washed away like a debris cleared by fresh water. My outlook on life changed forever…
Turtuk is different, so different, so remotely isolated and yet so fragile in it’s own way. I prayed hard that night, really hard that if there is a higher force and energy up there, please protect this land and it’s people’s naivety and innocence..
It was a game changer…