What I put up yesterday, pictures of Turtuk was just the beginning, these were the ones I clicked the day I arrived and as usual I didn’t want to go trigger happy with the camera the moment I reached there.
The next set of pictures speak for themselves.
That night in the room I slept peacefully listening to the sound of gushing waters nearby. It was sheer bliss.
My friend and I woke up as early as we could because our tour agent mentioned that he would take us on a long walking tour of Turtuk with a local kid and from there we would be on our way to Diskit. We didn’t want to lose the opportunity to walk again, in silence, in solitude,in peace.
And something funny happened . No one was awake. We got out of the room, came downstairs to the dining room, even checked the kitchen and no staff. They locked it from outside and left. Maybe most of them were used to waking up late including the visitors. It was very cold now and it was drizzling during the night.
The next 15 minutes were spent on how to get out of the freaking guest house! Then I saw a huge window with no grills and I told we could get out from here! I was all set to jump out of the window and so was my friend when we noticed a small door that we hoped was not locked from outside. It was not! So we grinned at each other and got out like normal people usually do 🙂
As we started walking along the route, the same route that led to the blue waters, endless mountains with bursts of green,fine sand and fresh air, it felt so unreal. Am I really here? Is this what this is? To experience pure unbridled joy? To feel this good? Really good?
As we were walking we could see the army battalion doing their regular routine of exercise. Army in batches were jogging along the same route. It was just fantastic to see them at 7 am braving the cold, it was a usual day for them.
Then my friend looked up and somewhere just above us was an army guy with his machine gun looking over the territory, watching the army guys just in case..
I felt quite numb seeing that. Amidst these beautiful remote isolated locations where we visit to appreciate it’s beauty, these guys had a hell of a job to do. Their way of looking at this landscape was different, so different from ours. It was a territory, a territory of India, to be protected, to be defended and to attack if anyone tries to destroy it..
We walked quite a lot and it seemed like we would be late for breakfast and kind of see the guide’s wrath because we came in late. And slowly it would happen that way during the trip. Me and my friend drifting further and further away from the group, a wide gap between what they wanted to see and what we wanted to experience.
Then we had what was a two hour walk around Turtuk. We had a young college kid, a native of Turtuk who would be taking us around. Friendly and soft spoken he took us on an amazing walking tour going through homes, villages, courtyards, wild apricot gardens, lush fields, cabbage gardens, little hidden home stays that only the foreigners would stay. The landscape was breathtaking.
We also had poignant moments. We came to an old beautiful mostly dilapidated house with a beautiful open courtyard. The boy told us this was the Turtuk king’s palace. It didn’t seem open, it felt like no one lived there anymore. Then we saw a small doorway to the garden. We took the risk, went inside and saw that it was even more beautiful.
The lush garden and courtyard was filled with Apricot trees and Walnut trees. We could just pluck them, most of them ripe and just eat them! When was the last time we ever did that??
I couldn’t stop plucking the apricots and enjoying that juicy sweet taste that bursts inside your mouth. In spite of warnings that apricots give you intense heat in the body, I just couldn’t stop 🙂 I started collecting seeds, yup seeds of apricots that were eaten and was warning my friend and the photographer friend to not throw away those seeds but to give it to me! Which they did promptly 🙂
Then silently someone just walked inside the courtyard and just by looking at him, I felt he was someone important.His name was Yabgo Mohammed Khan Kacho. He was the son and heir of the last king of free Baltistan. Yup Baltistan. This region was neither a part of Pakistan nor India. It was independently ruled.
The regal man invited us upstairs to where he stayed on and off and somehow maintained this place. As we went up, we saw what was a room filled with memories, like a tiny museum of memorabilia of a long forgotten painful past.
He spent time with us explaining the lineage of his dynasty. A whole wall was put up explaining their origin.They belonged to the Yabgo Dynasty.A mix of Aryan Mongoloid race. The entire region was from that race.
He patiently explained about Baltistan. They were originally not Muslims but were converted when a Muslim ruler conquered them. They leaned towards Buddhism and their own pagan culture and religion before the conversions happened. He said the last ruler was caught between two countries.
Turtuk was a pivotal point as it connected to Kargil, to the original Silk route all the way to China, to Afghanistan,to India and even to Tibet. It was a revelation. Imagine knowing what this tiny region was in it’s heydey. It was an important Trade Route.
The king would be residing in another palace that was now in Pakistan and visit Turtuk as part of his duties but everything changed once that side was taken over by Pakistan and later this side by India.
When we asked what does he feel about this? He said something very beautiful. What’s in the past was past. There was no point in regretting it.Yes Baltistan was an independent kingdom but what’s the point in mulling over it. One has to move on. This regal sophisticated soft spoken man was giving us lessons of life.
This little memorabilia museum got some help from the Indian Army who helped him create the wall of his dynasty and help a bit in the upkeep of the place. As we looked around, we saw what a bad shape it was in most of the areas of the house. It was all so sad and heartbreaking.
Both his sons were studying outside Ladakh and he knew this legacy would end with him. He chose to stay back in Turtuk trying to maintain this old dilapidated house, to protect his culture, his lineage and let visitors get a glimpse of it’s brief glorious past. It was so poignant..
We traversed through Turtuk as we took in the surroundings. Tiny tots studying in Primary school came out and played with us briefly. As we saw older people, we could see the history, the past, the pain in their wrinkles.There is a beautiful photo of an old Turtuk man my friend clicked and you must see this pic.
I got a nice small ladle and tongs from the local welder who makes all these right from pots to cutlery to be used in Turtuk households. These would be an everlasting memory.
I felt a void on my way back. I was still stuck in Turtuk. No, I thought No, I am not done with this place.I feel incomplete as if I left something there. I have to come again next year and stay for a longer period. Turtuk I will see you again and I must see you again.
As we were approaching closer to Diskit, me and my friend made a decision, come what may we wanted to visit Diskit Monastery. The tour agent had his itinerary planned out and he clearly said the monastery was out of the question. They were going to visit Hundar desert.
Ladakh had a mini sand dune desert in Hundar in Nubra Valley and it was famous because of the two humped camels. So all of them wanted to see that.
We were very clear it was the monastery. My friend saw the desert in his last trip. As for me, I really didn’t care, all I wanted was to spend time in the Monastery. I could actually feel the energy of some of the group members. Their perplexity and surprise that comes with it. What’s wrong with them?? What’s in a Monastery?? I would be grilled later by one of them 🙂
So we got off at a crossroad and the guide called the hotel we would be staying in Diskit and told them to send a vehicle. We would pay from our pockets.
We waited for our taxi guy hoping he would come. There was no network signal either. We saw army trucks parked on the other side. We just sat down and waited. It felt so safe just sitting there. I knew that even if we would sit till late evening it would be ok. Throughout this journey I felt safer than I felt in my home city.
An army officer – Gurinder Singh smiled and approached us and asked if we required any help. We started chatting as we explained where we came from and what all we did so far. Then I asked him if he was posted here. He just said, No I was in Siachen for 10 months, I just came back from there.
I asked him gingerly why 10 months? He simply said every army person is stationed for 10 months there and then moved to another post because no one can survive beyond 10 months. The damages to health are almost fatal.. What could I say to this man who matter of fact mentioned it just like that? No words.
Our taxi guy came and we said our goodbyes and were all set to go to Diskit. My fear of heights got tested to the maximum this time and if not for my eager curious and patient friend we would have missed out on something so beautiful.
As we were riding up and up on the road we saw two structures. One was the old magnificent Diskit monastery, really old, enigmatic and you could actually see the steep inclined steps. A new structure was built on the other side. The cars couldn’t go further at all.
We had to walk up right to the top of the Monastery. It was a tough trek. As we kept on walking,the steps became steeper and higher and in some of them, there was no side wall for support.
All my fears came up again, I was in near panic but i was climbing up not looking back and I knew it would be torture on my way down. Then we came to a dead end! No path, nothing. The only way was to climb up onto this narrow, really narrow wall and below was a deep gorge! My friend urged me,encouraged me to just climb up and this is where I stopped and said I cant take this anymore. I have reached my limit!
Where was the main temple?? We slowly started walking down, me taking the support of my friend’s shoulder in the front and not looking down. I must say about my friend, he was curious, somehow he knew there could be another way. He kept on checking and finally after what was a good 1.5 hours he found the temple. We took a totally wrong turn away from the temple!
When we entered there was total silence, a serenity, no one around except a young monk. He told us all the Lamas were in Leh attending Dalai Lama’s teachings. The Main temple was closed and locked. We were ready to go back when he quietly opened the temple for us and took us around. It felt like a blessing.
He patiently explained all the three sects of Tibetan Buddhism. The great Indian Buddhist Monk Padmasambhava, Manjushree, the guardians Tara Devi. Explaining the significance of Sakya Muni Buddha. It was a beautiful old monastery, serene with strong yet soothing energy vibrations.Gentle to the self.
There was a sense of belonging in this divine place. We didn’t want to budge, we wanted to sit here and get lost in time. Unfortunately the reverie and silence was broken by our loud taxi driver who came puffing in suddenly and said he had to go. If he knew it would be two hours he could have just dropped us and come back later.
It was evening now. We came back to the hotel and sat outdoors enjoying the silence of our visit but then reality happens, doesn’t it ? In 5 minutes our loud group’s van screeched to a halt and the din started. The noise had just begun.