Wonderland of Turtuk, an unknown little hamlet, flanked by Nubra on one side and Baltistan on the other, lies along the shores of Shyok River. An enigma in itself, this curious little settlement of ~4000 people is the last northernmost village prior to Pakistan – Occupied Kashmir. Let me share with you a complete Turtuk travel guide.
While time has not touched the exquisiteness of this place, the friendly nature of its resident is hard to miss. Turtuk has a history as colourful as the apricot plantations one sees all around the region. therefore, it is an amalgamation of all the cultures that have lived here.
Let's quickly dive into the details:
Known as village divided by a border, Turtuk has many stories to tell. Thanks to a petition by locals to connect with the world, Turtuk opened its doors to inquisitive souls in 2010.
Turtuk was part of Pakistan – Occupied Kashmir up until 1971 when Major Chewang Rinchen got the village under India ’s command. However, initially, villagers were skeptical of India, and their trust in India n Army was non-existent. As many residents served in Pakistan Army, naturally, their allegiance to alter immediately was unrealistic.
Of course, for many born before 1947, they went from being Indians to Pakistanis to Indians again. For many, Pakistan was their only home. Thus, adjusting to a new life where the “enemy” now defined their identity, was not an easy shift. Consequently, of 300 families that call Turtuk home, many have relatives on the other side.
However, the Indian Army has kept their promise, keeping villagers safe & bringing about multiple reforms while encouraging growth and prosperity.
Yes, Turtuk has been a secluded region, thanks to both geopolitical uncertainties of recent times and its exceptionally daunting geography. Cradled by Karakoram range, it is one of only four villages in India that lies in
But, its history boasts of strategic importance as a gateway to the Silk Route. Unquestionably, this is true and supported in the plethora of cultural consolidations that have led to Turtuk’s unique ancestry.
Baltistan was a separate kingdom far before the era of war
Of course, as with Ladakh, Baltistan was a predominantly Buddhist region up till the 13th century. Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, an Iranian poet and prominent Islam scholar, brought about cultural changes in the region.
Thus, began settlements and unions of cultures. So much so, that one spots beautiful Gompas in this predominantly Muslim region. In fact, Turtuk’s Mosque reflects a delicate coming together of Swastikas, Buddhist patterns and Iranian designs.
Here, the residents are extremely friendly and cherish the visitors of their lands. But, no matter how uncertain they might be of governments and politics, one thing is for certain – most credit development of the region to budding tourism.
Though wildly (and unjustifiably) unknown, Turtuk is a must visit place when in Ladakh. Because no other place can inculcate
Since Turtuk is at a height of 3,001 mt., it is far friendlier than the surrounding ranges. And it is one of the gateways to Siachen Glacier, making it a strategically important location. Also, Turtuk lies on the bank of Shyok River, ~205 KM from Leh.
Being a high desert, Turtuk virtually experiences no rainfall. Of course, peak summer month is July and experiences temperatures of around 22 degrees. And, the
Geography of Turtuk
The village of Turtuk is integrated by way of three sections:
Chutang– Chutangis the settlement by riverbank. This is the educational and cultural center of Turtuk. Early mornings, one can enjoy watching the kids’ daily routine, and hear bellowing symphony of the National Anthem when school begins. During winter months, villagers that stay at difficult heights, move down to the river bed– vegetation and water’s primary source.
- Yul – oldest area of the village, Yul is densely populated, a sanctuary of greenery, tradition
andgenerosity. It is home to one of the two mosques.
- Pharol – Across the river, Pharol can be reached by crossing an idyllic bridge. With open buckwheat fields spreading as far as the mountains would allow, one can view K-2 peak from here. Pharol houses most of the guesthouses in the region.
Turtuk boasts of a predominantly Muslim population and influence of its history can be seen in the local dialect. Here, the primary languages include Ladakhi, Urdu, and Balti. Balti is an amalgamation of Persian and old Tibetan. Of course, old Tibetan is hardly used in recent times and the language is melodic.
Turtuk in Balti literally means “a desire to stay” – which perfectly describes the people here. And no matter what, their love for Turtuk has endured everything.
The best time to visit Turtuk coincides with the tourist season of Ladakh region, i.e. June till September.
Inner Line Permits
While visiting any remote area in Ladakh region, Inner Line Permit (for Indian Nationals) or Ladakh Protected Area Permit (for Foreign Nationals) is required. One can get the permits online. Also, they are available at TIC Office, Main Market, Leh on all working days between 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM.
How to Reach Turtuk
Turtuk is reachable by road. There are no railway stations nearby. However, the nearest Airport is Leh, Ladakh, at a distance of 205 KM from Turtuk. From Leh, by road, it takes approximately 6-8 hours to reach Turtuk.
Both personal and for-share are taxis available for hire at Leh. At any rate, most travelers like to cover the entire circuit – including Hunder, Nubra and Pangong Tso. Thus, it is advisable to hire the vehicles for a longer duration.
There are bi-weekly buses that ply the Leh – Turtuk route. Mostly, locals of Turtuk region use this mode of travel. Of course, the travel can be rough, not because of road conditions, but primarily due to the condition of the buses. Accordingly, do check timings & details at Leh bus stop, as they might vary depending on weather conditions. You can refer the details in Leh to Nubra Valley Bus Services.
Giving immense freedom in schedule decisions and leisurely plans, self-driving is probably the best way to enjoy the vistas of Ladakh. However, one must be prepared to
As with most villages, the best way to explore the little town is on foot.
In terms of planning, the following is a standard itinerary for most who travel to Turtuk:
Day 1: Leh to Nubra Valley
Apart from the strenuous journey and dizzying heights, the journey till
However, I would advise stopping a little further ahead – Khalsar. Here, you will find a few
Daytrip in Diskit, spend the night at Hunder
Enjoy serenity in this beautiful village with sand dunes. While Shyok River, literally means the river of death, it is a life-giver to this tiny village. Now, thanks to the flow of pristine water, one witnesses a lot of vegetation by the river bed.
Obviously, it makes for a beautiful contrast when compared to the barren brown mountains. Also,
Day 2 & 3: Hunder to Turtuk, & Sightseeing
As with starting the journey from Leh, one should leave early in the AM from
Needless to say, the finest start of the day is to trek all the way to the top of the waterfall and enjoy transcendent views of K-2. Of course, you must follow this up with roaming the village and exploring all nooks and corners, while making friends with the locals.
Day 4: Move back towards Leh or onwards to Pangong Tso
After two beautiful days in Turtuk, it is time to say goodbye to the notion of paradise. Ideally, one can move directly to Pangong-Tso via the Agham-Shyok route or choose to head back to Leh.
Again, the distance of ~80 KM takes about 2.5 – 3 hours, as is standard in this region. From Hunder, one keeps straight on Diskit–Hunder highway and moved northwards to Turtuk, alongside Shyok River.
First, 35 KM after
After Thoise, the route becomes isolated again, with no sign of civilization. However, you will spot a few Gompas sprinkled away as markers.
Little Settlements and beautiful bridges
Further ahead lies
A beautifully built, massive suspension bridge over the pristine clear Shyok River takes you down to the river bed. Immediately upon completion of the bridge is an army check post, where all identities are marked. Now, this is where the area under Pakistan used to begin till 1971. Astonishingly blue waters and the barren brown of the hills is complemented by the well-built road. The route alternates between plain areas, and also takes one high up on a climb in certain areas. There is a particularly tricky stretch of road for about 20 KM, right before entering Turtuk.
Even though it is a small, idyllic village; there is a lot to do here. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie looking to embark on your next crazy adventure, or seeking out spirituality and humanity, or learning more about new cultures – Turtuk has you covered. Needless to say, the below list does not include the multitude of Apricot and Walnut farms which are sprinkled across the highest producer in Ladakh.
- Natural Cold Storage – In Turtuk, all villagers keep their perishables inside little hollows,which are naturally cold. This is due to an underground glacial watercourse keeping these quarters icy throughout the year.
- Polo Ground – a 16th Century Polo Ground. The younger generation loves to play Polo. Of course, if you’re lucky, you will be asked to participate in a friendly match.
- Brokpa Fort – The ruins of Brokpa Fort will take you back in time, into how the Yagbo royalty lived.
- Water Mill – a simple Greek style watermill is bound to take you to the yester-years.
- Mosque, Balti Heritage House, Monastery: All are beautiful touristy locations to visit. These showcase unique combinations of the plethora of cultures that have left its mark on the region.
- Waterfall – a very tricky climb, literally hugging the mountain at certain places. This trek will take one high up to the origin of the waterfall. Yes, it is exceptionally difficult, and it will have your heart pumping – but the view from top is indescribable. In the distance, one will catch a glimpse of the might K-2 – the second highest peak in the world. The miracle of nature and the mightiness of landscape is something that easily leaves you speechless. However, you will have to earn your views, with approx. 3-hour climb.
Where to stay
There are many guesthouses and home-stays available in Turtuk and locals are extremely friendly. The food is unique and delicious and star-gazing is a preferred activity. Turtuk Holiday Camp has nice tented accommodation, with modern amenities- though on a slightly costlier side. Another highly recommended place is Maha Guest House – which has a beautiful little garden café.
Apart from multiple products that boast of Apricots in all shapes and forms, Turtuk also has bragging rights on some unique woodwork. Walking canes can be purchased through many artisans of the town.
With a few makeshift no-name restaurants, the major culinary attraction is the Balti cuisine. There is a tea shop near the Mosque and enjoying a fresh, piping hot cup of tea is riveting. The following dishes will leave you satiated:
- Zan with Tsamig– A savoury buckwheat cake, steamed to perfection, often served alongside mixture of greens and yogurt.
- Kissir with Grangtur– Buckwheat pancakes with greens.
- Brakoo & Muskat– Buckwheat dumplings in ground walnuts sauce, almonds, and spices.
The freshest meals will be served in your home-stay and guesthouses. Also, Balti Cuisine
Other Important Tips
- Electricity runs only
fewhours a day. Hence, please remember to charge your devices (mainly the camera!).
- Also, BSNL post-paid connections can work intermittently. So, ensure you connect with the outside world, as needed.
- The nearest petrol pump is in Diskit, Nubra –
howeverit is intermittently stocked. So, don’t try your luck and carry enough fuel for your complete journey.
- There is a public health
centrein Chutang. Also, Bogdanghas a hospital, if need be.
- Of course, as can be expected, there is
massivearmy presence in the region. Naturally, due to the region’s sensitive nature, movementis frequent. Also, when in doubt, feel free to get in touch with the Army for any cause or concern.
- Carry your own water
bottle andfill it up when possible. Undeniably, it is essential to stay hydrated to combat the symptoms of AMS in the high-altitude dessert.
- Likewise, as there are no commercial places
enrouteTurtuk after Hunder– carry perishables.
- Lastly, visiting during Ramazan might leave one with limited food options, as being a predominantly Muslim region, almost everyone would be fasting. Guesthouses and home-stays will provide one with lunch
Some more tips from the readers on Turtuk
- If you don’t mind roughing it a bit, a relatively inexpensive and convenient way to get to Turtuk from Leh is to first take an early morning shared taxi/jeep to Diskit. These taxis/jeeps leave from near the Polo Ground. From Diskit, you can catch the afternoon bus to Turtuk.
- Turtuk is a conservative place and it hasn’t been long since the place was opened to tourism – in fact for most residents of the village this was their first contact with the outside world. I would request tourists to please respect local customs and sensitivities – dress modestly in full-length trousers and long-sleeved shirts – this applies to both men and women. Please don’t smoke or consume alcohol and please, no PDAs.
- Some tourists and I must confess I have been guilty of this too, distribute small gifts such as chocolates, pencils, etc to the children in the village. The tendency I appreciate flows out of compassion but I’ve come to realize this does more harm than good. It only encourages children to pester other tourists for gifts and money. A better idea would be to donate books, stationery, etc to one of the local schools who could then pass them on to deserving children as they deem appropriate.
- Though the village is Muslim, there is a small Buddhist gompa perched on a hillock above the village. It’s a pleasant hike up to the gompa and there are fine views from the top, including of the snow-clad peak of K2.
- The mosque at
Youlhas some very fine carvings on its wooden ceiling and pillars. The mosque dates back to medieval times though it’s been renovated over the years and most of what we see now would be more recent.
- During each visit I stayed at the Maha Guest House in Farol and each day after the early morning prayers at the mosque, there would a recitation of the glories and praises of Allah. This is the most beautiful recitation I have ever heard and I would go to the ends of the earth to hear it again. Truly, the faithful in Turtuk are fortunate.
Thanks to Hatim for all these details in the comments section.
With the front-line only 7 KM away, Turtuk is an enigma for most. Having a torrential past, the sweetness and friendliness of its folk are even more appreciable. Unmatched views, Turtuk is literally an oasis in the high desert. A largely self-sufficient village, Turtuk opened its arms to the outside world in 2010 and has been a welcoming host since. Experience the unique culture and immerse yourself in tranquillity.
I hope you enjoyed this travel guide of Turtuk village. Please feel free to post any queries or doubts you might have in planning your trip to Turtuk either in the comments section. If you have been to Turtuk, I would love to hear your thoughts and any other information you might feel will be worth sharing with other fellow travelers and prove helpful to them as comments.
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