A visit to the little Balti village of Turtuk

Turtuk has a special place in the heart of most Indians (of course that’s an assumption I’m making) because of it being the last Indian village on the northern side from Leh Ladakh touching the Balti region of Pakistan. The reason for my interest in it is because of the glimpse it gives us into the culture of Baltis which would be otherwise impossible as there’s very little information available to citizens across the border between our two countries.
After the 1947 war, Turtuk was taken under POK and remained there until the 1971 war, when India regained control of it.
And thus, keen to know more about the region, it’s people and culture and amalgamation with India, we decided to visit the village this time round during our trip to Ladakh. Lying in the Nubra valley, Turtuk is about 85 kms from Hunder and took us about 3.5 hours to get there owing to the road conditions. But the drive along the Shyok river is simply superb and would possibly be the main reason to revisit Turtuk (if I ever do).
The Shyok is impatient on the ladakhi landscape almost as if on leash, stumbling, gurgling, raging and rushing through the terrain before slowing down to a placid pace near Turtuk and then calmly carrying on with her journey to the other side of the border.
The terrain is mountainous and barren with practically no trees and just the road which is maintained by the Indian Army between Hunder and Turtuk. We didn’t see any villages or inhabitation on our way there except for some Indian Army camps. One such Army post is the Nine Post where we stopped to have some chai (tea) and Jalebis (Indian sweet) at the canteen there being made by a unit that had just moved in from Bihar that very day. The jalebis were very sweet and the tea average but the experience of sitting there, among the Army jawans and looking at the mountains surrounding us is indescribable. Here’s a picture.
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Coming to Turtuk, was like coming to paradise after the barren rocky terrain. It was green and lively. Here’s a picture of myself entering the pretty village.
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Like I’d mentioned in my earlier post, Turtuk is divided into 2 parts, one part across the bridge contains most of the guest houses and some tourist attractions if I may call them so, and is more developed; while the other part where most locals live is pretty modest.

The village, as is not surprising for such a remote part of India is rudimentary in design, but still fairly clean. Balti houses of the area are mostly made of stone and wood, the wood being used primarily inside homes. The lanes are made of concrete/cement with exposed drains running on both sides and you’ll find a lot of fallen apricots swimming along the drain water 😉 The whole village and lanes are covered with these apricot trees which are just plentiful and be sure you carry some fresh or dried produce from here back home.

The people do manage to speak Hindi though their native language is Balti. It’s thanks to the commercialization of the place (I heard the Indian govt did it’s bit in trying to integrate the area with India pretty well) with tourists being welcomed everywhere, people offering village tour and food mostly Indian and (not Balti as one would expect. We saw a lot of Indians and Israeli tourists during our 1 night halt there. It was easy to find the one home serving original Balti food, and we relished the Buckwheat dosas with walnut chilli chutney served with fresh apricot juice right from the garden where we sat. We topped the meal with ‘gurgur’ tea, which is not made of gur but rather owes its name to the handheld contraption that you push to and fro to mix the tea. The one day we had in hand, we spent trekking up to the mosque up the hill close to the village. The view from the top of the village was to die for. Do check picture 1 below- credit @restlessonmyfeet (instagram). You can see the Shyok river placidly flowing against the apricot fields. Another big attraction of Turtuk is the view of the Indian and Pakistani posts over the mountains keeping watch over one another. Do remember to carry your binocs or zoom lenses if you’d like to see these. One can also see a triangular snow-covered peak across the mountains in the distance and most people claim it is the famed K2 summit. Let me however tell you that if you visit Turtuk solely for this glimpse of K2, you’ll be disappointed as it’s just a tiny bit in the far distance. Pic 2 shows the village lanes and houses. Then there’s me amidst the buckwheat flowers and then halfway up to the mosque. All in all, it’s worth a visit for not just for the place but the oh! so awesome drive to it along the Shyok and oh yes, the pretty but shy women (they simply refused to pose for a photograph 🙂

 

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I’d be happy to provide any information to any of you in case you’re planning to travel thereabouts. You can write into me here and I’ll be happy to respond.
Hope you enjoyed reading this travelogue. Happy travels!!

The Corona Times 23-03-2020

Well we’ve been at home, rather working from home, for the past week now. How’s it been? Not as difficult as I anticipated it would be. I’ve been working from home for a while and hence this is not new. What’s new is the kids school declared a holiday a month in advance which means vacations are now 3 months long and my husband is also working from home and the maids too (from theirs) 🙂 Haa haa… A lot of my friends settled overseas resent us Indians for just ONE thing – having house-helps. We have drivers, cooks, cleaners, baby sitters, care-givers – you name it and we have it (all coming home). I know I know….I know NOW how you must feel. But jokes apart, I have given the maids leave for 2 reasons –

  1. My own selfish reasons – keeping my children and family safe. Visitors should be minimized and maids live with their families and come in contact with very many others who we don’t know or can’t control.
  2. For the sake of their own well-being – they deserve the right to stay healthy themselves. They have families to look out for. More worrisome here is that if they do get infected, they may not have access to good healthcare facilities. Also, they live in small homes and in densely populated areas which could cause the virus to spread faster.

Also, most of them are really not in a position to voluntarily seek leave, fearing pay cuts. It’s time we put ‘people’ and their well-being before a little bit of inconvenience that we might have to bear.

Wait, I’m not getting all preachy here. I also have cheerful stuff to share. There have been many positives for many families (mine included) holed up all by themselves. I heard of one mother in law and daughter in law who had not spoken to each other for years, (their conversations until now happened through the maids who came home and the children whenever they could get hold of one) finally breaking their silence to thrash out division of labour issues at home and the menus for the day and evening meals. Well well, where years of intervention by the husband and Father-in-law failed, Corona virus achieved in a week’s time. I’m so happy for them 🙂

Another couple who had nothing much to say to each other for years found to their delight that they were bonding superbly over Corona. Now conversation is endless & they both research and glean out information and spend hours discussing the virus and measures needed at home to control it. They also have quizzes on the topic every week to keep up the motivation.

Closer home, my children have also taken to helping me around the house without much chiding, because they do not want a harried stressed out mother who would not allow TV time. Check out the picture where my little girl is just so thrilled. So dusting and sweeping have been taken care of – yipppeee!!

Human nature is such that when you’re prohibited from doing an activity, you itch for it all the more. So with the lock-down due to Corona, all of us are itching so much more for those long walks, for human interaction (with people we ignored so far), with suddenly wanting to know our neighbours and what they’re up to all day, where they or their relatives have been to these past months etc etc. Sorry again about digressing. We were at my family. So my mom in law who’s recuperating from a hip fracture, who until now would remain confined to her room, suddenly feels the need to move about the house. She’s been walking about a lot more, feeling a lot better and hence recovering faster. She’s helping with chopping vegetables and other small chores and well am not I thrilled (with her recovery of course).

I hope you’re having an equally great time at home. Do share your tips and the stuff you’re doing to keep things cheerful.

Stay home, stay happy, don’t panic! This too shall pass. 

 

 

 

C-OUCH

Somehow I’ve never had a soft corner for the soft sof -a. Maybe because I’m not such a TV person and the sofa is in the living room for TV viewers and guests. Plus sitting on the sofa seems like such a waste of precious time. I’m someone who likes to move it – move it. Either I’m writing or painting or running, walking or yoga-ing 🙂 , and since none of these activities can be done on the couch – the couch is mostly non- existent in my life. I only read about the casting couch, couch potatoes and the couch slouch – and since all these have negative connotations and are associated with negative activities, ‘OUCH’ is what comes to mind whenever I think of couch!!

Written for the Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt #SoCS –  couch

 

Coincidence

Is it a coincidence that we met or that we share the same birth date? That we have now been friends for about 21 years – much of our adult lives and have aged together.

Soon it’ll be 2nd September, the date that binds us together for many reasons – for one, it was the day in 1998 when my conscious brain first recorded your presence as a fellow student/ batch mate in our college pursuing our masters in Business administration. It was the day, when we first celebrated our birthday together in class, thanks to the thoughtfulness of another classmate – who I shall remember mostly for this reason. She bought a cake and bade us to cut it together. I saw you for the first time, registered your presence and as someone who shares my special day, and from then on there’s been no looking back.

I like to believe we were destined to meet – to support and love each other through this journey called life. To enrich it for the other, by adding flavors of love, shared joys, sorrow and understanding, the bright colors of adventure and the subtle pastels of poetry and music, fragrances of memories created by travel and holidays together, sometimes the grey of confusion & anger has clouded our relationship but then it’s always seen the clarity of white  light.

Over these years as my friend, you’ve helped cultivate my mind, change it bit by bit.  You have helped me unravel layers of my thoughts, opinions and mind. You’ve made me a better person, I have no doubt about that. I’ve drawn from your maturity and balance, your vitality and strength, and you I hope from my positivity and openness.

For this birthday, I thank the universe for your solid unshakable presence in my life and your love & I ask the same always.

Written gratefully and in response to Linda Hill’s #SoCS – Stream of Consciousness Saturday

 

 

My precious you!

 

My precious cup of tea – I’m sure I’ll love you till eternity

You comfort me when I’m sick and cold,

And I hope you’ll still be strong & around, when I’m weary and old.

Blue and white, waiting on the shelf, I knew instantly you were to be mine,

Of the set of 4 that I had bought you with, only you stayed

to make my mornings warm & cheerful, my evenings a comforting delight.

When someone holds you, I always try to dissuade,

Will they treat you with the love and care that I do, I’m always afraid.

Your delicate look belies your strength and age,

Not a chip or crack and I’m grateful for that, may your beauty never fade.

Blessings for you to shine, sparkle and preserve your blue

My tea sure tastes best when it’s with you – you add that flavour to it, don’t you?

 

How I came to love tigers

To see a tiger is to love it!

The emotion of seeing an animal in the wild is completely different from seeing it in captivity or in an enclosed sanctuary.
I learnt this when I spotted my first tiger in the wild on a safari at the Bandhavgarh National Park (BNP). It was in 2008 and my husband and  a friend joined me post a work trip to Madhya Pradesh (MP – the central state of India), for a visit to BNP.
We arrived in the afternoon at the M P Tourism property there and were lazing post a heavy lunch when the manager suggested the afternoon safari. He said we should do as many as possible if we were keen on spotting the elusive tiger. We agreed excitedly as we’d thought of doing the early morning safari the next morning and had so much time to kill – and thus after quick arrangements of a vehicle and permit we were off. About an hour and half into the safari and after having seen the caves on the little hill inside the forest, plus a tad disappointed, our experienced driver heard a deer call!! And the rest as they say is history and will always be cherished in my memory.

On the edge of our seats we looked about for about 20 minutes before we spotted this beauty – tigress ‘Bandhavi’ in the bushes right next to our vehicle. Completely camouflaged we spotted her only because of the movement of the tall grass there. Refer the featured pic. And what a day it turned out to be thereafter. She kept us company for the rest of the afternoon. After crossing the road ( as in pic 2) she lay on the edge of the grassland for a long while, before walking into the sunset. It’s an image imprinted in all our minds and hearts and we discuss it often – in the dim light of dusk, the orange hue of the setting sun reflected on the golden grass of the forest as the tigress walked in slowly and gracefully getting lost in the bushes – only her swishing tail seen for a while. We stood there for a few more minutes and sighing deeply returned back to the hotel – a long standing wish fulfilled with happiness in our hearts.

My love for tigers blossomed that day and I eagerly read up everything about them. Jim Corbett remains a favorite author and his books give an insight into the intelligent minds and lives of this superb animal.
We went on many safaris to see tigers in Pench and Kanha and Tadoba national parks in the following years but the first experience remains most cherished and etched in my memory.

In the later safaris, I didn’t see the elusive tiger many a times and while it did leave me disappointed, I came to appreciate just the beauty of these dense forests and the many flora and fauna inside.

In India with almost 70-80% of the world’s tiger population, we have the benefit and responsibility of protecting these majestic animals from extinction. Our future generations should be able to see them roam free in the wild and marvel at nature’s beauty.

Take my word for it – Make your next holiday a tiger safari holiday, you’ll come back a changed person.

Pic 1 & pic 2 in Bandhavgarh national park.
Pic 3 – Jim Corbett National park
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Tiger Corbett

Rains in Mumbai – perspective

The roofs drip waste,
peeling plasters flutter in the wind,
as the asbestos sheets threaten to come crashing.
The stench that defines this place now washed away,
the by-lanes are mini streams and hold a threatening sway.
One room houses, jam & jostle beside the drain,
the temporary tarpaulins covering the roofs, offer little resistance to the rain;
the bricks to stop them too feeble to fight,
just like the people inside.

We fight our battles everyday for a bit of food and shelter,
that offer no comfort for the ill and sick – they might as well have been on the street.
The choking gutters, spreading out our waste like valuables for all to see,
the dampness dampens our spirits, pervades our being,
this claustrophobic slum life in Mumbai is our misery.
Yet, you’re always welcome,
Oh beautiful rain! Your pattering drops momentarily dull our pain,
the accompanying wind tugs at our clothes and our troubles,
isn’t that why we find him so lovable?
As the thunder clouds gather, we feel our spirits lift,
our faces upturned with expectation and smiles,
we realize although a burden, life is still a gift.
And in those precious few moments,
we know we are equal in the eyes of nature – she treats us all the same.
Rain – the life giver!


The privileged
From the cosy confines of my verandah, I watch the rain as my maid serves me tea,
I snuggle deeper into my wicker chair, knowing I can pull out the awning if it threatens to wet me.
The spray off my whitewashed railing wets my face, the gentle breeze grazes my cheek,
I breathe in the scent of the earth, this moment precious, gives me the peace I seek.
The sea in the distance dances her joy, her waves leaping up to touch the drops,
I sense the play and the glee of the firth, one can hear the roar and the joyful mirth.
The sky is a deep hue, the trees verdant green, the earth deep brown, the hitherto dusty leaves sport now a sparkling sheen;
The birds watch from their in the nests, the dance of the plants in the pots,
all the living – old and young, yes we’re all besot.
And for a while all life pauses, to pay homage to this wonder called rain.

(The rain from the perspective of the rich and the poor in Mumbai)