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 ūüėČ 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¬†ūüôā

 

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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!!

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 Рthe 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)

An uneasy life

My stomach was full and I was ready to crawl into bed. But it was not to be I knew.¬†¬†I surfaced breathless after my 1000th dive and saw Paula swimming next to me. She seemed beat as well. The water today had felt heavy on the body, not refreshing and cool as it did at this time of the year. I’m sure it was at least 2 degrees above normal. “Time to make the dash home”, she said as I looked up at the darkening skies. The sky was a deep dark blue, with the last rays of the sun showing us the cloud pattern – today it looked like a giant fluffy pillow. Oh how I longed for my bed. We waded the last mile together. Mikhail and Mouryi joined us too. They’d just relocated to Australia, citing cold weather conditions back home. Wonder what they thought of these waters? Today was their first day out with the lot.¬† The twins never seemed to tire of each other. Funny that I couldn’t stand my sister for more than a minute.

As our feet touched the sandy ground, my trained mind dispelled all thought. We silently flattened our stomachs and crawled forward in the darkness. The riskiest part of the day with fatal consequences was upon us. We had our tasks cut out. I looked up at the sky peering into the darkness trying to spot any movement at all. They usually attacked from above. Mikhail & Mouryi looked forward and Paula took up the right flank as we slowly proceeded one silent step at a time. ” Make a dash for it now”! I gave the command and we scampered forward madly blindly.¬†

Suddenly out of the darkness, came a loud cheer and the front line froze. I barged right into Mouryi and she almost screamed as she whispered, ” RETREAT’, or was that possible at all. She was already retreating with Mikhail walking backwards, and our line fell back into the water. A hasty conference ensued, and having understood what had happened, exasperated and at the end of my patience, I pushed out of the water, wading first and leading charge. It seemed like suicide to the twins. Another cheer went up – but this time I held firm onto Mikhail. After all, it was his first day here. It was a tough life here as a penguin. Forget the kites, Eagles, dogs and other predators, we had a human audience lined up at the beach every night to watch us go home – apparently we were a sight to watch! ‘Damn these humans, making exhibits of us’!, I muttered as I marched home crossing the beach!

Written on behalf of the penguins of Phillip Island, Australia where humans line up everyday to watch them go home! Wonder if the Penguins enjoy it or grudge us?

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Mumbai meri jaan!

I’m no Mumbai lover, but I love the spirit of its people. I’ve lived here almost all my life, but honestly I don’t think that time spent is a good reason to love anything. People make a place and Mumbai is no different. During my numerous travels, my best experiences have been where the locals have been friendly, welcoming and warm. Malaysia rates higher for the same reason as compared to the highly livable ‘Singapore’ where I found people rather curt and business like. In Europe France has been a big disappointment while Germany felt warm and friendly.

Back to Mumbai. During a couple of my visits to Crawford market which requires a train to be taken from Kandivali (a suburb in Mumbai) and then a taxi into the crowded by-lanes of the market. I took a shared cab as it waited for people for the train to disembark. And it was super. We were a mix of people, the Gujarati business men in the front couple of seats and 3 women including myself in the last row. The women were from UP and over middle age and presumably rural.

Typical to Mumbai, without speaking a word, the person next to the driver’s seat, automatically assumed the role of the collector of fare. Notes were handed to him from us as well as the seat in front. He patiently collected the fare, adjusted the change and passed the money to the driver. A note was torn, which was passed again from the women at the back to the front via the man in the middle seat who had been busy all through acting as the conduit. Despite having to move around quite a bit in the crowded cab, he seemed to take to his role, rather happily. At the destination about 20 mins away, the driver stopped the cab and we all filed away not speaking another word. The taxi for ready for a return trip. Super efficiency, what would you say? No time wasted and quick turn-arounds. It happens only in ‘Mumbai’.

Would love to hear more about your Mumbai travels or at any other place in the world – any such implicit understanding you see/notice among fellow human beings, that tickles you & makes life easier for all of us. ūüôā

Like a river

I flow, not because I know where to go,
I flow because I need to flow.
I’m restless when I’m bound,
I need to find my rhythm,¬†my¬†life’s very own¬†sound.¬†

Maybe I know where to go, but I’ll also go where the path takes me perhaps,
To explore some newness, an adventure maybe as I run down that steep valley,
and then take the curve to dance, to take the longer way home, to meet someone by chance?

Sometimes through a shady nook, as I slow down to rest;
the forest¬†embraces me, we spend some time and she sighs, “oh stay”
I laugh, gurgle, and I say with zest,
“See those¬† boulders, rocks, and grassy patches beyond?;
they’ve been calling out to me all day”.

And so I continue through jungles and flat lands,
to smoothen out a rough stone, to water out that young plant,
to touch your life the way only I can.

 

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To lead a full life, lets be open to  experiences!!

 

Small moments of happiness #2

Small moments of happiness #2 – At Raju’s cottage, Gushaini, HP

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The other day I looked outside the window, still lying on the bed – to find the early morning sun peeping through the pear trees in the orchard right outside the house. The wind gently whooshed about teasing the leaves and making them dance gently to its tune. It was a cool April in the hills of Gushaini and seemed like the perfect day to go for our planned trek. My son all of 9, lay in bed, deep in sleep, blissfully secure and oblivious to the beauty around. I took a moment to analyse my feelings. Was it the beauty outside that made me feel so elated and happy or was it watching his innocent face deep in sleep. I couldn’t bring myself to wake him up. Wouldn’t these moments be soon gone? Wasn’t it just yesterday ( or 7 years ago) when I cradled him and he looked up at me with twinkling eyes, his mouth wide open in a rabbit toothed grin? As I held him close and looked out of the window content, I decided that the trek would have to wait.

P.S – Raju’s cottage is a homestay at the bank’s of the Beas river in Gushaini, Himachal Pradesh, India. It’s fairly popular and you’re sure to find information online. If you are planning a trip, do be sure to book in advance as they are perpetually booked. ūüôā

Small moments of happiness #1 – At home in Mumbai

I lie warm in my bed, listening to the wind outside. Its winter now and the mornings have a slight chill. The mist is knocking on the windows asking to be let in before the sun rays make it disappear. I smile slowly and curl further into my quilt.  The biggest reason for happiness in my life, my little daughter breathes softly and deeply next to me. Her form rising and falling gently. I could watch her endlessly I feel.  These moments of peace and happiness are fleeting, and light,  yet so complete and incomparable.