Turtuk has gained prominence in the Leh community in the last many years, and rightfully so! Though the time seems to have stood still to capture the intense, untouched beauty – the history of Turtuk is anything but peaceful. What an enigma this little hamlet of ~4000 people is – known as the village without a border! Only 10 Kms from the frontier, the last, northernmost village before Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, calls Nubra and Baltistan neighbors. Having the Shyok river as its constant companion, Turtuk’s historical past is as vibrant as the apricot plantations of the region – colorfully representing an amalgamation of many cultures that have influenced the settlement’s chronicles.  The people of the village are so friendly and welcoming, and any visitor is left with love from the villagers. I hope you do interact with them and learn of their histories through their stories.

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About Turtuk

Turtuk was completely secluded due to the geopolitical uncertainties that plagued the region along with its daunting geography. It was in 2010 that the people of Turtuk petitioned and accomplished opening their doors to the world. Before then, the world was blissfully unaware of this jewel of the Ladakh region. 

Here’s a brief history lesson for you to enjoy – Up until 1971 – Turtuk lay in PoK. During the Indo-Pakistani War – Major Chewang Rinchen was able to win back Turtuk, along with other villages laying close by. So, those born before 1947 – were citizens of India, then Pakistan, and then India again. For the younger generation – Pakistan was their only home.

Now think of it from a local resident’s perspective. Many of the residents served in Pakistan’s Army and naturally, their allegiance to move to India immediately was unrealistic. Given how the war panned out – many of the families still have relatives on the other side and the stories that the elder locals tell are fascinating. 

Though unknown for too long a time, Turtuk truly is a must-visit place in Ladakh – for it can teach you hard life lessons and the sheer grit of conquering challenges and living while not being defined by borders!

Languages spoken

Turtuk is a predominantly Muslim region, though the influence on the language and culture can’t be missed. The local dialect is a blissful mix of  Ladakhi, Urdu, and Balti. Balti is an amalgamation of Persian and old Tibetan. A local will tell you that Turtuk means “a desire to stay”in Balti – something you’ll wholeheartedly agree with! 

Weather in Turtuk

Turtuk has similar weather to the rest of Ladakh but is slightly warmer than its neighbor – Nubra Valley. Virtually no rainfall, exceptionally cold winters, and peak summer months of June- July are a pretty standard affair for this high-mountain desert. What’s quite unique about Turtuk, however, are the Apricot blossoms in April as well as the fall/autumnal feel of September end. Thus, the best time to visit Turtuk coincides with the tourist season of the Ladakh region, i.e. mid-April to mid-October.

Location

Turtuk has an elevation of 3,001 mt. – making it easier to manage than nearby ranges. Lying about 205 KMs from Leh, Turtuk lies on the banks of Shyok River and is one of the gateways to Siachen glacier. 

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Reaching Turtuk is a joyous ride

Geography of Turtuk

The village of Turtuk can be segregated into three main regions. 

  • Chutang – the settlement alongside the river bank. This is the cultural, educational, and economical center of the village. This is also the only populous area in the winter months – as other parts of town move close to the river bed to keep warm and fed!
  • Yul – the old town. This region is densely populated with lots of greenery to keep your eyes and heart happy. Yul also has a beautiful old mosque. 
  • Pharol – situated across the river, you can reach Pharol by crossing an idyllic river bridge. You’ll have jaw-dropping views of the K-2 peak from here along with some epic buckwheat fields. spreading across the entire view. This is also where most guesthouses are situated. 

It should be noted, that Turtuk is located atop a hill and one would require to climb 50+ stairs to reach the village. This can be an arduous task for the unprepared. So ensure, you’ve sufficient water with you when embarking on the climb. 

Visiting Turtuk

The earlier requirements for Inner Line Permit (for Indian Nationals) have been done away with. However, now you’ll be required to pay the Ladakh Ecology and Environmental Fee.  Ladakh Protected Area Permit for Foreign Nationals remains a requirement still. . You can easily 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.

  • Taxis: You can easily get a personal and for-share taxi. It is highly recommended to get a bundle deal from the Taxi drivers and cover all the nearby regions, including stopovers at Nubra/ Hunder and even covering Pangong-Tso.
  • Public Transport: You can easily catch a weekly bus from Leh to Turtuk – a local way of traveling. The route will be a bit rough – not because of the road (which is pretty epic!) but the age of the buses. The bus leaves Saturday at 6 AM from the Leh bus stand and returns from Turtuk the next day.
  • Self-drive: You can of course drive on your own – by both 2 wheels and cars. 4X4 is not a necessity on this route.

The Route

It should be noted that you’ll need to Travel by road to reach Turtuk and cover the 205 KM distance from Leh, taking you approximately 6-8 hours of driving time.

The journey is synonymous with stunning beauty, difficult terrain, and some unforgettable moments.  En route, you’ll cross one of the highest motorable passes in the world – Khardung-la, situated at an altitude of 17,582 ft. (5359 m). The road post-Khardung-la is stunning. Also, because it is a tourist destination – I highly recommend leaving as early as possible from Leh to avoid traffic en route.

Also, in terms of pit stops, I suggest you stop at Khalsar, which is the preferred stop for locals.

However, I would advise stopping a little further ahead – Khalsar. Keep driving ahead to reach Diskit – which makes for another great pitstop worthy of exploration. I suggest spending 2 days in Diskit/ Hunder to do the place justice!

Post Hunder, the distance of 80 KMs can be covered in 2-3 hours. Shyok river will keep you company right up to Turtuk. After about 35 KMs, you’ll be hard-pressed to spot any civilization – enjoy the seclusion! The beauty of this drive comes from the greenery and the many bridges you’ll cross in loops. You’ll have to get your entries marked post-Chalunka at an army check-post near a suspension bridge. 

While the route is exceptionally well built – 20 KMs before reaching Turtuk – you’ll be entering a particularly challenging and tricky bit – keep vigilant here. 

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Tips when Visiting Turtuk

  • You’re headed into uncharted territories and expecting any form of “normal” comforts of life might be asking for too much! 
  • Electricity availability will be minimal – whenever you do get it – ensure you charge your electronics – especially your camera! 
  • There’s a new petrol pump commissioned at T-more. It lies at the junction of Diskit/Turtuk and Sumur/Panamik. However, it is intermittently working. Ensure you carry sufficient fuel in this part of the world.
  • If needed, Chutang has a public health center. Feel free to ask for help from the Army, if needed!
  • Carry sufficient food for your road journey – there are no commercial places after Hunder.  
  • If visiting during Ramadan, you’ll have limited food options, though guesthouses will provide you with lunch! 
  • Please respect the local customs and be mindful that Turtuk has only very recently opened itself to the rest of the world. 
  • I strongly suggest when traveling anywhere in the Himalayas, if you’re looking to donate school supplies/ chocolates/ clothes etc. for the kids – you reach out to the local schools to pass on to the kids as they deem appropriate! Because a lot of tourists do carry gifts for the kids of these regions, the kids can get accustomed to receiving things from tourists- so it is common sense to let the schools handle the distribution of the ones in need!

Major Attractions / Sightseeing in Turtuk

Don’t be fooled by the small, idyllic village – there’s so much to do when you’re here! There’s something for everyone in Turtuk – whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, a nature lover, seeking out spirituality, an observer of cultures, or just someone looking to relax and enjoy the stillness of time. 

  • Explore the numerous Apricot and Walnut farms and learn more about farming in such difficult terrains from the locals. Also, enjoy eating plenty of fresh nuts and fruits! Indulge in nature fully and pluck your own walnuts, almonds, and juicy apricots right off the tree. You can actually climb a tree and pluck your own apricots.
  • If you’re a cultural enthusiast – head on out to explore the two Mosques and the Balti Heritage House along with the Monastery. You’ll be captivated by the unique cultures and their mark on the region. The hike to the monastery is exceptional and takes you along multiple fields. When you get to the top – the view will leave you breathless. You’ll want to spend as much time on top as possible. On the way back – explore our next suggestion – 
  • Enjoy the unique Natural Cold Storage where the locals store their perishables. There’s an underground glacial watercourse, which helps keep the area cold 
  • If you’re looking for a peaceful day with idyllic strolling and exploring – just get out and walk! 
  • Go explore the 16th Century Polo Ground, you’ll be surprised to learn that young locals here love to play the game. Try your luck and ask to join a game or two! 
  • The ruins of Brokpa Fort are also an iterating way to spend your afternoon. Travel back in time and learn how the Yagbo royalty lived. Combine this with visiting a greek-style Watermill to complete your trip to the old days! 
  • The most unexpected of all – Turtuk has a beach! Granted -you’ll have to hike to the beach – but, oh what fun! You’ll be crossing a charming forest and, of course, the Shyok river will keep you company. Another fun added adventure is crossing the river stream to get to the other side of the beach. You can even spend the night on the beach camping ( like we did!)
  • For adventure enthusiasts, trekking up to the waterfall will be a happy day spent! The trek is tricky, and not meant for novices or the fainthearted. Those who dare to embark on the 3-4 hour climb, will be rewarded with the exceptionally captivating views of K-2. 
  • Another activity for all – head on out to the cliff that overlooks the Shyok river- as a local to help you get there – the hike can be confusing. The views and the afternoon spent there will keep you engrossed. 
  • I can never forget the foodies when creating our guides- you must try the Balti cuisine when in Turtuk. Some dishes that will keep you drooling include – Kissir Roti with Tsemik. Kissir Roti is basically Buckwheat Roti. Explore the many no-name restaurants and dhabas. 
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The King of Turtuk

Conclusion

Turtuk – gaining popularity amongst hard-core travelers and lovers of mountains – is a hidden jewel, to say the least! Having one of the most fascinating histories of present eras, this region begs you to ask questions, be curious and enjoy the scenic yet difficult terrain. This largely self-sufficient village is an immersive experience and will leave you needing more. While I do suggest spending at least 2 days here – there’ll be no dearth of experience you can gather here. 

Have you ever been to Turtuk? Do share your stories of the magical wonderland along with any tips you might feel other travelers should know! Want to visit and need more support? Reach out to us and we’ll be happy to answer any questions and help plan your travels!

 

2 Comments

  • by
    Keshav
    Posted February 23, 2024 11:52 pm 0Likes

    Went through the article. Nice and informative. I just wanted to ask, from Leh is it possible to do Diskit sightseeing ( Monestery, Sand Dunes and camel ride) and proceed to Turtuk for night stay. Also, Can we do car camping at river side in Turtuk.

    Thank u in advance..

    • by
      unpluggedlife
      Posted February 29, 2024 11:26 am 0Likes

      Hi Keshav!

      If you start early from Leh, you can technically complete all sightseeing and end the night in Turtuk. This will however, be a long travel day.

      If you’re carry your own tent, you can find a safe spot to camp anywhere in Ladakh.

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