In Turtuk, only smiles are sweeter than apricots
Travel Ladakh Leh Turtuk
By Nischaya Bahuguna
A long time ago came a man on a track
Walking thirty miles with a pack on his back
And he put down his load where he thought it was the best
Made a home in the wilderness
He built a cabin and a winter store
And he ploughed up the ground by the cold lake shore
And the other travellers came riding down the track
And they never went further, no, they never went back.
-- Telegraph Road, Dire Straits
Munching Ladakhi bread smeared with apricot jam, I ask Dawa Norbu at the breakfast table: "How many kilometers to Turtuk?"
"Almost 80," he says with affirmation. This 50-year-old man from Nubra Valley, along with his family, runs the Snow Leopard Hotel with an ever-charming smile. I give him, perhaps not-so-needed advice on advertising his hotel on the Internet. Hunder in Leh, Ladakh, is infectious. Even more is Norbu’s hotel in the midst of this beautiful valley, secluded from the main road and in stark contrast with its counterparts. It carries the USP of being one of the nicer places for overnight stay.
The bright flowers, apple trees and the huge kitchen garden make me fall in love with this place. I haven't read botany in years, but that doesn't make me less appreciative of the varied flora on his farm. I wish I had one more day at my dispense to enjoy the best dinner I had in a long long time. Organic, as they say, isn't cliched yet.
The sand dunes at Hunder can wait, especially when today's destination is Turtuk. Sonam gets into the driving seat and turns on the Buddhist prayer on his Sony Xplod. He folds his hands and closes his eyes and then rolls his automobile. A staunch Buddhist, he's from Nubra, too, and has been driving for the last ten years. "Om mani padme hum" echoes from the speakers and there is a strange attraction in this prayer. With each passing day, my fascination for it increases. It is becoming a morning ritual for me as well.
It is a beautiful Monday morning. Tantalizing sunshine falls on the mighty Shayok River, which meanders serpent-like through Nubra Valley. It has rained more than normal in Ladakh this year and most of the rivers are muddy. Shayok is no exception. Quieter initially, the Shayok comes to its full might and grandeur as we move along the village of Changmar to Bogdang. I am told that Shayok is a tributary of the mighty Indus and their confluence lies somewhere in Pakistan. Looking at the volume of water, I would say that Shayok definitely looked like a bigger brother of the Indus. At three places en route to Turtuk, our permits are checked by Ladakh Scouts. In one of the posts near to a huge bridge, I see a Jawan painting a notice board. The bridge seems important from a strategic point of view, with instructions to pass one vehicle at a time. It is a no-photography zone, although there isn't a prohibitory notice anywhere. I strike a conversation with one of the Army jawans and give him the unnecessary suggestion of mentioning the same on the board. A bit hesitant initially, he smiles and, perhaps, takes my suggestion a bit too seriously and nods in affirmation. I prefer to walk and realize that couple of more days of heavy rain could make the Shayok kiss the underbelly of this bridge. But I leave my apprehensions behind, since the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) would have anticipated that. I bid goodbye to the Army jawan and we leave behind the quintessential Ladakhi villages with Buddhist flags and enter a different territory, inhabited by Balti Muslims.