Ladakh’s Heaven on the Earth


Ghulam Mehdi Shah
The sun had gone down the stark mountains late that day .It was a hot sultry day of June and I  Still remember the  light  red clouds  that  covered the  brilliant  blazing  sky  that evening  as I kicked  the last goal for the day in the polo  grounds of Turtuk.
I was nine years old and it was the summer of 1999. Me and  my family  lived in a  beautiful  and  small  hamlet  of villages called  by the name of  Turtuk which  comprised  of several smaller villages  on  either  side  of the  banks of Shyok which  shared  its banks  with both  India  and  Pakistan.
Funny, how boundaries don’t change people because geographically we had a terrain similar to Kargil  but we are politically in Leh district(road politics). Historically ,Turtuk area [comprising villages of Turtuk, Tyakshi, Chulunkha, Pachathang, Garari and Thang] got freedom in 1971 after which  we  became a part of  India . However, the division was harsh.   Families  were  split in half  on either side. One a Pakistani and the other a  Hindustani. But just till yesterday they were  uncle and  nephew, mother and  daughter.
On that  day  when the  sunset  late and I was playing  football as a  nine  year  old   suddenly the  dark sky blazed up again and we all looked up to fire in the sky.  It was  an exhilarating  moment  and then reality and its cruel  nature came  running in as we realized  we were  being bombed. We all rushed in and  our  heart beats  grew  stronger and    louder  by the second. Slowly the  air  turned quiet  again but we  knew  that two  strange  countries  were  at war
I call   the  country which took us in on 1971 a  stranger because even after  winning the war ,  no one  came  to  console us  or even  support  us .  Although  it  helped  us  become  stronger  people  both in mind and  body  but we are facing an  identity  crisis in terms of where as a people of a certain nation  do we  belong?
Culturally, the majority of population  practices  Islam. Before that Buddhism was in practice there. The village has a couple of small historic Gompas (Monastry) and the  Tibet an influences in  traditions and culture is vibrant. We  speak the language of  Baltistan  called  Balti . An interesting  fact about  Balti is that the number system  is similar to the Japanese  number  system.
Economically, we  are self  sufficient  and  self reliant but  being  part of a  great  nation , we want  contribute and be a representative in its  voice too  We are like Manto’s  Toba Tek Singh  who is  considered  mad  and Is silenced for he is neither a  Pakistani  nor a   Hindustani .
Politically,we are at an identity  crisis. Like me  there are so many who had  to move out of  our motherland  and  pursue  our education and the rest  of our lives in  other places and in other  towns.Its voice is never heard .  Few know the story of  this village  because It is never written down in history ,  never given a  space to talk . Always made to  be the  subaltern.Turtuk area has been deprived of Border area Development Programme, which includes the construction of Rural roads in the border areas by state Govt, providing border scholarships to the border students by the Govt of India etc etc.
Turtuk deserves an MLA seat out of seats reserved for the territorial  constituencies of PoK.
So what  we do is , we travel aborad , outside , to other towns  and c ities  to settle  ourselves  but even though we  become  well and  prosperous  our  beloved  turtuk stays  silent and  calm , waiting  for  us to  come  and give  it a firm  voice .
I studied in a   Government  school  till  class 5 in Turtuk  and  soon after the bombing our family  had  to shift  to  turtuk ,youl on the opposite  side , but there  too  there was  bombardment and   within a  week  we shifted  to the  block  head quarters of  Disket from  where I  safely completed  my tenth. I went on to do  my 10+2 from  leh and  then  my  graduation in  Jammu .I moved out  of my  village  a long time  ago  but I still remember its various faces and facets even in  my dreams . Its  history , its  religions   and its  folklores  still dance on my  feet when I  think  about my birthplace.
Khali  Karim , the  only  sweet  shop owner is a  fond memeory ,  who specialize in stone  engraving.
Turtuk area is still devoid of a Govt. Hospital, the nearest Sub-District Hospital is  at Deskit (Nobra) which is 80 kms away from Turtuk. The construction of Kargil-Turtuk road  which  leads to the  nubra  valley via Turtuk  faster  has  been  shut  down  for  political  reasons and  so  people  have to cross the  highest  motorable road  of  the  world (Khardungla pass) to reach Turtuk .TheTurtuk-Khapalu road should be opened like the srinagar-Muzaffarabad road so that the people of Turtuk can meet their departed families.
One  summer in 2005  when I was a  young  lad of 15 I had  gone to Turtuk for a  picnic with my  friends and  to this particular  sweet  shop . There  I met this  young  professor Dr. D.K. Sharma  who  was  quite impressed  when I told  him  that my  favorite  story at that  time  was   Tolstoy’s “spark  neglected  burns the house”
That  same  professor  became  my  hostel warden  in HNB University  Garhwal where I was doing  my  post-graduation  in  2011. He still remembered me and I still  smile at  the   strange ways  life takes  you through.