The last accessible village in the Shayok Valley, 80 km uphill from Hunder, lies Turtuk, one of the youngest regions in Indian history. Originally a Pakistani village, it became a part of India after the 1971 Bangladesh war, when Major Chewang Rinchen of the Ladakh scouts captured four out of the fourteen villages of the Baltistan region in Pakistan. On the night of December 13, 1971, the inhabitants of Turtuk village went to bed as citizens of Pakistan, the next morning they woke up as Indians.
Opened to tourists only three years ago, this gorgeous riverside village is still culturally a part of Baltistan. The landscape, owing mostly to its history and geography, has an end-of-the-world feel about it─ the trademark prayer flags of Ladakh have disappeared and the jagged peaks of the Karakoram seem to close in from all sides as the valley narrows. However, suddenly a green oasis emerges, with cozy camps set up in an orchard, surrounded by beautiful fields of wildflowers and barley. The placid Shayok River has transformed into a roaring, greenish torrent that surges to converge with the Indus in POK, with the LOC being just 12km away.
The twin villages of Youl and Pharol are perched on a ridge above the orchard and have a dense Muslim population that speaks both Balti and Ladakhi. The elders in the village share their old-time stories of walking to Leh in eight days, crossing the Khardung-la with their mules, carrying apricots to trade for clothes and shoes. The homely looking stone and wood houses in which these elders reside are surrounded by mulberry and apricot trees presenting a picturesque scenery. Both villages have beautiful old mosques, with the one in Youl dating back to the 17th century. One also can shop at the village blacksmith’s for intricate brass ladles and bracelets inlaid with red and green enamel, and eat taste the delicious Balti cuisine composed of bread made of buckwheat and walnut, roasted barley porridge, sun-dried tomato chutney and flavored yogurt.
A center of attraction is the wooden palace of the famously hospitable Khan of Turtuk, Mohammad Khan Khacho of the Yabgo dynasty, whose genealogy can be traced back to 1000 AD when Turtuk was an important stop on the Silk Road. The erstwhile local ruler has preserved his home’s traditional architecture and put together an informal museum of royal relics and artifacts.
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