On the 51st day of our ride we stayed in the border village of Turtuk and visited the Indo-Pak border at Gorkha ridge. This was part of our 90 day cycle ride in the Himalayas covering Spiti, Zanskar, Batalik, Ladakh, Nubra, Shyok, Pangong, Hanle, Tso Moriri, Garhwal and Kumaon.
Day 51: Turtuk to Gorkha Ridge
We woke late, only to open the door for the landlord. We had had the place to ourselves for the night. He lived a couple of houses down the lane and handed over the keys of his property to us.
He came bearing breakfast, which we took hours to eat. Since Ibrahim gave us company with tales about the state of education, tourism, military, militancy in Turtuk and many other things.
There are two primary and middle schools in the village. Which are required since on an average each family has five children. There is one higher secondary school and plans for a degree college as well in the near future.
Even though this is a completely Muslim village, the schools are co-ed, from start to finish. I also didn’t see a single woman in a burka. On asking Ibrahim, he said, the women work in the fields, they can’t do that wearing a burka. Modesty is not the clothes on your body, but in your heart.
The village is comprised of a 100% Sunni population, unlike the people in Zanskar and Kargil. There is distinct animosity for each other. Yet in both places I found people to be far more open minded than those in the plains. Mountains have some magic, which makes everyone really nice!
In contrast Turtuk’s neighbouring village doesn’t allow tourists. It is a closed society. When I passed through, the only thing of note was the insane number of children on the street.
From the roof of our guesthouse we watched proceedings in the primary school, kids performing songs and dances as part of their curriculum. The children were singing the national anthem. It was a strange sight. Just 50 years ago, children in the village would have singing the Pakistani national anthem!
The medium of instruction for the children is Urdu, which as per Ibrahim, isn’t of much use. The local language is Balti, while Hindi is what they will require later on in life. Balti is similar to Ladakhi and not Urdu.
This was a bit of a theme. I was not one bit surprised to know that Turtuk had mostly foreign tourists. Indians just not willing to go an inch beyond the Bollywood beat!
In this part of the Indo-Pak border, the military had a pretty decent relationship with the locals. An Army Goodwill School helps strengthen the relationship. Militancy was also almost non-existent, because even those who harbour ill will towards India, find it near impossible to take action. The environment is barren, with no forests for any militants to take refuge. All of this put together makes this area a reasonably peaceful border village.
The village is home to a monastery. Surprising, considering zero Buddhists live in Turtuk. The monastery was constructed by the Ladakhi Scouts of the Indian Army soon after India captured these villages during the ’71 war.
This interesting conversation along with Akshay’s penchant to editing photographs on his phone ensured we were in the guesthouse till noon.
Every cloud has a silver lining. Our delay was followed by a call from Akshay’s officer friend. He got us special permission to visit Gorkha Ridge.
The northernmost road head in India. It is like the Kanyakumari of the north! I am extremely grateful to him for helping us reach there.
Our permits and ID cards were checked by the army at Tyaksi, before we were allowed ahead.
I didn’t see foreigners there, so I assume it is a restricted area for them. While the aam junta had to take the regular route, we privileged two went under the barrier to the northernmost Indian road. It felt good to have special access, unfortunately there were no tourists to see us pedalling into the restricted area. That would have been the icing on the cake!
As we rode to the border there were signboards stating: ‘Don’t get off the road, the ground is filled with landmines’. Keep off the grass taken to a whole new level!
At Gorkha Ridge we were given a guided tour of the place by the on-duty soldier. Clearly he had done this many times, as he was fluent with his presentation.
He gave us a history of the place, followed by the geography.
He showed us the Pakistani bunkers along with the Indian ones. We got to see all of this through powerful military grade binoculars. The best part was that we were under constant observation by the Pakistani army.
India has a strategic upper hand in the area. Every movement of their soldiers is watched over by the Indian Army. This results in a relatively peaceful border with Pakistan, which isn’t the case in many other areas.
It was an experience which rendered me speechless. The soldiers in the bunkers sit there for months at end. The difficulties they face because of politicking is mind boggling.
Another side of the picture emerged as we were leaving. A 16 year old Nepalese boy was walking the donkeys laden with water canteens. He was one among the many who took supplies to the soldiers sitting in their bunkers.
It was terrible to see an adolescent doing such work. He asked me the cheapest route to get to Manali, from where he could get back to his country. A prisoner of circumstances he was.
As we rode out of the military area, we were befriended by a local hero/ bodybuilder/ all round pain in the arse! He appeared to be a big fan of Salman Khan, which wasn’t one bit surprising!
Once back at Turtuk, we cycled through the village and were lucky to spectate as a local polo match was on. The army was conducting the match. It was possibly another confidence building measure with the local populace.
The game appeared quite rag tag, but it was fun to watch nonetheless.
After the polo match we bumped into a couple of boys from Kerala on a scooter and motorcycle. One of them, just 19 years of age was on the road for two months and had more planned!
Near the guesthouse I met a trekker from Bombay who was looking for accommodation. I was happy to take him along to our excellent guesthouse.
Ibrahim was unwell and his children had taken charge of the guesthouse. The daughters brought in buckets of water, while the son brought the food and served us.
While settling the bill, Ibrahim charged us 100 rupees less. Since he had been unable to prepare as elaborate a dinner as he wanted. Small things like these make travelling in this part of India a luxury.
Route Profile: Turtuk to Gorkha Ridge
It is a flattish road from Turtuk to Tyaksi. The army checks your permits there. Foreigners cannot go ahead of Tyaksi. Indians are allowed to a certain point from where the physical border is visible.
With special permission from the army we were allowed to go half a kilometre beyond where Indian tourists are allowed. This is the actual physical border between India and Pakistan.
The Gorkha regiment had fought off the Pakistani army to reclaim this land. That is why it is called Gorkha Ridge
Food and Stay for Two for two days 1515