Where they stand guard silently : Turtuk and Siachen

Tourists do not generally go to these two places. Siachen, because they are not allowed. Turtuk, because most are not aware of it and really do not care.

What strikes you when you drive through this mountainous region is how the elements do not recognize these lines we have drawn on the map demarcating our countries. The towering ridges carry on into Pakistani territory unmindful of the sentries. The rivers flow and mingle, unstoppable.

The Siachen glacier’s melting water are the main source of the Nubra river which joins the Shyok river flowing from Turtuk to Pakistan. There it joins the Indus river which is important for both India and Pakistan. No boundaries stop them.If only such boundaries ceased to exist for us humans.

If you wish to go to Turtuk you have to start from Leh, cross Khardungla Pass and take the road towards Diskit and Hundar. This journey will take you almost 8 hours because of the bad roads and hill driving. The last point on this journey is the restricted area along the line of control. The Turtuk village overlooking the Shyok river is a few kilometers away from the LOC. Incidently the word Shyok means “River of Death”.

As you drive along the Shyok you will find that the terrain is rocky and barren. Looking at the topography it is hard to imagine how people eke out a living here. It is stark and naked. Rocks everywhere!!

The only signs of habitation are few and far between. The Shyok river is the only source of sustenance. During winters everything brown turns white. June to August are the only three months that the villagers can grow crops. Later in the winters they survive on these dried crops such as barley, buckwheat, carrots, turnips, potatoes, etc. A harsh land and a difficult life.

Crossing the Turtuk village you come across rosy cheeked, blue eyed and light haired children. Locals claim that they are of Aryan and Central Asian descent. Looking at them you feel there is some truth to the claim.

Some  distance from the village is the LOC. Drawn on the river bed of the Shyok river are barbed wire fences that divide the territories of the two countries. And that is the point of return for us!!

Siachen is one of the five largest glaciers in the Karakoram range. Situated at 17,700 feet, it is the highest battlefield. The Siachen glacier is 78 kms long and separates the Indian subcontinent from Central Asia, and Pakistan from China.

This is a restricted zone and with special permission you can go till the snout of the glacier.

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With so much history behind the Siachen glacier you expect to see a wide, white expanse that will fill the horizon. The reality is totally different. There is no Hindi movie style beautiful white sheet of ice flowing past you. You get a glimpse of only the snout. From that point the glacier turns into the valley and disappears from sight. All you can see is a rocky mountain with just a bit of ice protruding from it. The snout is visible from a few kilometers away ut you will not be able to identify it because it is just a piece of black landscape that merges with the dark brown mountains all around.

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The black dirty looking landscape you see in front of the white ice is all part of the glacier. Yes!that is also the Siachen glacier. The dirty, soot colored, muddy thing is all ice! It is only when you come within a few feet of the snout that you realize what it is. A far cry from what your imagination painted!

The ice from the snout keeps melting and feeds the Nubra river.

This is the most we ordinary people can go. From here on starts the most difficult journey that only bravehearts can undertake.

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