Baltistan, Jammu and Kashmir, Laddakh, Pakistan, The Great Himalayan Road Journey to Baltistan
Comments 47

The Wait Of Baltistan: Remembering Love and Lessons While Teaching in the Border Village of Turtuk – VI

On the Great Himalayan Road Journey to Baltistan, the final journey continuing from

Call of the Now- I

Life and nothing more- II

Road will tell you- III

Remember me with a Lotus- IV

The Gun Mountains and other Gods- V

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As i sit to write this final chapter, many memories from my journey that I first took eleven years ago arrive. Vivid. Bringing a state of spiritual alertness. An all round high, more out of oxygen levels shelving by the night, at that height. Breathing deep. I wasn’t able to stop my popcorn like popping soul at the sight of the Himalayas. More so I felt young. Carrying freedom in my eyes as I was being taken care of for months and if I wanted to, for as long, to only teach.

Incidents, accidents; new kind of trees, new crops, thin air, cold wind, white walls, narrow streets, mountain dogs, brick lanes, chants, monasteries, Tibetan flags; the mountain life; that air of newness like teenage romance, lived shortly. As a week later reality was waiting to peel soft layers from my wandering sight. How world works! How humans survive! The time in Leh was over. We crossed over the Himalayas passing through the world’s highest motorable road meeting the rude Karakoram Ranges. It was so cold that the tips of my toes were burning out loud inside shoes. A grey day. A devastating day for a co-traveller. For he had to inhale some oxygen at the army camp. We only felt saved when we started descending from the La, moving towards the land of double hump camels in Hunder, world’s highest cold desert meeting the ancient Silk Route. That same road which Marco Polo took in 12th century, and then taken by one of my favourite travel writers, William Dalrymple in the late 80s. I had dreamt of doing it too, and earning that name of being the best, most robust travellers of all times but then for Indians it was better to find their own way. And I was already on one. On my way to the northern most, last possible village of India, bordering with Pakistan, a way up the Siachin glacier; driving along the fear mounting river Shyok, towards the valley of Death.  

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Present day, writing from my room in Leh

I cannot even measure this in words, how hard it has been for me, to reach Turtuk again, almost One thousand and sixteen hundred kilometers away from my room, I feel far, and I feel under prepared even after a decade later. I had already come close to call this final phase of our journey off.

I am tired. I don’t want it if it doesn’t want me.

The Tyres are old, the car is a box. 


In 1971, while India and Pakistan were fighting their last full-bloodied war that lead to the creation of Bangladesh. Thousands of kilometers up north, deep in the gorges of ’Shyok valley in the freezing foothills of Siachin, Major Chewang Rinchin with his Regiment, Ladakhi Scouts started walking along the River Shyok, i.e ‘the river of death’ in Yarkandi Uyghur, but ceased fire after acquiring five villages. A total area of 804 sq. kilometers even before the Indo-Pakistan war was called off.

That night people of those five villages had gone to sleep in Pakistan, but they woke up in India the following morning. For forty years these villages, though in India could not be accessed by road.

Overnight families were cut forever from their relatives; Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, trees, home all were taken away!

It was a lost world for these five villages. Even today if you visit their kabristan- graveyard, you will find majority of the graves are smaller in size, of children. There were more reasons for a child to die earlier than anyone else. In these villages women out numbered men; many could never find any husband. Initially, while on a round to meet families of my children i felt uncomfortable while meeting sometimes three and most times four women talking as mothers, while the lone man stood behind. A family on an average had more than seven children, five to six of them girls. It were the old women of the village who helped young mothers’ conceive in the absence of medical facilities and many times unsuccessfully.

There was absolutely no one who had visited these villages from mainland India apart from the Army men. Khardung La was so huge and unconquerable that anyone crossing the La/pass was given a god like welcome, like it was given to us. More so when those men were teachers, taking huge risks to teach their unworthy children, or how they thought! The village opened and for the first time in the summer of 2011, we were asked to organize a building for a Senior Secondary School, situated by the river, to get it back to working condition and teach for the winter months to come. The news travels like wild fire in small places. And soon not only the village children, but children from far away villages registered. And even students from as far as Srinagar and Jammu started coming within weeks. Many more than village elders had ever thought. 

Our caretaker, sitting on the school’s roof by the river Shyok
I asking Rashida, Hamida, Abida to show to show their copies
A lone Walnut Tree


Every thing was magic to my eyes. Swelled earth, purple mountains, the most perfect mineral rich water everyday from the Shyok, children and men alike talked of lores and black magic, of wild animals. Birds that I had never seen sat daily singing songs new to my ears. From the window where I stayed I could see the top of the mountain across the river, where locals pointed out an ancient fort for me. Yes there seemed like a room or two. Rocks placed in some order. But then few months later I saw an I-bex couple running, playing among selves. It was a sight. But here, in the village, that which completely owned my attention for an extended period, were the Donkeys. Ever since we landed our feet, day in and night out hundreds of donkeys used to run berserk from one end to the other non-stop braying like no one’s listening. When I asked about them from our local ‘godfather, Rehamatullah’, he first laughed, and in months to come I will learn that he would always laugh first and then speak, “there are around 600 donkeys here. All are male. We do not keep female donkeys. Why? ‘sound of laughter’, because they are like princess. They do no work at all, and if somehow you managed to load mud or bricks or anything on them, they will either lean on one side and drop everything in the middle of the road or will not move one step once they decide, what may ever you do. So its been some time that we only keep male donkeys. But why do they bray non-stop? Well they are calling to mate, they all now mate with each other. Some don’t want it and in order to save their Asses they run, and others run after them to push their middle hand on them.

Locals and a donkey, in Turtuk, Baltistan


On my morning walks in that first month once I reached at a point on a mountain where the stench became unbearable, looking around, a few hundred feet down the hill, i saw innumerable carcasses of donkeys that could be seen lying open. And these were suicides. Many children later told me that many donkeys start running, and they keep running and then just jump off the mountain. Just like that. Some donkeys were even seen banging their heads in the rocks, mountains till they give their breath away.

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Present day Scribbling

As a memory collector every word that i could write in those times and each photograph that i took still makes me feel wealthy; today when I am driving this car, reaching to the place I had dreamt of for so long, placing my students and their ambitions on most winter nights before sleeping; more than a decade later pushing my luck, while driving from my home brought memories of unbelievable fortune and happiness that my parents do not count even today.

I get to recall back something’s like magic, vanishing and appearing in an instant, in front of my eyes. Even though nothing feels real of what was achieved, what we started and what all was done. This journey, which feel never happened, never taken and then taken after labor of determined action, feels like dust or a fable to mind. But is there everything in it that i see!


In each word that i have ever spoken after it after that time, i represent it. Even the love of my children, their parents who placed their trust in me, I carry it or may be thereafter those children carried me.

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When I had first come to Leh, in 2009 on my motorbike, I had heard from the locals that it was not Leh which all wanted to come to; like life it was the journey to it. Leh was called ‘Life Ends Here’ by the travellers. A high altitude city located at over 12,000 ft. And if one decides to cross Khardung La, to reach to the other side into Nubra Valley- its going to welcome you like any ancient city that will make you feel like time travelling. Isolated but strangely connected, every turn one after the other opens such horizons that you will grow many years in one day just by sitting, drinking them all that day long. Because this day or two is going push your body even harder, your mind to those edges, to never before seen colors, heights, light, and the wind which in all probability you have avoided. The snake like, most treacherous, and probably the most alluring, fascinating, dazzling, life filling time with the wisest and most giving of them all; the Himalayas. They give way. Himalayas themselves giving way to the mighty, empty, robust, bossy, omnipotent, vigorous, brown, purple, dark, rustic the Karakorams. But I took to Baltistan, and it took me not as a merchant but as a storyteller who was asked to teach those uncanny children, those ones who only wanted to hunt foxes.


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To be continued

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If you have something to share, or feel like saying a hello, please write to me at narayankaudinya@gmail.com


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If today is the first time you have arrived on The Road to Nara, you are heartily welcome ~ Namaste

And i would take this opportunity to introduce you About me and importantly;

A Traveller’s lessons from ten years on the Road

before we take our own Road to Nara.

 : ँ :

To follow my walks through the rural Indian Subcontinent, find me at narxtara ~ Road to Nara and Narayan Kaudinya

by

Hi, I am Narayan Kaudinya. And i welcome you on this journey, the Road to Nara ! I am an Ethnographer and a practicing Indologist. I did my masters in History and further learnt Sanskrit, Yoga and Nerve-therapy. At 24, pushing most academic sounding, office sitting works away, i felt compelled to know and understand the world and my country, Bharat/India. I travelled, and as it happened i took up teaching in Kashmir and further up in the remote villages of Baltistan in the foothills of Karakoram Ranges. For around three years and many states later there came a time when i felt that it was only while teaching i learnt how to laugh, to see, feel, breathe, love and cry -with children, and mostly resource-less parents in the harshest-freezing border conditions. I write, and work as a documentary photographer and Filmmaker, with numerous published, exhibited and some awarded stories. In my travels and life i have let nature lead me, the divine mother, and as a Yogin, my resolve here is to share my experiences and thoughts as honestly, and through them to blossom in everyone the power and possibility in pursuing your breath, that you seek your true nature with courage and curiosity. Here, on this road i will share my spirit, my love for nature, the elements of life that are us. And in doing so, i'll be happy to see you along.

47 Comments

  1. This is another masterpiece from the master writer, Narayan Thushar Kaudinya. It is so mesmerizing in the description of the exotic way of life in the remote parts of India, and in
    The Himalayas. His wonderful descriptions of The Himalayas will take your breath away, and will make you wish to go and see all the unique beauty for yourself. Those who cannot travel will read and read again as I have done to absorb the words well beyond the magnificent. In his modesty, the writer would like to be known as one of the best travel writers, I would say as a writer, he is already better by far than any others, and well on the way to join Rabindra Tagore as the second Indian winner of The Nobel Prize.

    Joanna

    Like

    • Dear Joanna,

      There is none in this whole wide world who can uplift me with words like you do. It is written with so much affection, conviction and consideration that even if i struggle to come to the terms that you imagine i should reach, i will tell one thing that i have said before, that i will let no mountain unturned to work as much, express as much as i can with my work.

      You are a pillar like none have.

      Like

  2. In all the excitement of reading Narayan’s masterpiece, I didn’t mention the wonderful photography (Writer’s own, as he is also a filmmaker), and his books are going to be bestsellers all over the world.

    Joanna

    Like

    • I am responsible to share everything with you that i know and in a language only i can share. There was so much and so many layers, that i only imagined to introduced it in minimally acceptable words here.

      Like

    • Dear Ashley, i was very happy to have your words here and in such kindness. There can be no one more happy to make you travel to this part because this is special, this has been special. Like your review.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Michael Graeme says

    Another fascinating read, Narayan. You describe this part of the world so well, and with such affection.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michael, i hope you are well friend. Strangely i had stopped getting your notifications after i came back from the mountains, couldnt see none.

      Thank you for reading and letting me know that you liked it. It is still not done. I couldn’t do it well i thought this time but will try for the final showdown to be a better one.

      Like

  4. So well written. Mesmerizing! The donkey suicide is similar to what happened with pack horses and mules in the Yukon Gold rush. The animals were over worked to a terrible degree and carrying huge packs up narrow trails in snow and ice. There was one pass where it seems they would throw themselves to death in the gorge below. Sad but true. Thank you for taking me with you to Balistan a place that is truly like another planet for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Incredible story and memories. There is something special with being able to look back at a time in life, absorb new emotions of those experiences and then as you way, bringing a state (or a new/different state) of spiritual alertness. Beautiful post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Also i sensed the way you have been living in the countryside, that alertness with with everything nature is guarding you as much as you are making use of this time and opportunity. Thanks a lot for writing. Became a way for me to reach out to your beautiful, extravagantly travelled blog. Just to tempt you a little, there are quiet few trails in the Himalayas which first become Macchu Piccu like and then become more and themselves.

      My wishes, Narayan x

      Like

      • Yes, there is something about the peacefulness of the countryside, and the openness of the people/culture who share their life. And thank you for the temptation, it is what a need to fuel more dreams ~ and how I’d like to see the Himalayas as you have seen and lived them. Moments that make the world a special place. Best to you, Narayan, and enjoy all the splendor autumn brings to you.

        Liked by 1 person

        • If you havent been here then ofcourse, a world is waiting as a whole layer to unfold Dalo. Someday, and whenever it may appear. Do write to me.

          Wishes
          Narayan x

          Like

  6. KK says

    This is another interesting and informative piece, Narayan ji. I enjoyed and travelled along with you while reading it. Stories of five villages and donkeys and their suicides were new to me. Thanks a lot for sharing this fascinating post.

    Like

    • Thank you Kaushal Ji, it is a delight to know you received this well. Yes, these stories are so intricate and absurdly new for us but old for the people in those areas. Thank you again, i hope you plan a visit next year to these villages, you will be happy like adam 🙂 on seeing Apricots and Walnuts and the sound of water everywhere!

      Liked by 1 person

      • KK says

        Thanks for your invite, Narayan ji. I would definitely like to visit those amazing places, if possible. I’ll keep you posted.

        Like

  7. A wonderful story, I love that you included both your present and past thoughts together. It’s a tough life in the Nubra Valley. Maggie

    Like

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