Himalayan Heritage Foundation

Center for policy research on Himalayan Region

J&K History – "Turtuk Unveiled" A Must Read

"Turtuk Unveiled" is a well-measured move and welcome addition to the archival and research material available on the tribes of Turtuk, a part of Baltistan.

Written by: Dr. Mahesh Kaul || Posted in category: Books || Dated: 2014-08-06

Book Review : Turtuk Unveiled

Jammu & Kashmir has the distinction of being blessed with varied topography, vegetation, climate, culture and people. The Frontier areas of the State had importance for the strategic reasons for the rulers of the State and when the State acceded to India in the backdrop of the partition of India, it assumed political prominence for different reasons.

The imperial British overlords and the communal forces, which enjoyed their patronage, were hell bent to destabilise the State. It suited them to maintain their foothold and stranglehold over the Northern Frontier. Dogra rulers who defined the geographical and political boundaries of Jammu & Kashmir in terms of viable administrative purpose kept a keen eye on the ethnic tribes that inhabited Gilgit and Baltistan. Their cultures, traditions and lifestyles needed to be understood in order to govern the people.

Turtuk Unveiled written by Dr Kavita Suri is a well-measured move and welcome addition to the archival and research material available on the tribes of Turtuk, a part of Baltistan. It is pertinent to mention that the British paid significant attention to Gilgit as far the strategic value is concerned. Gilgit was in the centre stage of the intrigues to destabilise the defence of India so that advantage is given to Pakistan in the Himalayas. In this process of destabilisation Baltistan was affected automatically as the region is in the geographical proximity of Gilgit. People of this area have been suffering but it goes to their credit that they have retained their smile in spite of the inhospitable terrain. Dr. Kavita Suri’s book Turtuk Unveiled should be seen in this backdrop as it places Turtuk in proper perspective.

The book has been divided into 12 chapters – Acknowledgements, Foreword, Introduction, References and Index. Author has utilised her skills as the professional journalist and photographer to give vivid and pictoral description of Turtuk besides the well researched text. Her vast experience as the reputed journalist associated with various newspapers of substance and credibility like The Statesman and as an academician has added value to the book. Book has presented a unique issue regarding the unique place –Turtuk.

Introduction to the text on the jacket of the book explains the crisis the people of Turtuk face and sets the tone for the reader as to why this book should be read about the place called Turtuk in the Ladakh region of the Jammu & Kashmir. It reads: Turtuk, a small place nestled at the farthest end of Nubra valley in Ladakh has a unique history. It was part of Baltistan, had remained with Pakistan for a long time and then was reunited with India. Turtuk Unveiled, which is first literary work of its kind on Indian side of Baltistan, throws light on Indian side of Baltistan, throws light on the history of the region which is dominated by the Balti tribal’s”.

Explaining the locale of the place, she writes, “Situated amid the mighty Himalayas and Karakorum mountain range in northern Pakistan and Ladakh, Baltistan or Baltiyal (Land of Baltis or Homeland of Baltis as is popularly known in Balti language) is the historic junction of the Buddhist and Islamic Worlds.”(pp 40) Balti is the prominent tribe of this area. It was during the expedition and conquest of General Zorawar Singh that this region became the frontline of the defence of the State of Jammu & Kashmir. Giving the historical background and writing about the conquest,

Dr Kavita Suri writes, “By the summer of 1840, General Zorawar Singh had conquered the whole of Baltistan. In addition to Skardu; he another fort at Khardung. In place of Ahmed Shah, his eldest son Muhammad Shah was made the king. Thus Baltistan came under the Dogras.”(pp 48) Elaborating further she says, “Turtuk has an interesting history.

From 1947-1948 onwards till 1947, it was part of Pakistan and many villagers living in these areas were working with Pakistani Army mostly posted in the northern area of Gilgit-Baltistan. Thang Top and Trig heights in the area are still under Pakistan-occupationKashmir (PoK), overlooking Turtuk Valley. Just down below, Thang village on Indian side is thickly populated and so is Franoo village on the other side in PoK. In 1971, India launched an operation to liberate Turtuk and reunited it with Ladakh.”(pp 66).

Turtuk remained under Pakistani till 1971 and it was during the Bangladesh liberation war that this area came under the ambit of theatre of war, leading to the reunification of this area with India. People of Turtuk have witnessed the administration of both Pakistan and India. The book deals at various aspects of this issue and can act as a guide for the policymakers to devise mechanism to develop this area.

Keywords: Turtuk , Baltistan , India , Jammu & Kashmir , Skardu , Nubra Valley ,Gilgit , Dogras , Northern Frontier , Pakistan , General Zorawar Singh , POK ,