Portraits that speak, from Turtuk

In 100 % Muslim Ladakh I had arrived into their meagre home and hence this startled expression, ‘Who are you?’
Aging gracefully, a lady in Turtuk. Isn’t she pretty?
The man credited with Turtuk’s first love marriage! I listened to the story as his wife giggled away.
Turk was once a part of the Yabgo dynasty that ruled Baltistan and served an active trade route to Ladakh, connecting it to Yarkand and Kashgar China and Samarkand in Uzbekistan on the Silk Route.
He recalls that during the war of 1971, locals from nearby villages fled to major towns in the nearby Baltistan region. But the people of Turtuk decided to stay.
Innoncent, infectious smiles. The Army’s Sadbhavna Project has worked wonders for people living in this reclaimed village.


Turtuk is a very conservative village, a 100 percent Muslim settlement with a Buddhist Monastery (Surprised?!) in Ladakh.
All in one room – Kitchen, sleeping room and a swing for the kids. If you ever thought money made people happy, then no. Love makes people happy.
Archery is popular among the the villagers of Turtuk who are fair and rosy-cheeked with aquiline features. Locals claim that they are of Aryan descent with Central Asian and Tibetan roots.
Utterly raw, almost barbaric faces from all the hardships that life has bestowed on the people of Turtuk.
It is January and the trees are all crimson, the Shayok is freezing and emerald green – the most rudimentary form of cricket is being played on the road.
A Ladakhi in Turtuk, fancy haircut and what not – Let me remind you; the nearest barber is almost 100 kms away in Diskit.
Girls are never too shy of posing; in conservative Turtuk this was a welcome sight when she saw me with a camera and demanded to be clicked!
A typical winter’s day in Turtuk, the sun is out and the whole village walks and greets each other.
What would you like? ‘I would like to steal a smile.’
She looks mean, but actually was the one who helped me find accommodation when everything in Turtuk is closed.
Men of rare artistic ability abound in Turtuk.

Read : Into Unknown Ladakh

Kids don’t care whether its India or Pakistan; all they know is to have fun!
Shy Balti kids at the meagre home their father was kind enough to open for me. Their staple diet is buckwheat dishes and apricots in any form, the best quality is called ‘Halman’.

And I’ve saved my favourite for the last.

Her ageless features, cracked and shrivelled skin, dirty, chapped fingernails. Those half opened eyes that have seen decades go by. It almost feels as if she would crumble if someone touched her.

On my various interactions with the villagers, they tell me how happy they are after years of turmoil to become a part of India. It hurts me that the borders I am so fascinated by are important precisely because of how easily their drawing causes untold suffering of separations.

Jullay, I say; ‘seikha shokh’ they plead (Balti for – Come, sit).

Read : Kids of Markha Valley

Memory is a funny thing as I chew on apricots and almonds from Turtuk as I write this.

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41 thoughts on “Portraits that speak, from Turtuk”

  1. These portraits are just stunning Shubham – especially that last one! I love the shots of the children smiling and playing, and you’re right, love does make people happy, much more so than money ever can.This was so interesting to read through too, I love learning about different cultures and these hidden worlds. Great post. – Tasha

  2. Not sure about all, but these portraits surely do speak!! I could visualize the day to day life in Turtuk by just glancing at these portraits! lovely post, Shubham 🙂

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  7. What a humane post Shubham! People are same everywhere yet different and thats what makes them unique and interesting. The rosy cheeks are irresistible ♥ The human faces speak volumes and you have photographed them so well. 👍

  8. Do you still have those apricots left? If yes, then maybe I’ll plan a visit to Jaipur 🙂
    What a collection of memories! The cricket picture is fascinating, the cool haircut astounding! Where do they learn these from, I can’t help wondering. Such limited access to the world beyond!
    Understand what you mean by borders, it’s never easy visiting places where the “border” looms large. Can imagine this being a precious visit!

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  10. Some really candid shots.And l must say that we are not that much conservative that you got suprised on seeing a Buddhist monastery. I’m sure people there have much more than those barbaric faces,the last photo is of my granny who’s +95 in age and trust she’s fit enough to run in a marathon

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  16. subhadeepmytravelframes

    That is beautiful series of portraits from Turtuk, expressive and engaging….the old man with a spec and two young sisters – best in the series for me.

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