Before reaching Turtuk, we stopped at Veerta Dosa1 Stall (the world’s highest Dosa) for breakfast, and ate in the pleasant company of the party of rats scampering above our heads, after which we traversed more winding rocky roads.

We reached Turtuk at around 10 in the morning, and even though we had been warned about the climb up to the school and home stay, it was far more intimidating in reality. I stood in front of the zig-zag climb up and stared at it for about 3 minutes in awe before starting to climb. I only realized how unfit I was while climbing up, constantly taking breaks to sit and pant before I trudged up again in seemingly slow motion. As if the walking up wasn’t enough, we then walked to the home stay and left our bags there, before walking even further down to the school. By this time I was sure I was going to die of breathlessness, but despite my huffing and puffing, my breath was taken away far more by the scene around me.

Unlike Leh and Liktsey, Turtuk was a carpet of green. The wheat and barley swayed in the gentle breeze on either side of me as I made my way to the school, and a cool stream rushed under my feet.

Carpet of Green @ Turtuk
Carpet of Green @ Turtuk

The sun shone down brightly on our heads, and the feeling of warmth was almost like a brand new sensation to me.

We reached the school, and the children couldn’t contain their curiosity as we sat down to discuss our plans in the principal’s office. They eagerly peeped into the room, the boys running away as soon as they were caught and the girls stuffing their headdresses into their mouths to suppress inquisitive giggles.

Turtuk Morning Assembly
Inquisitive faces greet us at Turtuk

I was to teach grade 6, which had 14 children in the class – 10 boys and 4 girls. I taught them about the human body, and couldn’t help but notice that the level of English was far poorer than the school in Liktsey.

Human Body Chart by Grade VI @ Turtuk
Human Body Chart by Grade VI @ Turtuk

It was a bit of a challenge to get them to focus, but with some help we managed to make quite an impressive chart by the end of the day.

On returning to the home stay, we were asked by our pleasant host if we wanted tea. When I said that I didn’t drink tea, the look on his face was priceless, and he declared that I was his first guest ever who didn’t drink tea!

We went for a walk in the evening, which was perhaps the best decision we made throughout the trip. I savoured my surroundings as I strolled along the  path, greeting every person I met with a pleasant ‘Julley!’ It touched me when some of the little kids came running back after saying Julley, just to ask my name and where I was from. Their faces were almost permanently lit up with wide smiles, and receiving enthusiastic waves from the kids, even if they were on their rooftops, made me so happy.

Two girls I had met along the way walked behind me, and I could hear them practicing saying my name. An ‘An-an-ya… Ananya!’ could be heard behind us as we walked along, and I smiled to myself every time they said my name.

This is how we say 'Ananya'
This is how we say ‘Ananya’

Since I associate places with sounds, I couldn’t help but notice how the roar of the stream grew stronger as we progressed. I dipped my hand into its rushing waters and was pleasantly surprised to feel a mildly cool current against my fingers. I picked almost every dandelion that I came across, just to see it separate into tiny fluff particles when I blew at it, and stared seemingly endlessly at the beautiful canopy of trees over my head, stunned by the beauty of the light filtering through the leaves. The wind played with my tresses, and I knew that I would have a tough time untangling them when I got back, but the soft caress felt so good at that moment and made it all worth it.

Soon the green path which was delicately dotted with flowers gave way to a rocky path, which led to something which resembled a cliff. Standing at the edge of the cliff, I could see the entire town below me, complete with the green fields and the children playing and the snow capped mountains in the backdrop.

View from the cliff @ Turtuk
View at the end of the walk

Even the climb up hadn’t made me as breathless as the scene that lay before me did. I positioned myself on a large rock and simply took in the beauty around me. The moment was perfect – the wind, the trees, the mountains, the children repeating ‘Ananya’ to themselves at a distance, all of it. For just a short while, the world beyond that didn’t matter anymore.

  1. Dosa – a kind of Indian pancake eaten for breakfast or as a snack.

Written by Ananya Saluja

I’m your average eighteen-year old girl from New Delhi studying in the 12th grade at The Shri Ram School, Moulsari. I have volunteered during my last three summer vacations in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, teaching children in the schools of remote villages through the 17000 ft Foundation. It was the most life changing experience, and the childrens’ amazing reactions and responses made even the occasional accompanying altitude sickness worth it.

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