Turtuk… maala gashinang- III

After the epics rains stopped in Turtuk, I began to visit many people in their homes and that is when i also figured a way to watch night news in someone’s house where people used to gather for the same. Kashmir floods have been quite devastating… People in Turtuk are constantly trying to get in touch with their relatives and friends and giving me news besides television news. Every day everyone prays for the well- being of Srinagar and every day we hear of discrepancy in media and the real stories. I hope things in Srinagar get better soon and every one feels at home again.

I also started my weaving lessons with Apo ali and Ashe and the journey was priceless. There are only 2 male weavers left in Turtuk who are already in their 80’s and are the only ones engaged in the warping process. Apo Ali always says warping is the job of a person who is calm, doesn’t lose temper and can meticulously handle the precision required for it. These days no one has the patience to learn or do this. He talks of what will happen if no one learns this skill and wants me to document his knowledge well. I have made a promise. He says keep the promise before i die. In the same breath he says, We in Turtuk live many years, i won’t die so soon. And laughs.

I will tell you the stories of Turtuk and its many wonders interspersed with lessons of weaving from Apo Ali because that’s how it really happened, my learning amidst the stories of the past. I call the two series “kisse Roosi Mohammed ke- the tales of roosi Mohammed” and “taana- baana (warp-weft)”!

Let’s begin…

Kisse Roosi Mohammed ke ( the tales of Roosi Mohammed)

When Turtuk was still with Pakistan and the Baltis of Turtuk went far and wide to get wheat grains and other trade items back from Skardu (still in Pakistan, 182 kms from Turtuk) on their backs over 7-8 days, there lived a man called Roosi Mohammed. Roosi mohammed was a man who brought dreams to Turtuk and changed the way Baltis of Turtuk aspired and dreamed. He worked in Lahore and Karachi and later ran a very successful hotel in Skardu. He was known to be one of the best halwais of the time but typically was a city man with roots in Turtuk. Whenever he came home, he brought with him, the city. Anything of the city was so strange, that it could bring only wonder to Turtuk! And much to everyone’s amazement, POWER! People either loved him for all his newness and his wonders or looked at him with gross suspicion. Whatever may be the case, he was never ignored, was always consistently entertaining and is definitely a major influence on modern day Turtuk.

  • The wooden box through which a woman talks to you:

When Apo ali (who is now 82) was about 14-15 years old, the story reached everyone that Roosi mohammed has a wooden box through which a woman talks to you in Urdu. You also hear news of the world and someone sits and sings songs in it. No one believed it at first and then few people charged themselves to Roosi Mohammed’s house to unravel this mystery.

The news was confirmed… “yes yes there is indeed a box that talks”!

Roosi mohammed and his brother Ghulam Hassan brought the first Radio from Skardu to Turtuk and what followed was a story from a film.

Everyone was suddenly talking of the box that talks… they had never seen anything like that before, so they would do anything to make sure they have more of that box that is called RADIO!

So, it was set. Radio will be played but Roosi Mohammed must be pleased first. Groups of about 10 people were made who carried 1 large stock of cattle fodder each. Once 10 stocks were collected, the radio was played for turtuk audience of 10 for the first time. Obviously, when its Roosi Mohammed, it had to be more entertainment than just the radio. He created enough drama to get everyone’s heart racing. The showman, Roosi Mohammed, and what a grand show. The radio knob was turned and wallaaaaah, (as they say as an exclamation for most things and events)there was a voice from the other end. Some people got up to see if there was anyone behind. They checked and verified and looked for all suspicious traces! Nothing! It was the radio talking!

This is it. A dream was planted. The world was opened out. The imaginations became more tangible. And Roosi Mohammed’s cattle had enough good feed for the whole winter season.

In those days, its said during certain hours of the day, all the village lanes were quite silent, except one, the lane where Roosi Mohammed played radio!

It is also said that a queue of men always stood with their ears closely tucked to Roosi Mohammed’s walls for just one sound of the woman who talks through the box.

Taana- Baana-  Lesson 1: Terms and Warping

Apo Ali says i must learn the terminology they work with first. I say “jo hokum apo ali- as you say apo ali”.

The textile terminology in Balti:

Spindle: phang

Yarn- hand spun: kutpa

Yarn- mill spun from leh:nanma

Sheep wool- luak- e- baal

Sheep wool yarn- hand spun: baali kutpa

Weaving: thabanma

Warping: thutpa

Weaver: thak ban khan or thak ban ustad

Artisan:lakshis ustaad

Loom: thaksha

Wool: baal

Shawl: kar/ also pronounced kaa sometimes i heard.

wool shawl- baal-e-kar

After collecting the sheep wool, it is carefully hand spun (i couldn’t see the hand spinning  because Apo Ali had already finished spinning his stock of sheep wool. The technique is the same as eri hand spinning or any fibre) through a small spindle and made into balls for warping. The rest is wrapped around small sticks to get attached to the yarn case on the loom.

















Today we start with the warping process.

Apo Ali has deviced a fantastic technique to help him in his job as well as train the young kids. He employs two kids for the job at Rs 25 each to run between the two points of the warping length. Their job is to run with the yarn back and forth and help Apo Ali make the warping loops.  Kids love this game and take turns to feel important doing it.Taking the older weave as reference, he carefully breaks each line of thread and joins with the new one to achieve about 19 inch width and 6 metres length.

















Apo ali takes the weave he finished to the field to start the warping process for a new one.

















Sumeera Bano is picking this job pretty soon and quite efficiently. Apo Ali is happy with this support today.

















The precision and concentration he follows at this stage makes me feel how important a skill  it is for it to be passed on.

Kids sometimes get a little rowdy to take turns so we engage ourselves in playing the game of 5 stones  that i played in Nagaland with my kiddie friends there. Sumeera and nooreen are as good at it as Borlumla in Nagaland. It’s fascinating. Apo Ali keeps stealing glances at us while warping the sheep wool yarn and smiles throughout that 1 hour 20 minutes warping time.































































He makes a meticulous marking with a marker to suggest the beginning and end of 2.25 metres of fabric. This was earlier done with charcoal.

After adding the warping sticks, Apo ali takes Ashe’s help to carefully roll the whole warp and take it to the loom. He follows no particular count for it and do it as per his experience so far.
















once the warping is over, Apo Ali takes this for weaving to the loom.

  • Roosi Mohammed: Cheeni ch’aa thungera?

Sugar was an unknown thing to Baltis of 1950s- 1960s. Jaggery was known to be there but in such little quantities and with only those few people who travelled to areas with such resources and had the money to afford it. Till now Baltis made syaha ch’aa (red tea) by boiling the flesh of rose plant stem in water till it became a beautiful red. The joy of this ch’aa was only in the colour and Baltis also referred to it as “majboori ch’aa”- a chai had in the absence of all other better ch’aa. Then there was also pau ch’aa, (butter tea with salt, called gud gud in Ladakh), an influence from neighbouring  Ladakhi Buddhists. But never Cheeni Ch’aa or sugar tea.

The only source of sweetness in Balti lives was their Zabaan or mother tongue called Balti, where each word comes out like poetry or the various fruits like apricots (khurmaani), walnuts, mulberries, grapes and many more that are abundant on this fertile land, that is neither too high, nor too low, neither too cold for the land to freeze into aridness nor too hot for the pests and flies to appear in the fields.

Life in Turtuk went on with little hope of seeing and tasting something called Cheeni Ch’aa.

Then came Roosi Mohammed and with him, an extra dose of sweetness in Turtuk!

One special day, he called his special friends and made one special ch’aa for them. Everyone like everytime was curious what the city man, Roosi got this time! They all sat in anticipation and cups of tea were brought out… wallaaaaaaah… what is this? It is not pink like pau ch’aa nor red like syaha ch’aa. It is a strange colour and it looks milky.

One sip… wallaaaaah… CHEENI CH’AA! Sugar-sweet, delightfully delicious Cheeni Ch’aa!

Roosi served this special tea only to his special friends and since each one wished a little more of it, everyone hoped to be that special friend to hear from his mouth the sweet words, “cheeni ch’aa thungera?” (will you have sugar sweet tea?).

Taana- Baana- Lesson 2- Weaving:

The warped structure is then taken to the main loom frame structured by him. Apo Ali carefully joins the pedals of the loom to the bobbins- 4 pedals- 4 bobbins

Right 1 pedal- out 1 bobbin

Right 2 pedal- out 2 bobbin

Left 1 pedal- In 1 bobbin

Left 2 pedal- In 2 bobbin.
















For a new weave, he leaves about 5 inch tassle space and pulls the loom and bobbins gently through the warp knots. This process to get the new yarn in place for the weaving to begin has to be done extremely precisely lest you break the yarn or get them entangled. Again after leaving 5 inch space for tassles, the Weaving begins following the paddle pattern 1,3, 2, 3, 2, 4, 1,4… Repeat…

What this essentially does is create gaps for the yarn (fitted in the wooden case) being shifted from one end to another to lock the warp at right angles to each other with the weft.















































In this play of warp and weft, Balti Ball-e-kaar gets woven. Apo Ali happily explains to me every level and finally when the shawl is ready, he proudly shows it to me.

To make his living, (Apo Ali refuses to be dependent on his family even at this age), he warps and sometimes weaves shawls for his neighbours and friends as well.

  • Roosi Mohammed: Pressure-

It was probably just another day but Roosi being himself, always liked to entertain. So the following event too got etched into people’s memories forever.

A meeting was called to share another new thing of wonder from the cities. This time there was a talk in the village that Roosi has brought the strangest of things so far.

Once everyone gathered together, the precious grain, rice was brought in and put in a strange vessel. A lid was put on it and nonchalantly Roosi gets up and engages everyone in an absolutely random conversation much to their surprise. He spoke, while people heard. Few minutes passed and still there was no sign of what Roosi was to share with them. What about the rice, does he not need to check. They grew more silent in anticipation.  There was a hissing sound from the background but it was a strange sound and it came from that strange vessel. Everyone drew themselves closer, more closer, even more closer… looked intently… even more intently and just when everyone was tuned in, with a little tap on the lid from Roosi, a series of men got whistled at by the vessel!

Rice cooked in pressure was special! And that makes Roosi Mohammed extra special.

Roosi Mohammed brought the first pressure cooker to Turtuk.

Everyone lovingly calls the pressure cooker, just PRESSURE in Turtuk. This is now an absolute must in Turtuk kitchen and proudly so… it is believed that the baltis in POK (gilgit/ baltistan) still don’t have pressure cooker so when relatives and friends, take their visas and go visit them in Pakistan, one of the prized tohfa or gift to take to Pakistan is PRESSURE!!

Taana- Baana-Lesson 4- Tassel- making and stitching

After Apo Ali finishes the weaving, the job is handed over to Ashe(elder sister is called ashe in Balti, by now kids have started called me ritika Machong, which means mother’s younger sister)) to give it life. And she adds to it not only life but so much love at every level that the effect is almost magical. She carefully makes tassels joining 4 strands of yarn together to lock the weave and then three parts of about 18 inch width are joined/ stitched together  to make a complete Balti Shawl.

















During this job, family steps in to help and usually women sit together and chat during this time while their hands move continuously towards the job.

















Shazia gives you the whole villages gossip and is always full of new stories.

















I sat with Ashe and learnt many things about life in general and weaves and tradition in particular.

  • Of Indian Army and Rice:

1950’s was the time when people of Turtuk dreamt of eating rice someday. Apo Ali told me that rice was so rare and so precious in those days that everyone wanted it. So, when Roosi got rice to Turtuk, he again did it his style. Some people had raw rice and said this is strange and no good and our wheat, gyas and barley is much better than this city grain of plains. Roosi got the steaming hot rice out and gave a little for everyone to taste. Cooked rice was delicious! And then, a dream was set in everyone’s head that someday we too will eat rice.

Life in Turtuk was hard and very few hoped for a better life. Each one had their fields, family, cows, sheep, donkeys and few chickens and each one toiled to make available the things that they can produce themselves and sustain themselves with.  And like every heart that lives, they aspired for the little candies of life like rice, sugar, kerosene and other basics that will make their life easier.

Then came the March of 1971, first the talks of Pakistan- Hindustan war reached Turtuk and with that, came the war and the air bombs. Few of them but those few were enough to set fear in the always protected Turtuk hearts! They couldn’t fathom in all this confusion what will happen of them and what was actually going on.

In 1971, Turtuk became part of India. the news finally reached the people of Turtuk and they were told that they all might get killed now that they have been taken over by Hindustan, the land of Hindus. To them that meant death, Hindus will not let the Islamic people live.

Hindustanis (Indians) will soon be here. It is said that the people of Turtuk ran to the mountains and hid themselves. A village guard stayed back to keep Turtuk secure.

Indian army came in huge numbers wearing long overcoats. “they were not like us… so different”, they said. Their fear was seeming like true. The army asked the village guard to gather all the people at the Polo ground at 10 am, the next day. Next morning, people of Turtuk came huddled together, all fearful of the impending future. As they all lined up, the Indian army communicated through a translator, “ we are here to help you and give you what you deserve and you will have a better life, now you are in india.”

That was the day, helicopters came loaded with dreams- rice, sugar, kerosene, butter, canned food, and everything Turtuk dreamt of… the army came with bags of dreams and people of Turtuk rushed to open them…

THERE WAS RICE… rice from Punjab! And since then rice became a part of Turtuk staple diet. Now every Balti in Turtuk will live as Roosi Mohammed. Now every house will have all of what dreams are made up of!

Kerosene that was earlier rationed so carefully was now in abundance.

What got added as happiness and hospitality for all was also sugar sweet tea, the cheeni ch’aa. Now if you ask for chai, they insist on making it extra sweet.

As the people of Turtuk say, it was the beginning of good times! And as Apo Ali says, “Pakistan was a small hakoomat (ruler/ country). India came with dreams and a better life as it suited to a big hakoomat.”

That was the day and till today, Baltis of Turtuk and Indian army live in complete harmony supporting each other in many ways.

The porters and the loaded donkeys often make their way to the border posts, way high up there with necessary supplies for the stationed army. These areas, restricted to the Indian as well as foreign tourists, are full of stories of adventure and beauty. The borders will open when they will open!

Taana- baana- Lesson-4-the final touch:

Baltis don’t process and clean the yarn before weaving. Once the shawls are completely woven, they are soaked in soap water (earlier they used Pul, the natural soda from hot water springs. Only water is also enough for this process) and you gently rub them with your feet for about an hour till all the dirt, twigs and harshness of the wool comes out.


I help Ashe while she finishes cooking for the family but soon takes over and does it with much more ease and grace!















































Once out of water, the shawl is gently rolled to squeeze out water and then sun dried.
























































This image is priceless for me for the sheer fact that Ashe who is generally very shy smiled herself when i told her i am going to take her picture.

The shawl, before and after the washing process.

Once sun dried, the shawl is ready to be worn. If you are cold and you put it around your neck, you can’t take it off, guaranteed. The warmth cannot be explained. This is what happened to my two friends and they were more than happy to not let this go and took home with them memories of Apo Ali.



I am also bringing a bit of him with me and i am so happy to share all this with you.

Apo Ali handed over the shawls to me and said tell everyone about these shawls… and tell them i will continue making them till my last breath. I asked him how many has he made so far, he said, bahut, many, many many!


These stories will continue endlessly (i want them to) but it was time to go now, with the promise to come back! Phone lines were all shut and I had been here more than 2 weeks. I saw few new tourists and figured roads have opened. So, I decided to leave the next day. Farewell wasn’t easy and all of us had welled up eyes, even Apo Ali.

A new friend came in just when it was time for me to go back, Sumeera. She is studying in 8th standard and wishes to be an IAS officer. Her questions and curiosity about the world and various people drew an instant connection. She told me many stories of her land and i told her stories of where i travel. She knew of the north eastern states and i was happy to not explain where in the map they exist! She was effortless with everything i asked her and soon we wished to be in touch till i come back again!


Her father, Ghulam Bhai came with 6 Koreans and after speaking to them, it was fixed i would leave in their car as the 7th person the next day! This man will soon play a very important role towards the end of the story. My respect and love for his beautiful family is deep.

Ghulam Bhai with the 6 Koreans (Sun ho, Sunyoung, Thhey, Thheyyoung, Oppa (elder brother) and my favourite name, Soyoung) and me left for Leh the next day. I had heard stories of the land-slides near this place called Changmar and everyone said it won’t stay so long and by the time you reach, it will all be good to go.  We left and on the way everyone told us about the road block, we still wished to attempt to go the other side because one of the Koreans had his ticket to Korea back and needed to make it on time. Upon reaching there, we saw why the roads were blocked. One of the mountains just hadn’t stopped breaking and falling since the last day. All the road repair teams were called back till the sliding stops. Army guys said there looks no sign of clearing it and that everyone must go back to Turtuk. We gave staying in Bokdang a thought but were asked to avoid stay at Bokdang because of it being a notorious place. Koreans and I decided that we must go for a trek to a lake there rather than heading back to Turtuk right away. In one of the evening conversations at Ismail Bhai’s place, someone had mentioned about this hidden lake at 9 Post and i just thought it will be a perfect opportunity to go ahead and see this.


45 minutes walk with Ghulam Bhai took us to this lake and though the lake was beautiful, what took my breath away was the whole trek. Priceless landscape! Boys went for a swim in the lake and i got to spin some poi there! The sight of 9 Post from the top when you head down is definitely breathtaking! I am so happy we did this!













































We decided to attempt to get to Leh the next day again. By then, i had got confirmed information from various sources that the land slide is still continuous and that there is a probability of road not opening for another 3-4 days and the only way to get to the other side was by walking/ trekking across the mountain. I met up with the Koreans and Ghulam bhai, informed them of the same and told them that i am going ahead with another traveler called Jo, in his car and will figure out the scene till they make it there.

At 9 Post, the scene was heating up. An Indian group had been there for 3 days and were very anxious to get out saying they will require air evacuation. The commanding officer was called and he very politely tried to explain that the people in Srinagar need more help than us and that all the rescue services have been diverted there. They became a little relentless. Indian army explained that the only way to get to the other side is walking the mountain and at the other end they will provide us with a vehicle to reach Diskhit. I tried to tell the group to understand the problem and that if the army is saying we can do it, then we CAN do it. On this, they started screaming and said we are Indians, you don’t know our family problems. When i said “i am an Indian too”, the crowd went silent and then obviously there was laughter, after that. Thankfully, the group stopped panicking after that. While army served us food and tea with whatever little resources they had, the group spoke of the difficulty levels with much exaggeration. Matters were worsened by this and everyone was feeling the fear of going across the formidable mountain.

During this time of putting together logistics with the Indian army, who i must mention were extremely supportive,  I spoke to the Sikh regiment in Punjabi and Assam regiment in broken Nagamese, Baltis in Balti with my new knowledge of it, some other Indians in Hindi and all foreigners in English. In all, after a discussion it was decided that we will all walk with army support because it was understood some patches of the trek could be life-threatening. A convoy in front,  a convoy behind and a rope in between. To me, now it sounded quite safe. I took responsibility of all the foreigners and 4 Indians (not the group that was panicking)- 6 Koreans, 1 londoner, 4 Israelis and 4 Malayalis (that was later 5) and me and gave our names to the Indian army who promised to give us vehicle on the other side at Changmar. Ghulam Bhai (Korean’s car driver), Dorjee (Jo’s car driver) and Sonam (Israeli’s car driver) volunteered to walk with us to make sure we get to the other side. Ghulam bhai insisted he carries my back pack and kept saying, “bas in logon ko leh tak pahuncha dena.- Please make all these people reach Leh somehow, that is it.” I made a promise and kept to it till the end. Their sense of responsibility was something so admirable and that i wanted to be in their team and support them with whatever that would comfort them. In that moment, we became very close. I felt proud when they said, “inko koi dar nahin, yeh sab ko lekar jayeingi- she has no fear, she will take everyone along.” Somehow, in those words they instilled strength in me that was unknown to me. So, though i was a bit shaky, i felt stronger.

To get everyone on the same page, i pumped myself with all the energy i had in hope to pump it all in everyone else. IF WE HAVE TO GET TO THE OTHER SIDE, IT IS JUST ABOUT A MIND GAME. IF YOUR MIND SAYS YES, IT’S A YES. (man hare toh jag hare, man jeete toh sab jeete- this i had read on the car of a man affected by polio who had customised a Maruti 800 to work towards a Guinness world record for driving 1 lakh kilometres from india to London and had already been on the highest motorable pass in the world. He inspired me greatly. i will share this story in later posts) I don’t know how many times i would have said this to myself and then to others but when it was time to walk, we all were ready and almost happy to take up this challenge. Meanwhile, we were waiting for army convoys to come but were pushed by J&K police to just start walking the mountain without army support. They took down our names on yet another list and we started walking. When it was time to finally walk the mountain, one Israeli girl shouted in a happy voice, “i am going with THAT girl”, i then knew what role i had taken up on myself!

It was only till that point i know i was of any help because after that, each one climbed that mountain and across it in their own zeal to survive and make it happen. I only turned around to see if all was ok but in their hearts each one became a hero. Each one tested their own limits. Each one looked after another with complete calm to set out and complete the task on hand.

The trek was indeed a strenuous one. A rocky mountain on one side and some patches were as narrow as one foot space with a deep gorge on the right hand side. Shayok river was flowing just below and if you forget the difficulty levels involved, then it was indeed quite a beautiful landscape! Many times when my heart was racing, i would look up to experience the beauty of this place and soak it all in. I couldn’t have carried my camera and i am glad i didn’t. Each memory is distinct in my head and seems like will stay forever.

There was a point there was one foot space to walk on and some locals came from the other side carrying load, one of them was carrying a baby in the basket. With some quick thinking, i got myself to lie down completely on the flat almost 90 degree mountain so there was a little extra space for the lady to keep her foot and carry herself and baby across. While coming back to stand on one foot to continue the walk, the dizziness i felt is unexplainable. From somewhere a voice came, all is ok keep moving! I got up and moved to a wider stretch where i could breathe again and looked back at the other tourists and shouted out, “everyone alright”… and they said “yes, we ok, you ok?”. In that moment, we all became one!

The exaggerations from the Indian group(and later i learned even 2 Americans) helped because the entire one and half hour stretch, we all kept waiting for that point of deathly danger. We all made it! Without any harm and many smiles! We all clapped! we all felt happy for all who made it!

A 62- year old man with high blood pressure problem too made it with the help of army who was looking for us at 9 post to give us support. When we told them about J&K police rushing us through, they were quite happy that we made it, anyhow! Indian army gracefully arranged for an army vehicle for us to reach Diskhit.

16 tourists plus me and an army soldier, Ashok Singh were asked to sit in one vehicle. The care with which the army spoke to us and the connection that got formed with some of them who were from villages next to my parent’s village in Punjab was quite amazing. When they shut the door of the truck, one of them said in Punjabi (that only i could understand), “enna da dhyaan rakhi, photo lein nu uthde phirange” (you take care of these guys, they might keeping jumping around to take photos”. I immediately translated the message to everyone to keep my life simple. Everyone laughed and while they were fascinated by the fact that we were sitting in a vehicle you only see soldiers sitting in , usually moving in big convoys, they sat there in complete silence soaking in the experience so far. Somewhere a sense of pride came when the commanding officer said to the foreigners that they are in Indian army’s hands now and they will all make it safe to their destination. We all did a happy “yeah, Indian army cheers” and started the journey back to Diskhit.

Ashok Singh, the soldier in the vehicle who was responsible for us was first quite shy but my repeated questions on Siachen range that was running parallel to us, i think brought some memories to him. Rest of the journey was spent listening to his many stories, he told in Hindi and in the truck full of people, only both of us had that moment of living and reliving Siachen days, me living them through imagination and he reliving them in his re-telling!

Siachen! i still feel the goosebumps i felt when Ashok ji was telling his stories of this mighty glacier. 25 men at 3 different posts spend a year guarding the borders of Siachen at 20,000 feet and above that stretch over 76 Kms, divided into 3 main- Siachen I, II & III. The life is hard, very hard and it is said since 1989, 1100 casualties have been reported at these posts. The temperature in winters goes down to minus 60-65 degree Celsius and the army is given specials Italian made snow suits. Most of the casualties happen during rains or cloudy days as it makes it impossible for the help to reach and people usually drown in their own water caused due to extreme high altitude with very thin air.

His sense of patriotism is contagious and he proudly shows the mountains where he just spent a year and walked almost 5 days through 4-5 feet snow to get here. His month long vacation has already begun and the road block has taken some crucial days off it. He said, we get to go home only once a year and in that also sometimes we are called back on duty. A call of duty must be answered. He wishes to get home soon to meet his family and then head back to Partapur for his next one year. When i said, Siachen must be so beautiful, he said it looks beautiful only from far. For us, its death and duty. Both we embrace. I wondered at the perspectives and our experience of it. And my heart is filled with joy to have shared space with an army man who has served at The Siachen glacier.

This whole experience will stay in everyone’s mind for a long time, i think. For many people it meant many things. For some it was a challenge they had to go through, for some it was the most amazing experience of their life, for some others it was life-threatening and something they will never put themselves through but in the end it was something everyone made it happen and it was all because the mind was made up!

some moments of the trek stay etched in my memory… when after that extremely narrow stretch, i looked up to enjoy the landscape and what i saw was breathtaking! I was walking a beautiful mountain, looking at many more beautiful ones and the river Shayok flowed happily just like my own flow, peacefully! Another memory is of the two Balti women, i met on the trek who walked with us to Changmar. I bonded so well with them talking in Balti and cheered up all hearts saying “maala gashinang… iti yul pu maala gashinang!”- “very beautiful… your village is very beautiful”! Ghulam Bhai, Sonam and Dorjee left to leave back for the other side to attend to the parked cars and farewell was done with a promise to meet soon and again a reminder to take care of their guests till a safe spot. I promised and with a very warm hand shake and welled up eyes, we waved till we could see each other.

i cannot explain that deep sense of trust and friendship that emerges in situations like this but they are precious.

Sublime i think is what i can call this experience! and i am glad i lived through it.

Once we got dropped at Diskhit, it was all about getting to Leh which all happened peacefully. Next day drive to Leh was exceptionally beautiful with landscape covered with snow. It was very different from when i had come 2 weeks back. I saw a gorgeous sunrise and Diskhit monastery tall Buddha statue silently watching over us. I also saw 2 peeping marmots in the snow and for the first time, Indian army walking in a trail through the snow in the snow fall (they looked like an ant trail from far), the sky was beautiful and my heart was pumping with the joy of coming back to Leh with so many new friends who are such wonderful people, having lived an experience i will remember for ever.


I am happy i stayed calm and i am happy and i did this beautiful yet scary walk. I am happy i could carry all the way with me Apo Ali’s memories in the form of the shawls he made with so much love. I am happy my bag smells of the beautiful herbs of the mountains that Ismail Bhai and Ashe gave to me. I am also very happy many people said good bye to me like we are going to meet again soon. I am happy i met someone from Siachen.  And i am happy, i have made a very remote part of our country, another home of mine!

Turtuk had to be special and the road made sure it happens so! Getting into Turtuk took so many years and its as if Turtuk had to take its time letting me go too!

Many more days were spent in this place than the plan and i am glad i spent these days without ever feeling stuck or a need to get somewhere else!

Everyone was teasing me in Leh about my insistence on staying longer in Turtuk and having stayed much longer. Every time they said that, i secretly giggled to myself, and said YES YES YES!!

Turtuk… maala Gashinang!

Nga yang thuet!

i will come back!


Turtuk… maala gashinang- II

For those days, I had been living among some beautiful stories and story tellers of Turtuk!

Somewhere my heart wishes that all those who wander must find their way here… here is some bits on Turtuk that might help…

The Turtuk calendar:

I will start with the Nauroz festival, the Balti new year :

21st March:  The two teams of polo players and some stunning horses from Zanskar march amidst the apricot trees full of white flowers. The sight is breathtaking.The streets of Turtuk are filled with festivities and the kids and the men dressed in their Pathanis and rumaaal dance making their way to the polo ground! The sounds of shennai fill up the village and everyone rejoices over the coming of the new year.

April- May: the fields are prepared and the necessary herbs and vegetation is planted. Nothing eventful but everything happening around is beautiful to chill and watch and probably help the locals in the fields. In all, its a lot of farming and preparing for the coming tourist season that has now become an additional income for the locals who stay with the families in their home stays. The home stays can cost anything between Rs 300-Rs 700 a day (including place to sleep, breakfast and dinner.). My favourite places- Shayok guest house in Farol (mohammed bhai is full of lovely stories and yummy food)and Ismail home stay in Youl (this place feels like my home with my family now). There are also some guest houses as well as holiday camps but those can be quite expensive for me.

June-August: Summer is the time when life blooms back into action in Turtuk. During the summers, Turtuk becomes an ideal fruit country, bustling with energy and everyone out in their fields. This is also the time when the sheep, cows and horses are taken to the streams or naalas to feed on the fresh grass of the summers. Men usually take turns to go to the naalas/ streams for 5-6 days where their job includes counting and milking the cattle, make essentials like lassi, curd, cheese (churpi) and butter and bring back with them. An organised notebook is prepared to keep notes on whose cattle gave how much milk and its products. (of theirs and of the assigned neighbours or family’s). This continues into October first week when the gyas is ready to be cut and the fields are vacant to house all the animals.

This is a feast time for all when everything is in abundance. This is the time to climb trees and pluck fruits and eat your fill! Magpies breed during this time so you see many small-small ones learning to fly. This is also the only time they make their nests so that they can breed. In winters, they roam freely in that chilly cold.

When i reached in September, they said you have come after the most beautiful time is over. The villagers consider this the most fertile and the most beautiful part of the year.

September- October: For me is a special time, because i experienced Turtuk through this time… the shyok river bulging with energy, occasional rains (except this year’s epic rains), gyas with its pink flowers (buck wheat) in full bloom on the plateau like fields with magpies dancing in their full glory, the walnuts and apples are everywhere, kids climbing trees, filling their pockets with numerous last bloom of fruits and with their stone breaking open the fresh walnut fruits and apricot seed for the yummy nut inside, the homes geared up to prepare for the winters- drying food, doing repairs of their stone and mud homes, tending to their fields, soaking in the last few days of good sun. You often see donkeys carry load up the mountains and usually fighting for the same little small piece of grass even though they have the whole field to trespass into. Villagers have to intervene to separate them but its quite an experience to watch donkeys fight kicking each other with full intensity with their rears. So intense and so ridiculous!This is also some of the last days for the men to go to the streams to tend on the cattle. A trip to the naala (stream) to bring back the cattle is priceless i am told. I will go when i will go!

The harsh winters, November to mid march: When i met Salim bhai, he said “yahan ki khoobsoorti ki bhi koi keemat nahin aur sardi ke dino mein yahan ki mushkilon ki bhi koi keemat nahin”. ( the  beauty here is priceless and so are the difficulties of the harsh winters here). The energy with which everyone prepares for the coming winters cannot go unnoticed. The winters are all leafless trees amidst the white of the snow! People chew on dried fruits like khurmaani all the time and spend most of their time indoor around the thap (bukhaari or a fireplace where you can cook and warm up yourself with. This is attached with a chimney to push out the smoke). The potatoes and some other veggies are buried deep in the earth to keep them fresh and all the necessary herbs are dried up for winters. The children hardly go to school and each one tries to soak in as much sun. Ironically, Farol stays sun- shadowed for 40 days in a row when the sun strolls just behind the mountains every single day, never making even a brief appearance. People often go to the edge of the plateau of farol to feel whatever warmth they can extract. Youl too gets about 2 hours of sun when the sun shifts between the two mountains facing K2. This is also an experience of community life in harsh conditions i wish to live. This is the actual coming together of people of the mountains when they are geared up to deal with all that nature has to offer.

Learning a little Balti:

I have learning Balti quite fast and they say if i stay here a month, i will be full Balti and then i must make a home here and stay forever!

i feel i am so close to Pakistan i can touch it. I imagine myself sending messages down the river shayok and someone receiving it (being so close to a country that has fascinated you deeply, makes you imagine all sorts of things). i also feel the world out there is as beautiful and not much different from where i stand and with the little Balti Zabaan training, now i will be so at home in Baltistan or Gilgit.

i have set out this dream and someday this too will happen.

BALTI to English: (all sounds as i heard them, there are hardly any people in the village to confirm the English or hindi spellings so i went with what i understood after having these words repeated 3-4 times. Whoever can correct me, please do… that will be quite amazing. All mailers from gilgit and baltistan and skardu, most welcome, i will visit you someday and talk in balti i know a little little now)

Greeting: As-salamu alaykum!

Answer to greeting: Wa alaikumu s- salam!

( a greeting like this sets the tone right in the beginning, especially when someone comes to you and says, hello how are you? And you say As-salamu alaykum. The look on their faces… priceless! And what you hear back is an almost mute and surprised- “waaaaaaa alilkumu” with a broad smile! When you walk away after this greeting, the eyes will follow you for sure and that’s exactly the time when you turn around and break into a huuuge smile! )

Then from here on you can begin your round of friendship!

(being a proper muslim village, there are some rules that are best followed.  one of them is how should males deal with the verrrrry shy women there. Be very gentle with your greeting and if they don’t respond, that is not because they don’t like you there but that they are too shy to speak with you. If someone sees them talking to a male from outside, they will have a lot of answering to do. Ask them before taking their photos and share the space in the photographs so they feel more comfortable. And please don’t come back to turtuk with the photographs of the women of turtuk on your t- shirts. Some tourists did that and then everyone decided to stop having fun with the tourists. We behave well and we are sure to experience the magic of Turtuk.)

Greeting phrases:

See you again: nga tang yang thuet

Go safe: kuli aso

I am going: nga gore. If you are going home, you can say, nga nang gore, if you are going to the main road, you can say, nga lam gore.

Thank you: yaa ju/ aachuu

Sorry: baksheesh. Even the other person will say baksheesh. In this case, you both have to touch each other’s hand. Both for forgiveness or to forgive! Once hands touch, all is peace and forgotten!

During the days when it just didnt stop raining, I practiced poi spinning and made many friends-sakina, aneeza- 5 years, mohina, alphina- 6, irfan 10 and many more. Amidst the gyas fields, about 20 of us played in the rain “ring around the roses”, chain- chain and many such for about three hours. When anyone asked weren’t we cold, we all screamed NO!!! We were the outlaws! When boys joined in, they made the game rowdy and one of them hit Sakina. She cried so much, we all asked him to say sorry so game could continue. When he said “baksheesh” and put out his hand and sakina touched his hand in acceptance and said “baksheesh” to accept his apology, it was like a thousand verses were sung in the air. Such a beautiful language and such a beautiful gesture. Just as simple to let things go!

Game got dispersed and so did we.

Don’t worry: phikir maves

Hand shake: laktung

How are you? Thek thek yora?

I am fine: thek yora or even yaa ju

Please to meet you: nga yana thukse that

Please: chermo ( an extra long sound of it guarantees melting hearts)

What is your name? : eerie ming pu chin?

My name is ritika/ akala.: ni ming pu Ritika. or akala or sakina. i used to say all sorts of random new names everytime!

Your village is very beautiful: iti yul pu maala gashinang

Your home is very beautiful: iti nang pu maala gashinang

I often used the term maala gashinang which means very beautiful. And in turtuk, with those people and that landscape, you can only find yourself repeating this phrase over and over and over again!

Every little word, gesture that comes from the Baltis feels like a present and a present (tohfa in urdu)is called Phyak tap in balti! Their love is phyak tap for me!


Tokset: hungry

Water: chhu

milk tea with sugar: Cheeni  ch’aa


ch’aa time with Apo ali and Mubeena

Syaha ch’aa: tea that was made in olden days before sugar/ milk/ butter/ salt tea was introduced to baltis. This was made by boiling the thorny flesh of rose plant stem that lent a beautiful red colour to the boiling water. This the baltis consider as “majboori ch’aa” ( more on chai/ tea in first part of the blog)

Rice: bras

Wheat flour: bakhpe

Gyas (buck wheat) flour: tarma

















Out of tarma they make: khisir:  buck wheat pan cake










Out of tarma they make:xan:  buck wheat steamed cake made in to round balls and usually served with darsamik, which is a curd based cold curry (raita) flavoured with a local herb called samik (growth with purple flowers). This could be an acquired taste, i loved it from the very first taste of it.

















Samik: a local herb















the making of xan: ashe and the other relatives came to help her prepare a meal for about 17 guests who were to come for lunch together and wished to taste local cuisine. Ashe’s brother’s wife is a Xan expert. She carefully mixed the buch wheat flour in boiling water and kept mixing till it was completely cooked. Xan is usually old people’s food who need soft things that they dont have to chew on and is usually eaten in the night.

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Darsa: curd/ lassi

The get together for which we created an impromptu seating system:


Sattu: nasphe

Local grinding machine: Ranthak. Grinder ( ranthak boo), the container to put grains: choros. The sattu that they grind in these chakkis or grinders is amazingly good for both health and soul.

















Vessel: zang

Lid of vessel: zang- e- kha

Cup: kayol

Sha: meat

Kaaka: egg

Bale: balti thukpa. Soup with wheat balls and veggies and specific herbs like shotto.


fish: ngaya

Will you have tea?: ch’aa thungera?

No i wont have. : thung met

Yes i will have: thunget

I will eat food: nga zan thunget

i am full/ i had enough: drangs

very tasty: maala yzumo

last two sentences said together makes a balti heart reaaaaaallllyy happy! Say it often! Feel it even more often!

Some moments from my kitchen time: most of my kitchen time was spent with Apo ali and kids and my conversations in the evenings with friends, family and neighbours. Ashe was always zooming in and out of kitchen finishing many chores.

_MG_8432 _MG_8589 _MG_8576 _MG_8571 NATURE and of nature:

Mountain: brak




Mud: thalba

Clouds: namkho

Snow: khaa

Fields: ying (said with yz sound. If someone can help me with writing various syllables, it will help others a lot)

Road: lam

Bridge: zaaba

Feeling cold: grangset

Feeling hot: tronbo

Waterfall: chubiyaar

The mountain from where you see k2 on the left:  sangzar

If we walk up for about an hour to the waterfalls, we see k2 and on very clear days, we see the two peaks just as we see in the maps, the tall and the shorter identical one. I want to see K2 from Turtuk and i want to see K2 from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Here, i was in the rains, waiting to see it for the first time… clouds will clear when they have to clear!

Walnut: taaga ( the joy of breaking open fresh walnut is something else. Beware of taking off the fresh green layer from your mouth… the lips will be burnt black.

apricot/ khurmaani : Phading

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Sheep: luak

Donkey: bongbu

_MG_8280 _MG_8301

Magpie: khashak


















Small birds/ sparrows: beu

My wooden bird earrings all the villagers called: shing beu


1: chik

2: nis

3: sum

4: yee (said with yz sound)

5: a-gaa

6: druk

7: dun

8: yat

9: goo

10: chu




14:chubyee( y said with yz sound)

15: Chog- gaa

16: churuk





Now just by adding “na” in between the multiples of 10 and first 9 numbers you can make the numbers:


21: nishu na chik

27: nishu na dun

Now, the multiples of ten

20: nishu

30: sumchu




70:nishu sum nachu ( nachu here means, after nishu sum)

80:nishuyee (y said with yz sound)

90: nishuyee nachu (nachu here means, after nishuyee)

100: igia

So, more examples:

63: nishusum na sum

102: igia n anis

Multiples of 100:

100: igia

200: nipgya


400: yepgya

500: agapgya


700: dungya

800: yatgya

900: goopgya

1000: tong chik

So now for other multiples of 1000:

6000: tong druk

8000: tong yat

10000: tong chu

This will really help you at the market spaces and the home stays and guest houses to understand the costing.

If you see it is also quite easy to memorise these… you can throw in some balti numbers while conversing with the older folks or while counting the number of kids you are playing with… this will take your experience to the crazily happy level when everyone will start throwing numbers at you to practice on!

Some tongue twisters:

Kha- month (normal tone)

Khaa: snow (said in a relaxed tone)

a-gaa: 5 (where g sounds like k)

kha (said very fast): lid. My favourite in this regard was pressure- e- kha. Which means the lid of the pressure cooker. The people in turtuk are very proud of their pressure cookers and say that the people in baltistan are still waiting for them. Pressure cookers are usually a favourite present from the baltis of india to the baltis of Pakistan!


Children: phru ( younger kids)

Old man:apo (grandfather)

Old woman: api (grandmother)

Uncle: momo ( mother’s brother)/ kaka

Aunty/ older sister kind of relationship: nene/ ashe

Mother: angaa

Father: atta

Eldest son: saama

Mother’s younger sister: machoong. I invariable became ritika machoong to most kids!

Boo: young boy

Bongo: young girl

Some of my favourite words/ phrases:

Kho bhuget: we are going to roam around. Almost like an announcement.Best said when you go for a walk with the kids.

_MG_8532 _MG_8540 _MG_8657 _MG_8597

Boo tak tak bongo nooru: boys are brats, girls are nice! This phrase was used mostly with the rowdy boys who acted soooper smart and wanted to harass girls! When i would say this, they would all start laughing and become friends. And if they messed with the girls, or irritated them or hit them, i would say “dhoonget”, which means “i will hit you”, to which they used to laugh a little more and become better friends, correcting my pronunciation!

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Phrongo: small (can be used for things/ people)

Chogo: big (can be used for things/ people)

Baasot: middle ( can be used for things/ people)

Eg. We are a family of three kids. So my sister who is the eldest among us three will be chogo bongo, my brother in the middle will be baasot boo and me the youngest so i will be phrongo bongo… these are my terms put together but the villagers will understand what you are saying.

when anyone asked me who has been teaching me all this balti… i would say, Phrongo Phrongo Phru… little little kids!

Yang zir: repeat what you said

Nga tus: warning: main tujhe chodoonga nahin: i wont leave you. ( i said that to the kids when they got rowdy, the boys)

Nga khuret: i swear

Shishik: dirty. I told this to kids who never cleaned their nose!

Harkos: understood

Hamarkos: not understood

This one is priceless. So one night in turtuk and i was taken to a house where everyone (all males – about 35 men) had collected to watch tv and share with me the video of the nauroze festival that is celebrated on 21st March every year. Its celebration time! Men dance on streets, all local musical instruments are pulled out, sounds of shenai echo in the streets of turtuk and just when you are soaking it all in, the grand polo match begins between the white flowers of many apricot trees. This i have just experienced through the videos shot by Salim bhai and it already got my heart pumping in a wish to experience this live… soon… very soon.

There is another amazing thing Salim bhai has done… when i entered that room to watch news and videos of norose, Shrek was playing on the screen, in about 30 secs i realised something strange about the sound. The baltis were laughing uncontrollably and suddenly i heard a phrase from Shrek’s mouth “ harkos… hamarkos?” (understood or not understood)… it all fell in place… this shrek was dubbed in balti and what was most fascinating was that salim bhai did all those many sounds himself keeping each sound modulation, timing, synching in mind! And with my little knowledge of balti, i was soon in splits too… the film is seriously funny and seriously well- done! What caught my attention the most was the finer nuances he captured of the donkey… there are soooo many donkeys in turtuk, you can hardly miss this relationship!

Aaah… the princess was called “raj kumaari sakina” by the way… sakina is a common balti name and fits the whole balti shrek theme perfectly!

I say brilliant work Salim bhai! And thank you for this entertainment!

Another amazing episode needs to be told here and that is of aziz bhai… the man whose voice i will never hear but who makes me laugh and i make him laugh!

I met Aziz bhai for the first time at home. home is Ismail bhai’s kitchen, right next to thap or the mobile fireplace that is both a room heater as well as cooking equipment. When apo ali was there, he would always sit there and in his absence, i would warm myself up right next to it. I was always in the kitchen when i was home and i loved spending time with everyone who came to that house. i figured they will all enter the kitchen straight away.

One such evening, apo ali had gone to the mosque for the 7 pm and 8 pm namaaz. His son Ismail bhai and his brothers/ cousins/ friends all joined in for a usual post dinner get together and chat up session on chaa and fire… i invariably became part of such meets… one new face came this time… laughing at the funniest things, listening to everything intently, very participative and yet very quiet. Suddenly i said something that i could never think and say… when ismail bhai said that today its a good meeting day, i said “yes, full power but i still haven’t heard aziz bhai’s voice”… thats when i was told rather matter of fact like that aziz bahut gazab sunte, bol nahin sakte ( aziz hears remarkably well but can’t talk)i looked at his face and he nodded in happy approval… i said to aziz bhai… “bade chuppe rustam ho” and he laughed so beautifully!

After that we struck a bond. We became friends. His laughter is his wit and i love that silent humour we shared. He would come spend time with me… and at such occasions, without words we interacted effortlessly and laughed so much! In few words, i realised just as much language is needed to communicate, with someone so alive and happy, its not needed at all!

Aziz bhai (though younger than me, i like to call him bhai) is my favourite! Period!

So, coming back to the night i watched shrek and then the videos of Nauroz. Among the whole big group of men, aziz bhai was also there and we were laughing at balti shrek together. Then on seeing the polo players in the video, i asked the men who is the best polo player among this group. It was unanimous… AZIZ!!!

My friend AZIZ… i looked t him in complete awe and proud happiness! He was as proud but smiled that goofy smile again and he appeared to be the coolest guy i know in that one moment!

I don’t have a photo of him or with him but his face is etched in my system and i will go laugh with him again… i know!

i will go here again and will probably keep going.

Turtuk is indeed a very special place for me now and i wish travelers can find their way into this beautiful land without “telling people how to live” and without “changing how they live” imposing as little of themselves and accepting whatever and whoever they are, bridging gaps between the various worlds and connecting their skill and knowledge to the world without encouraging a commercial change or discouraging their indigenous ways, trying to live just for a few days, may be, how they live and accept gracefully their love, hospitality and ever- welcoming smiles, without doubt or questions.

Turtuk feels like another home!

and this is what home looks like…

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Patther ( stone) Karim, as he is lovingly called by many. To that he laughs and says, “karim hoon, patther nahin. Patther hota toh pather kaise taraashta!” (i am Karim, not stone, if i was stone, how would i be able to carve it)

what he carves is magic in stone. I could only see some broken pieces that were left with him, rest go away to many people and many homes without a trace!










i had an opportunity to spend time with a lovely soul like him who says, “kam dena gham nahi dena” (give me less but dont give me mess/ grief). A master artist and the best halwai (sweet maker/ small hotel cook) in Turtuk, he is proud of the mutton samosas he makes!

He has to be good at this… it runs in the family!

Karim bhai is born to the legacy of Roosi Mohammed and his stories i tell in the next post!




Turtuk… maala gashinang!

TURTUK!, they said.

The sound is still quite fresh in my ears. When in 2009, i was exploring the Nubra valley in Ladakh, spending time in Hunder, a high altitude desert,  i met a few school girls, so beautiful, with eyes of unthinkable colours and smiles so beautiful you can only smile more looking at them.

We are from Turtuk! Its the last big village on this road till where a vehicle can go. But you are not from here, so you can’t go there. “permission nahin hai. Army rok dega”. (its restricted area. Army wont allow). I think every word as they were saying was getting etched into my system.

“Turtuk!  i must visit you someday!”

And 1st September, 2014, after years of chanting the name, i was finally on my way!

Turtuk, a picturesque village, near the Line Of Control ( about 7 kms from Pakistan occupied Kashmir) tucked right in between Skardu in POK (182 kms) and Leh (ladakh) in India (210 kms) is the only Balti village (accessible to tourists) in India that was won back by the Indian Army during 1971 Indo- Pak war.

An independent territory before Pakistan occupation, this place speaks of many stories of living as 2 countries- Turtuk of Pakistan and Turtuk of India! Restricted to tourists till 2010, this place is now open to all.

This story starts at Leh, the centre of Ladakh region from where you drive through Nubra valley into Shayok valley through the highest motorable pass in the world, called Khardung la leading into the beautiful Khardong village,  then Diskhit where a 32- metres tall Maitreya Buddha sitting between the moonscape mountains welcomes you, (When i had gone in 2009, the Buddha feet were getting made so to experience the beauty of a complete piece of art felt phenomenal! i dont have photos because i always forget to pull out the camera) and that is when the familiar sand dunes of Hunder started peeping! One look at them and the many tourist camps there, and i was ready to go further!

_MG_7982 Moving out of Leh and the view of Stok_MG_7983 _MG_7988 the sights on the way_MG_8006 _MG_8000 _MG_7997 _MG_7990 the roads, bikers and the cyclists… one word RESPECT!_MG_8014 Reaching Khardung La top_MG_8015















a memory lived in 2009

As you pass Hunder, the landscape as well as constant army check points start to give you a feeling of going beyond, or it was just me because I was finally heading into a place i had imagined for so long. The place turns into many army camps, Partapur, Thiose- the highest air strip in the world, and few more small camps tucked parallel to a very important name in the story of Indian army, The Siachen Glacier. As you move further, you enter a strange place with strange people and a very strange vibe, Bokdang. Locals call it a messed up place where people are extremely unruly and you often see kids pelting stones, so it is strictly advised to bypass this place since you wont even get a cup of tea here! From here on starts the region that came to India after the re-occupation.

Though Bokdang takes you back a few steps in your imagination of Turtuk, the gorgeous landscape just takes your breath away both with its beauty as well as the fragility of the mountains and the talks of frequent land-slides on these roads. A sudden “TEA stall 400 metres ahead” sign board takes you by surprise at Garadi and that is also a sign we are nearing our destination.

_MG_8018the picturesque villages on the way
_MG_8019 _MG_8023 _MG_8027 _MG_8036 _MG_8040the crumbling mountains and sliding roads

96 Kms ahead of Hunder, lives as poetry and art and everything beautiful, this place of imagination, Turtuk!

While everyone was suggesting to stay by the road at a guest house to avoid the hike up to the village, my heart was pounding to be in the village and not the road! I was relentless! Village it is!

The Experience begins only once you leave your vehicle, carry your bags, look up to sort of create another image in your head and then get yourself to walk up the incline that takes you to Farol part of Turtuk.

Turtuk is divided into 2 parts-  Farol which is perched as a plateau higher up and Youl, which is settled near the stream below. Both have their own mosques and both sides quite distinct in their own way.

In Farol, live the wafi Baltis and in Youl live the Nurbak or Sunni Baltis, primarily. In both live only Muslims. Farol has a Gompa (Buddhist monastery). Youl has one old mosque dated, 1690. And both sides keep asking, which one you like better- Youl or Farol?

My journey into the world of Turtuk started with Farol.

The walk up and i saw everything that poetry is made of… open fields of gyas (buck wheat) and narrow lanes, small pretty houses made of stones and mud, summer streams, hospitable welcoming smiles, kids running around, women finishing their daily chores, donkeys… so many of them, magpies fluttering everywhere, apricot and walnut trees, the view of river shayok, the barrenness of the mountains contrasting with the fields charged with fertile energy… everything about this place is balm(ing).

_MG_8661 the plateau like Farol_MG_8674
_MG_8859 shayok, its winding trail, Farol and its fields, the mountains and in that direction, K2_MG_8891_MG_8883

_MG_8912 the beautiful Gyas fields of September and the villagers at their evening walks

I also went to Tyakshi, the last point after which the restricted area begins. Just to be so close to Pakistan and realising K2 (karakoram) is not too far away and unnecessary border has blocked the traveler’s passage into a beautiful region, set out a dream. That was the spot where i thought, if the border wasn’t there, i would walk all across and touch those stunning mountains. This is slowly becoming a window to set my heart on a new exploration… to visit Pakistan someday… where the children play the same game as we who have grown up in Punjab, India do…

“akkad bakkad bambe bo… assi nabbe poore sau”! my heart rejoiced when i heard my Balti “kho bhuget” gang (the children i used to go roaming around with) playing the same game!

i was so full of dreams in that moment. I think i would have been like a thousand fireflies myself… each one spoke with a happy smile and thats where i learnt to greet Baltis , the Balti way!

As-salamu alaykum!

Wa alaikumu s- salam!

Just when i was soaking in the beautiful sun, it started to drizzle! It looked like a painting and it felt like i was living in one. Happy smiles greeted me and some of them accompanied me in my walk over the many pagdandis (lanes to walk in the fields) enquiring about where i am from. Sometimes i say Punjab, sometimes i say Nagaland. I don’t know what to say, now that there is no permanent place i am from. They giggle at everything and i giggle too as i always do.   i hear sounds of azaan from the two mosques… beautiful… with this sound of rain and shimmering wet lanes of Farol… my heart is feeling drenched and soaked with Turtuk.


Api is so beautiful in this old age too and is believed to be one of the most beautiful Balti lady of her times.

She is wearing the traditional Nama- Chane-tu. a head gear made with silver, turqoise (hue), old coins and a fabric that is mandatory for all married women. nowadays, only older women wear it under their rumaal/ shawl._MG_8283












many donkeys of Turtuk and the man guiding them…
















Beautiful magpies with their blue- green tail all over Turtuk! These birds make their nests in summers to breed and roam around freely in winters with no nests to protect them.












Mohammed Bhai wearing the Balti- Baal-e- kaar (sheep wool shawl) and sheep wool cap. He is someone who started my journey of Turtuk at such a loving note, it set the tone right for all the days to come. “Mohammed Bhai is priceless!” (please stay at his guest house, Shayok in Farol when you come here. I will really like it and so will you)







Turtuk cannot be experienced in two days. The decision was made. I am staying back!

That day saw the first drizzle of the epic rains Turtuk was going to experience for the next one week. With each day, it became a new challenge for the people of Turtuk who had only experienced such rains twice before. They say, when it rained in September 1988 so much, it also started snowing and the leafy trees got so heavy with snow, they started to fall under weight. After that it only rained a little like this in 1998.

Of those days my notebook is only full of stories on how the rain was slowing building up and how each day the challenges grew bigger for Turtuk people.

the rains were just not stopping.

3/09/2014: “I just heard a thunder so loud, like a mountain cracking and many rocks falling. It just went on…phone lines are cut off… Most of the people are in their homes… just a few loners outside either covering their grains and whatever that is left of the cattle food they were saving for winters or were bringing kids back from school. School was shut for the day. No one was prepared, neither them, nor me.Uncertainty!


4/09/2014:”I hear all the houses are dripping. The houses are made of mud and stones and just a wooden stick layer for the ceiling below the mud pack.


These houses are not meant for rain. Even ours is dripping. We are putting bottles, vessels everything we can find. “They say, times are changing and they will have to get tin sheets for the next season!

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Some, who had large plastic sheets said if plastic wasn’t there, our homes/ grains would have been completely spoilt. “Snow was never a problem, rain is.”

5/09/2014: “The words i heard the most today: dhwa– stone, chaapa– rain, thalba– mud, brak– mountains. I cant understand what everyone is talking but i know its all about these.”







“They say it might snow tonight, temperature is apparently sub- zero and all the roads to Leh are blocked for another week. I am not complaining. I am loving it here. But there are some other tourists i hear who are quite stuck with their tickets and further journey in a fix.”

“Some people are beginning to get very worried.




Birds of the rains have showed up.







We hear a ceiling in Youl is already down and stones have been falling continuously from the mountains.

What i had heard earlier as a thunder got confirmed as many stones falling right next to Youl.I can say nothing to balm them.“Chaapa aling tang”– its raining quite a lot is all i hear and all i say.”

Mohammed bhai is becoming like a family in these days. Teaching me how to talk in Balti and making food for me. He insists on making me feel comfortable and i insist on telling him, “phikir maves”(don’t worry). ”

The whole day was spent doing patching up of the dripping ceilings, rolling up beds and securing furniture, changing filled up vessels of water making sure there is minimum damage. I helped with whatever i could and the minimum i could do was to not be a further problem.

“Its chilly cold and everything is wet. I am going to sleep with a blanket under, a shawl and 2 quilts on top. This is how Mohammed Bhai and his nephew Abideen Bhai are making sure i stay warm.”


Abideen Bhai after repairing the ceiling, yet another time.













On 6th September, mohammed bhai and i somehow made it to Youl in the middle of rains.

I stepped into Youl and i was bowled over. It was so different from Farol and yet a part of Turtuk. Thankfully, the rains stopped for a bit so i could see Youl as i would remember it forever.

Small lanes, women washing clothes at the streams, so many children, a junction where old and young men sit and spend time together, houses sharing walls, windows where you stretch your hand and reach the window of the other house, kids jumping into various houses through the terraces, an unbelievably beautiful maze of community life. I saw also Balti textiles and the skill that goes into crafting them. A new love was born.


the apricots drying on top and the chakki below.



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Ismail home-stay was going to be my home for the next few days. I loved the space the moment i entered. i was taken to the kitchen and bukhaari directly! The house was dripping here too but Ismail Bhai’s family is quite amazing.


Apo Ali, the grandfather Ali. he is the man i had been waiting to meet. The Ustad (artisan). His complete name, Ali. Ismail bhai says all his life, for all official work everyone asked him twice for his father’s full name. But it was always Ali, only! He weaves, farms, makes homes, constructs necessary tools for the villagers and reads namaaz 5 times a day.




He is the most important man in my story of Turtuk and a lot of what i learned is from the many hours we spent together in a day.


Ismail Bhai, the soul of Ismail home stay, Youl. He is always willing to help and always full of stories, Ismail bhai showed me Turtuk like i will always remember. He loves his place and he made me see it every day











Ashe, Ismail bhai’s wife and lifeline of the house.

Anyone i ever met who knew Ashe would say, Shukre khuda (thank god), she is in our life. Always full of love and always taking care of your little things. She was the one working non- stop making sure everyone is fed properly and never once she would ask, “how is the meal?”, it was always perfectly good.

my ashe!






this girl, Mubeena, the youngest of the four, carries a mysteriously energy around her. i can watch her all day and she will have something to entertain me. i am her ritika machong now (maashi)










Ruksana, the second born. Quiet and shy and a very hard working girl. She asked me questions of life in the cities and she told me how the family system works in Turtuk.










the responsible and hard working Irfan, always shying away from camera too. He is always helping in house chores and here is helping Apo Ali repair the leaking ceiling.






Armaan Ali, the naughty one always spinning my poi!









In no time, i was at home!

you can see the effect of rain at Apo Ali’s house too… everyone is saying, rain should stop now.


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Apo ali tries to protect the loom and weaves as  much as he can.

Yesterday was a crazy day and stones have fallen all over the place and all the road are blocked. The tourists who have been here are trying to get their tickets cancelled or postponed. Few are panicking because you still hear and see rocks falling. I hope whoever has to get somewhere can get there soon. So many people out on the road trying to get the roads cleared.
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After i spend some time with my new friends trying to figure out the situation, I find Sagar Bhai and go for a beautiful walk to OL while the rain is not coming down. Ol was full of old apricot and walnut trees, turnips,  gyas- buck wheat, potatoes and many herbs like samik. It was like a garden! I loved every bit of this walk and it was such a welcome break from the constant rains. I am learning Balti little little and the people have already by now started calling me their own. They are discussing the tourist problems and how to bail them out with me. May be I AM their own!

everyone is loving a bit of sun after days!

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I have also connected with some other tourists from various countries and each one fascinated by the road and the movement. I have made many kid friends by now.

I have also spent a lovely morning chatting with Apo ali. He is fascinated by the stories of hollow Bamboo and how it is used for almost everything in the North East. I have promised to share stories and bring photos of the north east with me the next time and i can’t wait for that opportunity.
Just as much as i am full of stories for them, they are full of stories for me over the endless conversations we share in the evenings.

And while some tourists are bent on leaving, few of us are feeling a bit settled. Geert has been teaching me some poi skills!and an evening was squeezed in to create a beautiful evening of poi spinning with Turtuk kids at Shing-e-Zaaba- the wooden bridge, the bridge that connects Youl and Farol.

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We often talk of the meaning of “being stuck” and how it is a state of mind. About how we always keep thinking of the future and that there is a sense or need to get to another place, a better place, a better situation, a more needed environment. But actually if you stop feeling stuck, then you are not stuck at all, and the experience evolves right from then on.

I am very happy about the life i have chosen to live. And i am very happy i bond with kids fabulously! And i am very happy i am now becoming part of one more beautiful family.

In the midst of the people in panic to leave, i decide when the roads clear and all the people in emergency are already on their way home, i will figure how and when to leave. Right now there is no hurry to get anywhere.

A strange thing happened from the walk to OL. There i was mesmerized by the sight of some old and new trees and brought with me some photographs of those. in just one night of more rains, that whole stretch got flattened. A big boulder like rock rolled through that land taking the landscape and the trees with it. These trees were very special to Ismail bhai and his brothers. Ashe who is always calm and happy looked a little not herself. When they shared this episode with me, I tried to understand what trees they are talking of, i showed them pictures that i took yesterday. Their trees were all there! They were still alive in my pictures and Ismail bhai said, “those are my trees. I want these photos.”

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I am happy i can share the memory of the trees and the way they looked till yesterday. But i am more amazed at the ability of the people of the mountains/ hills to move on with life and carry on. If nature is harsh on these people, they have the ability to respect nature’s decision and start all over again.

This is what makes them what they are… the happiest people i have met so far!

And i am just very happy i can spend my time in this unadulterated formula of happiness and of living.









September 8th, 2014:

“Khudaale Shukr chaapa chaachik!”

Thank god! It stopped raining!

Happy days are back here again. The sun is balming! birds have all spread their wings and are now doing rounds of the mountains, the flies are giving birth to new flies creating a halo like light effect everywhere. The wet roads full of many puddles are now drying up. The skies are alive with the colour blue again. The mountains chirpy with all the new layers of snow… the travellers who spent an unforgettable one week are all heading home through the roads Indian army and GREF are clearing. Elders, men, women and children are all doing their versions of surveys and then the tale- telling of the days gone by.

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From here on i had no time to sit with my notebook, my days were packed with activity and i was soaking in Turtuk in its every element.

The journey continued into some beautiful experiences and stories of love and adventure life is.

the joy lies in the acceptance!

and sharing!

Two more posts named Turtuk… maala gashinang II & III, will tell you some of my favourite chapters of the journey!

see you there!




MORA is a lifestyle…

Very recently, I was asked if mora is a fashion brand.

I said no, its a lifestyle.

another question popped: define mora lifestyle and how are all your buyers living this lifestyle…

the answer was more spontaneous than i thought it would be and i am so glad that i was asked this question… here’s why and how we are all connected to a lifestyle and many more reasons beyond these that we will discover as we move along…

How is mora a lifestyle for the all the people who wish to take mora home to them…

  • To know that the textiles are our tradition and are our identity. we are what we wear, whether its a traveler and his worn out shoes or a woman in Germany flaunting her  saree effortlessly (one of our buyers, ketaki has done that with such pride that she will always stay special to me). Lifestyle is in acceptance of oneself and your own personality.
  • lifestyle is in the choice to first invest in the thought of wearing organic… and understanding weaves… adopting values of various textiles and respecting them.
  • lifestyle comes from the fact that people are now moving away from thinking cotton is  cheap…
  • lifestyle is in understanding that anything that shimmers and shines is not the only way to express celebration.
  • lifestyle is saving to bring the traditional weaves home… and merge that tribal lifestyle into yours by knowing the stories, weaving methods, places and names of the weavers and their weaves.
  • lifestyle in believing in a complete stranger and being ok to spend thousands of rupees towards something you have saved for months in a piece of textile that you know has been made with love.
  • lifestyle is waiting year by year to own your own mora.
  • lifestyle is in the questions asked, the learning, the telling and retelling of the stories of the weaves.
  • Lifestyle is knowing what you wear and being aware.
  • lifestyle is coming along and supporting projects like batti and lighting up hundreds of tribal homes and for that taking out money from your savings to support another life.
  • lifestyle is in getting mora home for love and not for a fashion statement. Whoever has money are not the only ones who can buy as many moras. whoever loves mora, mora will find them… somehow…
  • lifestyle is in not hoarding and stocking up almirahs. lifestyle is in celebration of your every piece of textile and knowing exactly where each one is.
  • lifestyle is in the visions of the jungles, hills, rainbows, sunsets and moonrise that everyone absorbs beautifully through the images and stories shared.
  • lifestyle is in celebration of your own self and feeling happy about it.
  • lifestyle is in tutoring your kids about the value of textiles and tradition.
  • lifestyle is finding beautiful bonds through the page on facebook… and share with each other our love… of everything! 

Lifestyle of weavers and tailors and other artisans:

  • lifestyle is in the introduction of weaving as a tradition to their children. with every yarn ball rolling down the bamboo floors, with every tick-tack, tick-tack of the loom and the striking sticks, with every catch and throw of the yarn from one end to another, with every slide in and slide out of the weaving stick, a new generation of lifestyle is born and tradition revived and forwarded.
  • Lifestyle is in weavers choosing to move slower with more effort on the once familiar cotton yarn on their traditional looms as against the new introduction of power looms and synthetics.
  • lifestyle is in taking yarn instead of wages so they can weave and wear cotton themselves
  • lifestyle is in fighting for their independence and sustenance with their family system.
  • lifestyle is in taking me, a complete stranger, in their homes and accepting me with love.
  • lifestyle is in learning a new language so we can giggle together.
  • lifestyle is in making boiled food for me while i making parathas for them.
  • lifestyle is in wondering at the newness of technology and adapting to that keeping intact the values of tradition.
  • lifestyle is in learning how to take photos so they can be sent to me at various stages.
  • lifestyle is in making textiles for love and not just money.

mora as a lifestyle for me and what i believe in:

  • lifestyle is in mora not doing anything that is expected to be done…  mora has followed no norms of the industry.
  • lifestyle is in not spending anything on marketing. our marketing is our own labour of love. 
  • Mora does not reach out to media. whoever talks to us like a friend is the one who writes about mora. we are happy we are not always in the news. Lifestyle is in not waiting for media and not making them wait. we are in the jungles even before all of this starts. subtlety and maturity is the lifestyle.
  • lifestyle is in being the only textile brand in India to have this format of creation and there is nothing that is not working about it. its all about love and happiness eventually!
  • lifestyle is to go beyond finances, economics, commerce and be mad. parcels going up and down… running in the streets with madness to complete that perfect image as i see mora in my head… carry mora(s) through cities, towns and villages creating those visual canvases!
  • it is not about buying and selling but connection with the textile loving and respecting community. lifestyle is in bringing and keeping all of us together.
  • Lifestyle is about attention to details and looking as much at the reverse as in front. it is also a lifestyle to be ridiculously careful about every little stitch, corner, thread, bead on every mora!
  • lifestyle is in not being affected by what others do with your creativity… each one is inspired from somewhere… to inspire and be inspired is a lifestyle…
  • lifestyle is in creating new, seeing new, learning new everyday… which is why no two moras are alike.
  • Lifestyle is in going to places where noone goes. it is in adopting what is difficult to be done and will show you challenges.
  • lifestyle is in treading unchartered routes and bringing weaves on a level that is sustainable.
  • lifestyle is in carrying forward this tradition of weaving and the love with which an army is standing strong  to protect it.
  • lifestyle is in believing less is more. simple is more complex. being minimalistic is a way of life.
  • lifestyle is to be original in your art… to be original you believe in freedom… freedom comes from madness! lifestyle is of this simple mathematics! lifestyle is in originality and madness of pursuing it.
  • lifestyle lies in the philosophy of going back in time through these weaves and being in that time machine.
  • lifestyle is in crossing raging rivers, climbing hills, walking for days together through jungles, walking rope bridges, tracing master weavers of lost lands, lighting up homes of these weavers, and letting them know what they know is so beautiful.
  • lifestyle is in not knowing names of all the colours. how can we know all the colours?? how can WE name them… they vary from light to light…corner to corner… eye to eye!
  • lifestyle is in coining your own terms for everything technical and making it fun.
  • lifestyle is in being proud i didn’t go to school to learn how to love and create something out of love.
  • Lifestyle is in thinking out of the box and not getting trapped into a play of words and rules.
  • Lifestyle is in understanding life as an art form and thinking nothing like an artist’s block exists. you create in different forms all the time… in the kitchen, in the hills, in the windows, on the canvas, in water… outside of it… in sand.. on it… in touch and not touching… in seeing and not seeing… life and living is creation itself.
  • lifestyle is in the very name given to me by my naga family… AKALA… which means abundance… abundance of everything… abundance of the presence and abundance of the absence.
  • lifestyle is in choosing a life on the road and settle in that very existence.
  • lifestyle is in creation of love… at every level… and keeping that love alive.

These are some of the many more reasons why mora is not a fashion brand… can never be… wont ever be…

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Kedut shulo… “sitting together by chance”

fireplaceone evening, in a small village where chakhesang nagas happily live together… there..by the fireplace, while creating those small pyramids with firewood, blowing air into the metal rod, making the cold winter naga evening cozy with bonfire… my very special naga friend told me a phrase often used in phek district- Kedut shulo! she looked at me and said, “you know what it means?”

i was obviously intrigued as i always am whenever i talk to her… in a small remote village lives this really sharp, really beautiful, really charming, really funny, really all of everything that makes me just sit next to her and wonder- how does she do it…

she engages me in endless conversations everytime… and i am never bored… she does the talking… and in between my monosyllables she spins stories… about everything… about people, their food, their music, the language, the hills, the daos, the gaon buras, about her trip to rwanda and her first swim suit, about her dreams, about her younger brother who is a brat, her aspirations to conserve forests, her knowledge about her own culture and tradition! in her very controlled voice and measured words and silent giggles, by the fire… she laid out the meaning of the phrase that sort of explains my life… “kedut shulo” It means-“sitting together by chance” she quickly finished her sentence by saying… “since you are always traveling, ritika… you are also sitting together by chance with so many different people, na?”

true… i never looked at it this way! i connected this statement with another statement made by another naga friend of mine- when you travel, you travel for people, not just places!


my travels brought me closer to life in general and people in particular- i meet all sorts of people- people i am instantly in awe of, fellow travellers who i wish to travel like, story tellers, people who bring in their urban set up while searching for rural india, people i instantly detest and later love, then those who help me out of the blue, people who laugh, drink and dance with me, people who guide me in my journeys and who i meet in shared sumos, buses, trucks- some of these people i could keep in touch with, some i lost on the way… but they all make a strange connection in my mind… i never seem to forget them… and they reappear often during my sessions of retelling stories of my everyday adventures…

“Kedut shulo”, aah…my friend as I promised to you, I dedicate this post to you for you inspired me to go back to my blessings and share with everyone the faces and stories of the people who made a deep impact in my journey into the north east so far…

Some names I know, some name I vaguely remember, some names we never exchanged…

Stories stay with me…

And here are a few tales of people who I “sat together by chance” with…

let me start my journal with the smiles and laughters that stayed with me… or the impressionable faces that i remember even though its been years…








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IMG_5203 281896_229170850454777_4429396_n 281320_229150490456813_7567291_n _MG_9606These are the people I landed up “sitting together by chance” with and now this serendipity is a lovely relationship, or a good or bad memory, a lasting impression, or just a catalyst to my further adventures… each day, I thank the forces that mould me effortlessly to get more fearless, more tolerant, less “stuck up”, more relaxed, less of a “hoarder “, more of an individual.. less of all urban and more of all tradition…

music… and for some reason, the local music always traveled with me… whether it was ullu sho sho of monpas, or o rhosi of nagas, or local adaptations of akons and justin beibers(yaaa, this also), or “lakhon hain yahan dilwale” in  awkward pronunciations and tribal accent, or beautiful bihu melodies, or church choirs… music traveled with me wherever i went… some of the most beautiful memories i dont have photographs or videos of… and they are better left like that!

once on my way back from phek district of nagaland to kohima, i was accompanied by 4 unusually beautiful chakesang naga voices… these 4 women throughout the journey sang their local songs and that melody stays with me… we were squished together in one car and the otherwise quite uncomfortable journey became one of the most peaceful experiences!

then there were days when friends just sat together and sang and danced- good bad ugly voices didnt matter- happiness did!

one of my most interesting music experiences was in meghalaya- i met this bunch of young boys who did a impromptu gig for me with their traditional instruments… i am glad i recorded it… someday a creative musician will take notice of them and create melodies with them…

here’s their video- (excuse my giggles :))

music is so much a part of their everyday culture that you often hear them humming while doing their everyday jobs-

one of our weavers is seriously gifted, she weaves as beautifully as she sings… she is such a fighter and i love her too much…

here’s a glimpse into her small world…

another thread of serendipity that followed me everywhere was tradition and everything that comes with it…
I grew up in a small village in punjab, north india and in a big big joint family with my grandparents, uncles, aunts and lots of cousins… We were always a “gang”! Rain and monsoons meant pooris and pakoras, summers meant icecream soda, winters meant amma(my grandmother’s) hot hot halwa. Each season had a distinct smell, colour and energy for me…That energy stayed with me beautifully…I still look for the same “everything” that I experienced as a child… It is what connects me to my purest “me”… The unadulterated innocence… It connects me to what and how I was born as and my roots…

Tradition for me is reconnecting and carrying forward my roots… and my “collective memory”… The more I travel the more I get closer home…

The more the bonds get stronger between “me then” and “me now”… And suddently travel becomes a way for me to go back in time…

my travels found their true calling… The moment I started I wasn’t traveling into kilometres ahead but I was going back in time… I became about how many years I can travel in the past seeking lost tradition…

Mora gave me my “magic carpet” to fly me back in time…

Suddenly I was in the middle of tribals in a world far away from the urban  world… I connected with their innocence… They bared their souls to me and I to them… They shared their life through their weaves and the stories attached to them and I shared mine by making some of the traditional food I grew up with for them… In those hours I saw the mothers and daughters sitting together exchanging weaving notes and  singing their folk songs and they saw me running to my village home’s kitchen asking for a second helping of amma’s halwa.

The past comes alive and the memories become our present. This is where their memories become my present too… I just go back in time and come back just by seeking tradition…

And I giggle with joy… My time machine is their memory mixed with mine…

Mora’s warp and weft makes the child in me rejoice for she connects with her identity… That same innocence and happiness finds her way… And there is nothing more joyous…

This tradition of reconnecting with who I was keeps me going… What also keeps me going is the respect I feel for all others who have not lost touch with their identity… This is what keeps me afloat… Keeps me humble and never let’s me forget who I really am.

We are a result of the choices we make. Those choices for me are directly related to how closely we feel connected to our roots, our tradition.

For me tradition is the oxygen for my soul… the lifeline of my journey… And the foundation of my existence.

its the richness of the past and community life that i find in these songs, dances, ceremonies, chanting, weaves, baskets, jungle tracks, folk tales, food, local sports and almost everything attached to the tribal life…


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these people and legends of these tales are not the people i have met in real life but they travel with me through the telling and retelling of these tales… these virtual images become part of my journey just as much as the people of the real world…

one such tale is of anuli akhiya and her weaves and how they influence the traditional colours and identity of the Idu Mishmis.

Anuli Akhiya, was a beautiful idu mishmi lady in lower dibang valley of Arunachal Pradesh, centuries ago. there is no definite time to whn she existed but she has always been a important part of idu mishmi memory and tales.

she was so beautiful that the local priest or the igu fell madly in love with her. and expressed his desire to marry her. Akhiya didnt fancy him too much so refused. Igu, who was one of the most respected man in the region was offended obviously on the refusal of this proposal.

he tried to convinced her but all in vain.

his anger knew no bounds so much so that he threw her and locked her in a pit and did some mantras so she can never come out of there. the villagers and her brothers tried all different methods to get her out. they tried to break the big rock that covered the pit so she could come out but nothing helped. eventually it was decided that may be this is her fate and so a system was worked out to provide her food and water through a narrow opening.

many days passed like this.

meanwhile, Akhiya was still trapped in that pit and had accepted her fate as well. she had begun to see beauty in the world around her. she was always surrounded by snakes in that pit and always wondered at the beauty of their skin. she expressed her desire to share those designs with the world… she was provided with dyes and leaves and bark of wood and other material so she could draw out those designs.

weaving culture existed even before Akhiya’s creativity was known so she insisted that it will be great if these designs can be woven. that is how the beautiful snake skin motifs became part of Idu Mishmi weaves.

because she had no exposure to the world outside, her imagination started growing more and more vivid. she started drawing flowers and birds and leaves and gave beautiful colours to those. so much so that Idu Mishmis believe that she is the one who has designed their nature… with beautiful colours and patterns.

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she lived and died in that pit but what she gave to the idu mishmi world is the colours and patterns not only of the weaves but also of the nature. The designs and patterns are still referred to as Akhiya designs and for an Idu Mishmi, their world is more beautiful and colourful because of her.

Akhiya is no more but her designs live with us… and those are the weaves we wish to bring to you in 2013 and with that a bit of akhiya will be born in all of us!

she will radiate our trapped souls with colour and creativity.

for me she sometimes sounds like a firefly! lighting up the dark… filling the world with beauty…

akhiya… you inspire me! and i am sure you will live in the hearts of not only Idu Mishmis but also anyone and everyone who is inspired by nature and finds beauty and peace in that.

i will end this folk tale with a beautiful phrase often used in idu mishmi culture…

“tai koyeen reeyee pruin muin”

tai– nurturing the family

koyeen– should be able to cook for a large gathering and should know how to cook in large vessels on fire.


pruin– taking care of the pigs and cattle

muin– saving and keeping stock of accounts

An Idu mishmi woman is a well rounded person. she is not only adept at doing creative things but is extremely hard working and intelligent.

akhiya would have been one such woman… a perfect tribal woman of all times!

and i met her through this tale in my journey… we lived a “kedot tsuloh” experience in its entirety… through the weavers, their weave patterns, their creativity and passion for the weaves and endless giggles over our broken conversations…

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To me journey is both an outward and inward movement… It is the love and trust within yourself that propels you to make that first step as a single female traveler… When I took to the road in 2008, I did it with complete understanding that my commitment to the road will alter every convention I was taught to believe… It will also be a counter thought to what the society expects a woman to be… The surrender to road meant for me a surrender to life… Sans rules, sans societal norms, sans baggages! It meant that the choice was made and the choice was of love and happiness and of my life on the road. It is the journey of meeting new people everyday and new friendships and families found not bound by law or birth but by a connection of love… It is about dreaming and following with a mad passion a single minded zeal to follow a story or the unexplored…

I am settled… And I live a lifestyle of settlement on the road…

I m settled in my movement…

And in this movement and of life on the road, you meet many explorers and  travellers you land up sharing your deepest accounts with… there is always an instant connection with another of your tribe… the conversations begin, continue, get carried forward and sometimes abruptly end at the places explored, the stories lived, the people we met, and the passion to explore more… the world of explorers and travellers is endless… and sitting with them for a few minutes, hours, days or months only enriches you further…

I have met travellers who dedicated 40-50 years of their life traveling and now that their body is giving up, the soul still yearns for more adventures… their eyes have a childlike excitement… oh i love this breed… they are my inspiration… the always moving, never stopping ones…

I have a feeling i got to meet another person who will spend a lifetime on the road… and that though we sat together by chance, he will be an integral part of my journey…

Efrain Villa, an absolutely unrestrained energy of a mad man who is game for everything… anything and everything for happiness… He is a photographer, writer, story teller… and a magician in many ways… for me he was the one who spent years exploring the world and continues to do so with a beautiful zeal and an open heart…

an incident that left an indelible mark was when he gave away his camera to our tribal friend because she wanted to start photography and what better way to start it than with the camera that has traveled to many places with this explorer…

I traveled with Efrain Villa for less than a week, but i will keep him close to me as one of my favourite people i met on the road…


He was the first one to ever see me at work and thus gave me some special memories with my weavers and friends through his camera…

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it was a pleasure sharing this road with you… Efrain!

Travellers are of a different breed and are made of many different kinds of clay- some want to go deeper and deeper, then the others further and farther, many more higher and higher… some measure the miles moved, the metres trekked upwards, the kilometres covered, the places seen, the borders marked, the backpacks torn, the shoes worn, the photographs taken, the peaks touched, the territories claimed!

And then there are the ones who are just there to MOVE, to make connections, spread happiness… facilitate growth and bring ease to the everyday life of people.

One such person I came across recently was Merwyn Coutinho, or  Battimaan as we lovingly call him. When I met him the first time, the thing that intrigued me the most was his child like passion for LIGHT- a practical solution to a lot of rural problems. He would invariably bring the focus of all his conversations to his Batti. I could sense love and see a lot of beautiful unadulterated energy.

HE WAS REALLY THE BATTIMAAN, a super hero that does a very complicated task of bringing Batti to the border villages of Arunachal Pradesh so effortlessly. He went after it with his partner (in their journey named http://www.furtherandbeyond.com) and friend Rajiv Rathod, to pursue his vision.

When I asked him why Batti?

He said, It was just a simple thought- THEY NEED LIGHT… And they MUST get it… The thought was uncluttered and direct! Batti was born out of a never ending journey when we saw dark homes being uncomfortably lit by clumsy torch lights.  And now it is an initiative of further and beyond to light up border villages in Arunachal Pradesh by connecting the people in need to the people who are willing to reach out.By lighting up homes, which is the microcosm of a tribal community life, we add to their life not only extra hours but also an ease to carry out their everyday chores like studying, cooking, weaving, singing or sometimes just sitting and chit chatting together.”

His answer made me realize that this is one project and vision, I could see myself supporting. But I needed something more tangible and solid to hold on to… I had heard such claims in the past and I had seen projects falling apart. Dreams are one thing, I wanted to see it being manifested.

Destiny planned the future turn of events for me… and how I would perceive Batti henceforth.

Merwyn and I landed up going to some really remote places together exploring and understanding the tribal cultures and traditions… while I was charmed by the weaves and the textile tradition, Merwyn went deeper into his understanding of the NEED of light. I could see him doing his calculations and long chats with Rajiv on the phone regarding custom made solutions for each village. He always tried to figure out the root of the problem, that the villagers and their panchayats discussed with him at length. I could see the heart and mind coming together.

My cynical protective heart (for my home ,north east india) still wasn’t ready to believe the intensity and love that Merwyn and Rajiv were putting in the Batti Project.

I dug deeper. I heard stories. I saw photos. I met people. I felt the affection people felt for him.

And that is when I got to know…  In Dec,2011 Merwyn Coutinho and Rajiv Rathod walked for the 2nd time to Gandhigram. A village 130km into the jungle, to initiate the Batti project and there they were able to facilitate integrated solar bulbs for 80 houses!!! And the most beautiful thing about it all was that they took LIGHT to their homes for Christmas celebration. They made their Christmas brighter. I can see the heart warming smiles in each of their photograph and memoirs. I could feel the love in people’s voices. I could feel the intensity of passion in Batti project !

Gandhigram is not an easy place to be at and definitely not an easy place to do what these guys did there!

I came to understand through them that a single bulb at night might not seem like a lot but the lack of this source of light becomes a hurdle in areas outside the power grid. There are more than 80 villages in Arunachal Pradesh, that are currently off the grid, with the opportunity to be lit.

A very chance meeting with a tribal man during our trek to desali for their annual festival reh, where Merwyn went deeper into the very problem of the border villages of lower dibang valley resulted in the first extensive pilot project of the batti project. It needed a long term solution and the solution was a complete home lighting system with solar panels, batteries and 3 LED bulbs. It was also as important for Merwyn and his gang to install this on their own and completely cut off any middle men politics. The job needed to be done and done PROPERLY. They had to reach out to the villagers directly. They needed to know the names of the villagers whose homes will be lit up.

I can never forget the enthusiasm on Merwyn’s face on getting his first list of homes that were to be Battified and the members of those homes! It was heartwarming to see that child like affection.

A simple post on facebook asking them to support Batti brought so many supporters that have made this project possible. They believed in the project for the love of it.

I came together with the Batti Project in July, 2012 and within this year through the help of social media and clubs coming together, we have been able to take Batti to 154 homes i.e. 13 villages in lower Dibang and Dibang valley of eastern Arunachal Pradesh.

here’s a little on the journey we took together with the Batti brigade…


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When I see Batti project, my belief in my favourite statement becomes more solid-

“and I can dream, can i?”

These boys can really DREAM and make others dream with them!

Rs. 7,500 can provide to one family, a decent infrastructure and the prospect of a self- sufficient livelihood through light. Each contribution helps a family grow beautifully! every contribution lights up a home…

In the words of Further and Beyond, “We envisioned that the border villages of Arunachal pradesh should have batti, LIGHT, the basic necessity of life. We aimed for it, and through the support of people on public forums, we were able to light up more than 150 homes in 13 villages on the borders where grids would have never or would have taken many more years to reach. This is an ongoing journey and the more we connect, the more we get an opportunity to achieve this. 

Our pilot started in a village called ‘Dopowa’ in eastern Arunachal, which consisted of 8 homes, it took us 2 days on foot to reach this village where they had never seen a switch or a light bulb. This gave us the confidence to push forward and scale up the project to 100 homes, which eventually moved up to 147 homes by the time we concluded the 2nd phase. 

In the next phase we are hoping to reach a 1000 homes in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. This will be achieved over a year in stages depending on the funds we accumulate.”

I have joined them in my heart and mind.

I sing their slogan with my mora tales every day.

“aa gayi Batti, ch’aa gayi Batti”

Lets step out and hum together!

Let’s believe in this LOVE!

Individuals, groups or companies can come together and sponsor a home.

you can write to support Batti Project at furtherandbeyond@gmail.com.

In their words, “We are not an NGO or a trust and work with no middlemen. We are just volunteers to make this happen. Your support will help us bring light to 1000 homes in the Upper and lower dibang valley of Arunachal Pradesh which is home to the IDU Mishmi tribe.”

Sitting together with such travellers makes your journey so much more worthwhile… happiness of another level comes to you and you can only keep smiling at the tribe of travellers growing and thriving so beautifully…

this post will be always be a continuous account as will my journey be…

leaving with you some of my moments of absolute happiness…

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stay happy!

and when you sit next to a stranger just by chance, remember the love Kedut shulo can spread! 🙂

leave them happy!

Posted in MORA TRAVELS | 8 Comments

i see my fireflies….

2011-2012 was a year of great challenges, new hopes, lesser fears, bigger adventures, some tears and joys.. heartbreaks and friendships… but definitely a year of growth and learning… and not just about textiles… mora is giving me a way of living my life… to value and feel blessed for what I have… and move on happily from what is not mine or what I lose…

I understood this year to grow above just colours and explore further… understand better the textures and natural dyes… intricacy of weaves gently placed… less is more… importance of everything traditional, getting back to the basics… simplify….

And I understood simplifying is the most complicated thing!

I removed the clutter… and focused on textures as it is…

You will see many bold stark plain borders against complex mix of textures and fabrics… that was the state of my mind… that was the method to my madness…

This year I also took some important decisions….

I have dedicated myself to the north east, a place I call home now… I will continue reviving the dying textile art in the region no matter how difficult this journey gets. Government is focusing on north east becoming the next textile territory… I see it as a major threat… I see what happened in kanchipuram and it pains me to imagine what will happen if commercialization touches these beautiful north east weaves… i see it happening… so am building on a small niche group of weavers… dedicated to reviving these weaves… they are my ARMY… I trust them with all my heart and will protect their identity with all my might.

We have decided to take up some agricultural projects to encourage natural dyes and plant fibres, if all goes right, we should start “kheti”… that’s been my dream… and I believe universe is waiting for me to throw ideas and dreams to it… THEY WILL HAPPEN… I KNOW IT!

This year is a special year for MORA also because we are bringing in 1,200 kg of pure cotton yarn to the north east india. I have put all my life’s savings into this… to the last 3476 rupees… so that we can make cotton cheaper and so readily available that we can replace synthetic for the same reasons it took over cotton…

Something tells me… my dreams are not alone and that I will sail through… I will be taken care of… if I dream, I will be allowed to dream bigger….

The bigness of it I DECIDE!

I am humbled at the love I receive and the bonding that is growing with my families in the north east. I don’t know how to explain what connects me to the north east… its like my soul becomes one… its like I was always meant to be there… it’s like the dots were connecting to take me there…

And here I am home!

I have also thrown to the universe to make north east my home…  I know that firefly isn’t far! I will soon take my treasure chest of experiences, memories, and so much more and leave the urban world soon…

I will soon figure out a way where I become one with my jungles and villages and can be back only for a month or two every year to connect with the mora family… and share this world of textiles…

Universe will make it happen… I know it! I see the fireflies….

I can feel the happiness….

And I am nothing but overwhelmed with life and the beauty of it.

leaving you with a video of my labour of love…

Posted in MORA | 19 Comments

Oja…(mother in AO naga dialect)

I wanted to write this post since a long time… but had been carefully tucking it away… it was too sad, too happy, too personal, too overwhelming,  too much of everything that can change so much in your life… Today, somehow I thought I was ready to share these few days with you…

There are many such not so good days amidst my happiest days that I go through during this madness for north eastern textiles…  it has to be madness, absolute insanity… or in plain words… LOVE!

In the morning, When I was getting all ready to set out on another journey towards Chennai and then Bangalore and planning my future travels to the north east again, it suddenly struck me that all of this would have been so different had it not been for Oja…

In May 2011, I went to one of the most remote villages in Mizoram, a beautiful quiet 53 huts village settlement tucked in south west Mizoram, home to Bru and Chakma tribes… I spent memorable days over there… learning about their rich culture, documenting about their elaborate jewellery and fascination for long necks. They are so much in love with their jewellery that you will see them wearing sometimes hundreds of necklaces at the same time…

the many necklaces with the amazing ear-gear and coin hairpins

the gorgeous hair pins

chakma bangles

bru- reang jewellery


the famous ear piece

chakma anklet

chandraham, necklace

I was the first face from the plains that they saw after a long time… I was nicknamed “vai nu”… it was used everywhere… in addressing me, while talking about me, on my sumo tickets, on notes written by cute kids… all that while I kept wondering WHAT IS VAI NU?

It means “LADY FROM THE PLAINS”.. I was told by a missionary teacher appointed in the only school that existed in the village, and he was also the only one who could talk to me in broken English… and so was the only mode of communication between me and the world I was living in.


his wife and kids

WOW… LADY FROM THE PLAINS… VAI NU… it sounded perfect… exotic and all of those things… I loved my nick name and would giggle everytime I heard it. I still love the sound of it.

So as it went, BRU, CHAKMAS and I hit it off instantly…! And a meeting was called where all the important men of the village came and discussed about how a beautiful music and dance festival could be organised for VAI NU! They all sat down on their carefully crafted bamboo floors while they insisted i sit on the chair… it was a bad idea! So I insisted that I would like to sit down… they were embarrassed and giggled too!

the meeting place where we discussed the events plan

beautiful lady outside the meeting hut

So it was set that next morning at 6 am a cultural festival will be organised… I was stunned by their management, their enthusiasm and hospitality.

Rest of the day went by going around the small beautiful lanes of the village and meeting some really beautiful people…

young bru reang lady 🙂

church and the school by a tree

the little umbrella girl

women at work for their supper

little hands playing with the grains

chakma side of the village

A very interesting thing I noticed in all this was that while the village gets electricity once in like 2 months… 2-3 houses still had colour TVs and ironically even TATA SKY existed! Ways of the modern world… modernity seeped into this small village “like tea from teabag

Next morning was full of more activity than you could ever imagine in this slow, quiet 92 people village. I woke up at 4 am to loud sounds of drums beating, kids running and singing… like everyone was working towards a big event… I almost jumped out of my bed when I saw 10-15 kids staring at me, waiting for me to get up…  my “good morning” was their signal to run and tell everyone VAI NU is up!!!!!

ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE!! Like in a fun Charlie Chaplin comic way…  I was fumbling and falling off the thin mattress I slept on… still rubbing my eyes trying to wake up… when a whole gang of men and women stood outside my door to take me for the event…

THE BIG TASK- I still had to shower and clean my teeth!

Everyone there in the village is not used to the idea that we need to COVER when we have a bath/ shower- the boon or the bane of civilization! So, when  I mentioned my desire to put a bed sheet as screen from the rest of the village, I became quite a laughing stock… suddenly a simple bath became an EVENT… little girls giggling… carrying the bedsheets… men carrying strings and nails to tuck the bed sheets for screen… women wondering what THIS VAI NU is upto!! Finally the bath happened, amidst lots of singing and preparations outside and 2 little girls even running and sneaking towards the other side of the screen.


they were always giggling looking at my big crocs!

curiousity… more mine than hers…

women gathered outside the house where we stayed…

reang”ness” all around!

gearing up for the big day!

giggles and laughter all the way

AND what a show was put together… all women dressed in their beautiful attires and jewellery… so much excitement and festivity… I was overwhelmed… and for the first time I remembered to run and get my camera… it was too precious to miss…

bru- ushoi lady all geared up for the show 

bru- reang lady in her traditional attire

chakma couple

And then the singing and dancing started… it was an absolute impromptu jig and I joined them for some time too!!

The expressions, the enthusiasm was priceless…

Had so much fun! And in all this… no words exchanged… just more laughter… giggles… and lot more chutneys!!

the team that put the show together

“DON’ T GO TO THIS VILLAGE… YOU WILL COME BACK WITH MALADIES”… I was told by many in relatively bigger towns/ villages of Mizoram… and because I was told NO, my YES became even stronger!!

But maladies I came back with…

While I collected some of the most beautiful memories in Mizoram through the weaves, jewellery, their musical instruments and most importantly people, I also came back with a near fatal stomach infection. It was caused primarily because of my own negligence and overindulgence in terms of gorging on the yummy Mizo chutneys.  Because I am a vegetarian traveling in a dominantly non vegetarian region, I am usually left with boiled rice and salt and sometimes on lucky days some boiled leafy vegetables to eat… Mizoram came as a lovely surprise… Mizos love their 5-6 dish spread along with different kinds of chutneys for both their meals… how I loved those meals and that mint chutney.

And through those uncooked chutneys, on one of those unexpected days I got a bad stomach infection. I thought like a usual traveller that its normal diarrhoea or food poisoning so after a 3 day long travel out of Mizoram I reached  MON, Nagaland. I knew something was not right with my system but I never realised that it could be fatal. While I kept traveling through MON district, my appetite got worse by the day.

By the time, I reached Mokokchung, a place I call second home now,  I knew there was something terribly wrong. My Naga friend Akok immediately took me to his place to make sure that I am taken care of till I feel better.

What followed after that was something inexplicable…

Akok’s mom, Oja, took me in like she would take her own daughter…

Silently, she became my oja!

By then I was so seriously ill, that I couldn’t stand, was mostly unconscious, throwing up blood and worms, drastically losing weight and energy… my situation was critical but Oja was calm…

It was my Oja, who held my head for hours, helped me throw up, cleaned me up, made “naram bhaat- watery rice pudding” because that was the only thing I could digest.

This is a family, that lives on bare resources, with very limited budget and here in my unconscious stage, they looked after me for more than 15 days.

In those 15 days, I realized how much we value mundane things in life when all that matters is this sudden blessing you receive out of nowhere… I found a family, a second mother, my Oja out of nowhere…

She worries about me now and calls me often if she feels something is not right with me… I know she cried for me when I was sick… she scolded me when I got so sick of having naram bhaat that I asked my friend to bail me out of this miserable food and get me some chow… we thought we will hide it but she got to know… all of that came out and with that came a strong warning from Oja to not have junk food anymore.

she is also a magicial with herbs… every morning she gave me a concoction of different leaves bioled together which would ease me a lot… i think she always added a pich of love in that…

She gave me food, gave me medicines, took me for medical check ups, took me for walks, watched me sleep, combed my hair, talked with me in her broken hindi, laughed with me… giggled and danced whn she saw my mizo musical instruments…

i fell sick on 4th June, and then things kept worsening… days spent in hospitals and many more in complete bed rest… but Oja kept me going… i am recovering and am ready to start my travels all over again…

My Oja, how I miss you… and feel every single day that the reason I live today is a blessing from you…

Oja and me during one of those evenings spent laughing and watching the sunset             

i have survived because of you , my Oja! and i love you with all my heart!



  my Oja!


Posted in MORA TRAVELS | 21 Comments