Turtuk – Living On The Edge

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page-” thus spake the Augustine of Hippo; and since I am a voracious reader, I decided to read a few more pages this year. This reading took me up the long, winding roads of the greater Himalayas, and I found myself wandering in the ‘land of high passes’: Ladakh . While taking one of the lesser explored trails into far north western part of Ladakh, we ended up in the village of Turtuk. Nestled amidst the towering peaks of the Karakoram, this village was once a part of Gilgit-Baltistan region.

When I reached, I found it sitting smug under the warm August sun, wrapped in the thoughts of its glorious past.

DSC_0645
Sun dappled lanes of Turtuk. Time stands still here.

Taken over by Pakistan post -independence, Turtuk, which is hardly 10 km from the Line Of Control (LOC), became a part of India during the Indo-Pak war of 1971 under the able leadership of Major Chewang Rinchen. Settled in the shadow of the famous K2 peak that falls across the LOC, this village has the river Shyok flowing beside it. Its greenery came as a relief to our eyes that were sore after hours of gazing at the black tarmac road, boulders, and white sand on all sides, without any vegetation.

DSC_0631
The Shyok river which gives company till Turtuk, flows across the LOC and meets the Indus. Shyok, which means “Death” in Uyghur, was named thus as it frequently floods its sides, cutting banks causing soil erosion.  Many times the river has wiped out entire villages often forcing villagers to move away and seek home elsewhere. The Shyok has not quietened with time and with an increased volume during the summer, it is impossible to cross the river. People living in villages such as Hunder and Utmaru are forced to use boats known as bips, for crossing it at remote places where there are no bridges.

Turtuk, once part of the inland  trade route (the silk route) for merchants travelling through the Karakoram ranges, was likely to have been an important trading post linked with Tibet, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. However, little recorded history is available of those days and what we now see has been shaped more by  the 1971 war and events thereof. With the closing down of borders in 1971 and the ancient trade routes sealed, the economic lifeline was cut off, choking Turtuk and the other border villages.

IMG_3326
The United Province of Baltistan, divided by recent borders. Interestingly, the area of Ladakh (of which Turtuk and adjoining areas are a part) has seen many partitions before. It started in 9th century CE when it was separated from the Tibetan empire by Beg Manthal of the Yabgo dynasty who conquered Khaplu. Later, in 1834 CE, the Dogra rulers from Jammu annexed it and made it a part of Jammu and Kashmir. Then in 1947, the Indian subcontinent underwent partition, and Baltistan was taken over by Pakistan. Finally in 1971, the Indian army took back the control of Turtuk and three other villages.

Baltistan once was a separate kingdom, and a Central Asian tribe named the Yabgo dynasty, controlled the united province from Chinese Turkistan.  Among the rulers of the western Turkistan, the Yabgo surname belonged to the leader of the  Gaz tribes whose kingdom extended from Afghanistan to Turkistan. The Yabgo reign in Baltistan started from around  800  CE, when Beg Manthal, the 10th descendant of Prince Tung (he started the Gaz dynasty), came from Yarkhand (a part of modern China) and conquered Khaplu. The dynasty’s reign lasted until 1834 CE when Ladakh was annexed by the Dogra rulers of Jammu. The Yabgo dynasty were patrons of art, poetry and literature which flourished under their long rule over the region.

DSC_0670
The family tree of the Yabgo dynasty prepared by the current ‘king’ Yabgo Mohammed Kacho with help from Indian Army.

The descendants of the Yabgo dynasty still live in Turtuk and the family is considered as rulers by the villagers. The ‘king’ Yabgo Mohammed Kacho, a rather down to earth and soft spoken  gentleman, receives all those that visit his former summer home that now serves as a museum with warmth.  Some of his family members remain on the other side of LOC as do many family members of other villagers. Along with this pain, the villagers harbor a regret that the Indian army did not take over the entire Baltistan that fateful night during the war.

Turtuk reeled under two long decades of mistrust arising from a sense of mixed emotions of losing close family members to Pakistan, and add to it the apathy and neglect shown by the Indian government towards these border villages. Finally in 1999, Lt Gen Arjun Ray, who was then the Commander of 14 Corps, started ‘Operation Sadbhavna,’ which aimed at reviving a positive civil-military relationship. Under this operation, the army undertook many projects that ranged  from building schools, developing infrastructure,  to establishing computer and other vocational training centres, poultry farms, programs aimed at women empowerment, providing telephone connections, free medical services and a daily bus service. Today, for the people of Turtuk it is “upar Allah, niche Indian Army.” Turtuk stands as a shining example of how things can work out amicably, when both sides are willing and able to appreciate each others efforts.

IMG_3344
The current ‘king’ Mohammed Kacho of the Yabgo dynasty tells us of the former glory of his ancestors. Of the fateful night when they became Indians and how the Indian army is the best thing to have happened to the villagers. He categorically said that while politicians are the same corrupt players on all sides of the borders, it is the Indian army that stood by them at all times. His former palace was almost entirely looted and destroyed by the Pakistan army because his father had filed a case in the Lahore court against them for illegal occupation. Almost nothing remains of their former wealth and the only evidences seen are in the form of dusty artefacts that are a part of the museum.

Located at an altitude of 9846 feet, the village of Turtuk is inhabited by the Balti people of Tibetan origin. Once one crosses the Hunder area and nears the Balti zone, everything changes drastically: the landscape, physical features of the locals, clothing, language, and culture which is markedly different from the rest of the people in Ladakh. The Balti women are seen wearing colourful floral prints that stand out in contrast amidst the stark mountains all around.

IMG_3315 (1).jpg

DSC_0650

The villagers in Turtuk. The women are still not so open to being photographed, so didn’t take their pictures. Extremely hospitable, the villagers are always ready to talk and help. 

DSC_0692
Golden heads of barley

Turtuk being warmer, the villagers are able to cultivate two crops in a year. Barley, wheat, buckwheat, peas, spinach, pulses, beans,  and mustard are widely grown. Among livestock that provides milk, meat and wool are the dzos (hybrid of yak and cow), goats, dzomos and sheep. Fruit cultivation is another widespread practice seen in all these border villages and the little gardens abound in apricots, walnuts and few apples that help to augment the villagers’ incomes. Interestingly, there is a Tsarma apricot juice factory in Turtuk that  sells pitted and pressed  apricot juice. Since Turtuk is a strategic military outpost, it was closed to outsiders, even other Indians, until 2010 when the locals weary of  isolation and looking to increase their meagre incomes petitioned for the beautiful valley to open up. As tourists slowly started trickling in, albeit armed with permits, tourism as an industry has started evolving bringing in the much needed cash.

DSC_0655
We were offered these apricots by a lady who was standing in her garden as we walked towards the museum. She plucked them from a tree, washed them in a flowing stream, and offered them to us. As we bit into them we realised we were having the best apricots we have ever had. Juicy and sweet, they were absolutely delicious, and I can guarantee that I have never found such wonderful apricots in the markets of NCR!

Fruit laden trees and vines: apricots and grapes. The villagers sell their fruit and crop produce in the local markets and to the army and sometimes travel to Nubra, Hunder and Diskit to sell their fruits.

IMG_3304
Fields of Turtuk

Baltistan was predominantly a Buddhist region which changed when Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, a poet from Iran and an Islamic scholar, arrived there in the 13th century CE.  An old mosque near the memorial of Captain Haneef Uddin (Kargil war hero) still stands in the old part of Turtuk. While its exact period of construction remains unknown, it was first renovated in 1690 CE. The mosque has a blend of Buddhist designs, swastikas, and Iranian motifs. Turtuk villagers are mostly Muslims, unlike other parts of the Nubra valley, and 70% of them follow the Nurbakhshi school of Sufi Islam.

DSC_0646
The bridge that one has to cross to reach the old monastery and the mosque

As we walked through the narrow cobbled lanes of the village, we marvelled at the wooden, gaily painted houses that were huddled together, almost as if they wished to escape the winter cold. Some houses showed old carvings on them. As we explored the village further, following the hand-painted map, we found a wooden house that was larger than the other houses and it turned out to be the museum and the king’s former summer palace.  At the entrance gate there was a large wooden eagle hanging, which symbolised the ‘saviour’. As we looked at the house (it certainly didn’t look like a palace), we suddenly noticed the old wooden doors and the wooden carved cornices that still held flaky remnants of colours on them, and it seemed as if these old walls were telling us a story of a kingdom long lost.

DSC_0656
The wooden eagle on the gate of the former summer palace’

Inside the palace courtyard

The worn out wooden pillars, thick wooden beams, delicate arches in wood, bright carpets, all speak of a bygone era

DSC_0665
On the terrace, there is a vineyard !

Left: Photographs of the current ‘king’ Kacho Mohammad Khan, his grandfather and father. Right: A painting of Beg Manthal, who started the Yabgo dynasty rule in  Ladakh in the 9th century CE

Various artefacts in the family museum.

The remnants of ‘king’ Kacho Mohammad Khan’s family wealth are seen in his DSC_0669 own private museum in the summer palace. The collection includes coins, old metal and earthen pots, silver ink containers, shields, arrows used in war, lapis lazuli encrusted sword, paintings, clothes, headgear, footwear, family record books, leopard traps,stuffed heads of hunted animals, along with a donation box for the visitors. The current ‘king,’ who is a writer and lover of books, earns his daily bread by selling fruits and vegetables to the Indian army. He is also likely to be the last king of his dynasty that once ruled Baltistan for more than 1000 years. His only son is more interested in doing business than performing the role of a non-functional king of a non-existent kingdom.

Turtuk, a charming high altitude border village, with its hospitable and friendly people, has steadfastly refused to take part in any attempts at radicalisation, and are solely focused towards creating a cordial atmosphere. Their patience and efforts have borne fruit, and today tourists are coming in from all parts of the world to Turtuk and returning with wonderful memories of love and affection received from the villagers. With hopes of a better tomorrow,  Turtuk can now sit smug and revel in the stories of its past glory.

Author – Monidipa Bose

She can be can be contacted at monidipadey@rocketmail.com

or at

Monidipa

Chandragiri Fort Museum – A Photo Story

Chandragiri on the Tirupati – Bangalore highway has an unusual address for an ASI Museum- Raja Mahal; a Nayaka palace located inside the Chandragiri Fort. The fort It is located in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. Unusual because down South, fort palaces are hardly converted into museums, yet it is the perfect setting for displaying the excavated remains from the archaeological sites of Yaganti and Chandragiri and also of the bronzes and stone sculptures that are remnants of the artistic splendor of the Vijayanagara period (1336-1565 CE ). The empire at its zenith ruled most of South India and was considered its rule was marked with artistic and cultural advances among many others.

The address was once the palace of Chandragiri Nayakas, those very Nayakas who came to the rescue of Vijayanagar Rayas after the battle at Talikota. Chandragiri became  the capital of the Rayas. The fort has been attributed to Shivappa Naik of Yadava Naik dynasty and is more than a 1000 years old. Its most glorious period was under the Vijayanagara rule when it was made the capital of the mighty empire.

IMG_6308.CR2

The Raja Mahal is architecturally akin to the Lotus Mahal at Hampi. It is a three storied palace crowned with towers in Hindu architectural tradition. Arches are used to bring in a feel of space and lightness. It is constructed with stone, brick, lime and mortar devoid of timber. The floors are supported by massive pillars. The central tower that covers the durbar hall rises through the two floors. The floors are supported by massive pillars while the walls bear fine plaster and stucco decorations. The six tiered pastel hued Raja Mahal, built in Indo – Sarcenic style, set amidst manicured  lawns and surrounded by the Chandragiri mountains  is  an inspired setting to showcase  the rich legacy of Vijayanagara art and architecture.

ASI at Chandragiri is a modern day avatar  of the Nayakas. It  is restoring the glory of regional architecture much like it did of the Vijayanagar empire!

IMG_6194.CR2

The museum houses rich artefacts found in Andhra Pradesh. The findings displayed  are from Gandikota, Yaganti, Chandragiri, Guddimallam, Cuddapah district and Kurnool district. The idea is to showcase the rich regional and material heritage of the area whose history goes back to thousands of years. Although most of the exhibits belong to the 16th and the 17th centuries and are in the artistic Vijayanagara style , yet the subtle local influences are discernible. Walking down the corridors, reading the tags , barely  familiar with the sites the mind is suitably challenged and pleased at the same time.

IMG_6234

The arched corridors along which the regally robed Rayas once strolled , discussing war strategies with their commanders, now house stone sculptures discovered in the region . Who can tell what secrets these mute stones have heard and hold , sealed , within themselves !

 

_DSC6807 corrected
Pic credit – Jay Shankar

A single file of lovely stone icons salvaged from Gandikota and Renigunta is headed , auspiciously,  by a Ganesha from Renigunta

_DSC6755 corrected

Vishnu in lalitasana. Notice the fine details chiseled with perfection in stone. Pic credit – Jay Shankar

 

_DSC6691 corrected
Pic credit – Jay Shankar

Above : Soma Skanda and Parvati; Below : Details of the upper body and clothes of Parvati. The Vijayanagara rule saw a gradual transition from Chloritic Schist to Granite for sculptures. Though soapstone was still preferred but granite was being increasingly used leading to sublime pieces like the above one. Pics credit – Jay Shankar

IMG_6231.CR2

The Alwar saints sitting in calm repose.

The highlight of this floor is the Navagraha collection retrieved from the Uma Maheshwara temple at Yaganti

IMG_6236

One of the Navagraha to help you understand the depth of sculptural beauty of this region.

IMG_6239

Who else but Chandra, the  Lord of Chandragiri

The scene stealer of the ground floor or rather of the museum is the Bronze gallery. The Vijayanagara bronzes follow the tradition set by the Chola bronzes. These are panch kula or five metal icons; Copper, tin, zinc, lead and traces of gold and silver were used in casting these icons with most of them being Utsav moortis that were cast using the lost wax process.

The bronzes displayed at the Chandragiri museum belong to the later Vijayanagar period. These are classified as lesser Vijayanagar and closer to later provincial Chola bronzes.  Experts feel that these are more stylized, less natural and heavily cold worked as seen in the hatched designs.

But to the  untrained, uncritical eyes all look sublime, sensuous and supreme!

 

Vishnu in his many forms. Pics credit – Jay ShankarIMG_6140 (2)

Lakshmi Narasimha

IMG_6138.CR2

Bal Gopala

Although the Rayas patronized Vaishnavism, the local Nayakas were Shaivas. At Chandragiri we see this icono-eclecticism

_DSC6676 corrected

Soma Skanda and Parvati. Pic credit – Jay Shankar

_DSC6851 correctedPoet King Krishna Deva Raya with his consorts. Pic credit – Jay Shankar

The reservoir at the base of the hillock collected rain water and made the fort self – sufficient. Today, it is used for pedal boating. There is a light and sound show in the evening that gives a general overview about the history and cultural significance of this place. For both history buffs and art connoisseurs, the corridors and halls of the palace are no less enthralling as they are enlightening and educative.IMG_6306

One long lingering look as you walk out of the palace thanking the ASI DG Mr. Tiwari who gave the timely permission to take photographs and the Senior Conservationist Mr G. Srinivasulu who made the visit memorable.

IMG_6312

This  too is a teertha, a place of pilgrimage, albeit of a different kind.

 

All the pictures used in the post belong to the author unless stated otherwise. Cover pic credit – Jay Shankar

Author – Aparna Pande Misra

She can be contacted at aparna.anusha.28@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sanskriti Kendra – Delhi’s Hidden Gem

Growing up in a family where visiting a museum was akin to visiting a religious shrine, it was but natural that when I shifted to Delhi, the first places on my to-visit list were the museums here. The national capital offers many museums, the most well known of which is the National Museum, a great favourite place of mine, as it allows photography with no holds barred. Besides this great storehouse of ancient and medieval relics, there is the National Rail Museum that holds old trains, the National Gallery of Modern Art, and the National Museum of Natural history, which unfortunately is now burnt to cinders taking away with it some of the priceless stuffed animals that were on display there. Then there is the Nehru Memorial Museum, the National Philatelic Museum, the Indian Air Force Museum, the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, Museums at the Red fort and Salimgarh (rarely visited by people) and many more. Among these, quietly tucked away on the Gurgaon-Mehrauli Road (known as the MG Road) is the Anandagram, which houses the Sanskriti Kendra.

Founded by Mr. O. P. Jain in 1990 under the umbrella of Sanskriti Foundation, the museum complex is spread over a large campus with pretty buildings and lovely lawns. The Sanskriti Kendra rarely sees many footfalls, except perhaps on weekends, exhibitions, or during workshops. Yet it houses three well stocked museums: the Museum of Everyday Art, Museum of Indian Terracotta, and the Museum of Textiles that integrate the modern with the traditional, by preserving and displaying our indigenous culture, art, workmanship, different cultural practices, and their functionalities in our daily lives. Unfortunately photography isn’t allowed inside the two museums (a rule that I heartily deplore). There are many old and modern artefacts placed artfully across the campus, and one can easily spend a pleasurable afternoon strolling across the extensive lawns and brightly coloured buildings. Along with the museums, the campus also houses a library, an Amphitheatre, art galleries and studios which run in-house art programs teaching folk art forms to both kids and adults alike.

The gaily coloured buildings of the Sanskriti Museum. It reminds me of Tagore’s Santiniketan which has similar rustic buildings giving a feel of space and freedom.

 

LRM_20170430_131348

A modern sculpture of the head of Buddha placed in the lawns

 

 

LRM_20170430_093419

A beautiful  old dresser

\LRM_20170430_093410

A lovely Jharokha with vertical lattice screen panels in red sandstone and old wooden windows

 

LRM_20170430_094401

Old elephant head pieces in wood used as the base for a wooden pillar that in turn supports a large modern birdhouse

LRM_20170430_093354

Large birdhouse with a peacock as the wind vane

 

 

 

 

LRM_20170430_093334

An old wooden piece (probably a part of some larger furniture)

IMG_20170504_135143_795

A rather looking happy looking crocodile ready to enter the water

LRM_20170430_093039

Warli art on the houses inside the campus

 

LRM_20170430_092932

Another old wooden artefact on display

 

LRM_20170430_093312

The Museum of Indian Textiles

It has 6 galleries. The first one has samples of indigo, madder, cotton and silk, the four basic ingredients of Indian textiles. Indigo and madder are considered among the world’s oldest dyes with a history going back to the time of Indus valley civilisation. The display cards also talk of folklores associated with textiles like silk. Legends say that silk was discovered by accident in China when a cocoon fell into the tea cup of a Chinese empress and the strands separated in the warm water of the tea, leading to the discovery of silk threads. The Chinese fiercely guarded the secret of the making of silk threads and thus reigned supreme in the silk trade for a long time, until the secret was revealed to some non-Chinese traders, some say by a Chinese princess. The other galleries in this museum contain beautiful 18th– 19th c. CE pigmented textiles, phulkari embroidery, kantha work, and kashmiri stitches on pashmina wool. Here the museum gives a very interesting anecdote on pashmina wool. The word pashmina is derived from the Persian pashm (meaning wool). This superior quality wool wasn’t produced in Kashmir, and was actually taken from the Ladakhi goat known as capra hircus langier.  All of Ladakh’s wool production was monopolised by Kashmir hence the pashmina was taken to be of kashmiri origin. Besides these, there are some beautiful 18th and 19th c. Jain tapestries in both silk and cotton from Jain temples made mostly by nuns. The Gujarat and Rajasthan chain stitch and bandhej collections are beautiful, followed by interesting ikats from Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Gujarat.  The last gallery holds brocades from Benaras, South India, and Gujarat, along with baluchari and jamdani from Bengal. It is indeed a textile lover’s paradise, and strolling through the galleries one wonders at the uniqueness of Indian textiles that are each a labour of love.

An ornate brass panel on the lintel, intricate woodwork on the pillars and a wrought iron bracket decorate the entrance to the Museum of Textiles

 

The Museum of Everyday Art

It houses interesting items from daily use like nutcrackers, shrines, spoons, cups, plates, knives, etc, and all of these items that are for basic functional use, have been turned into works of art by the hands of different craftsmen.

LRM_20170430_093110

The entrance to the Museum of Everyday Art that houses old utensils, old musical instruments and various other items used in daily lives

IMG_20170502_082502_452

An old wooden bracket placed tastefully at the entrance of the Museum of Everyday Art

 

The Museum of Indian Terracotta

It  displays almost 1,500 artefacts from various tribal communities of India, in its open gallery

1524973_10207797716486019_3698014102348658861_n

Terracotta horses from various regions in the country

 

Address : Sanskriti Kendra, Anandagram, Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road, Delhi

The nearest metro station is Arjan Garh on the Yellow line

Time to Visit : 10 AM to 5 PM on all days except Mondays and Public Holidays.

 

Author – Monidipa Bose

She can be contacted at monidipadey@rocketmail.com or at Moni Gatha