One harsh wintry morning in December 1971, Ghulam Hussain left his home in Pharnu village in Pakistan along with his sheep to graze them across the hills in Thang village of Turtuk, which was then under Pakistan control. His father gave him the order to spend a couple of nights on a small plot of property that belonged to the family. The nineteen-year-old Pakistani boy followed his father’s instructions to the letter.
Hussain was caught in the crossfire of a fierce battle that broke out between the Indian and Pakistani armies on December 8, 1971 of that year, along with many others. For the ensuing few days, he remained hidden. By the time the fighting ceased (on December 14), Indian Army had captured Turtuk, which until then was in complete Pakistan control. Ghulam Hussain has transformed into an Indian over night!
The tricolour that is flying above his home to commemorate the nation's 75th Independence Day is something the 71-year-old man still swears by today. “I’ve been separated from my wife and parents for 50 years. India has given me everything, a new identity, a large family, and a decent and comfortable life,” says Hussain.
India is his home
Turtuk, in the Ladakh district, is bordered by Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region and is located in the portion of Baltistan that is administered by India. It is located at Nubra Valley’s extreme end. The charming village is about 200 kilometres from Leh and is only 2.5 kilometres from the Line of Control. It is perched beneath the K2 peak.
Hussain learned of his parents' passing through letters exchanged between him and his relatives. “I believed the Indian Army would kill me when they spotted me back then. Instead, they supported me, fed me, and I began aiding them in transportation of supplies," recalls Hussain, who shares a Thang village connection with his second wife and has six sons and a daughter.
These 30 people (Hussain’s sons, wives, and grandsons) live in their own home and receive all benefits from the government.
During the 1971 war to liberate Bangladesh, Indian advancing forces captured Turbulent and three other nearby villages, Tyakshi, Chalunka, and Thang.
For many local veterans, this is in stark contrast to what they used to witness on August 14 each year __ Pakistan independence day — prior to 1971. “Back then, Pakistani flags were seen atop their bunkers but there was no celebratory atmosphere as such on Pakistani I day. Here in India, Indian Independence day is always a celebration. This year it is more of a festival as each one of us got to erect flag in our houses,” says Ameena Banu, age 72, of Thang village.
She was one of the many Turtuk residents who overnight became Indian.
When travelling through Turtuk, it is impossible to miss the multi-ethnic culture that is home to less than 3,500 people who speak various languages and worship various deities.
“We receive rations, have a water connection, a gas cylinder, and a bank account all thanks to the central government. Here, we have a good life and our kids get jobs. What more can we ask for? asks Ashfaq Karim as students from a nearby school chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai... slogans in preparation for tomorrow's I-day celebrations."
What is it that Turtukis want today in particular?
They reminisce about the good old days spent with family and friends and chant, “Indian Army should have captured the entire Baltistan so that our families would not have been separated,” many of whom have no choice but to remain in Pakistan-controlled Baltistan.
- Nurbakshi Shias, Sufis, Sunnis, Buddhists, Ahmadiyas and Ismaili Shias live peacefully across Turtuk. Most of them are into farming and grow Apricots.
- Turtuk, in the Ladakh district, is bordered by Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region and is located in the portion of Baltistan that is administered by India.
- In 2010, it became accessible to tourists.
- Six days, from December 8 to December 14, 1971, were devoted to the Battle of Turtuk.
- The Karakoram scouts and the Gilgit scouts were fighting fiercely with the Ladakh scouts and Nubra guards. Heavy casualties were observed on both sides.
- The village of Turtuk, which is currently experiencing Indian Independence Day festivities, is located in a strategically significant area because it is close to the Line of Control (LoC), which separates it from Pakistani-administrated Gilgit-Baltistan to the north.
- In the east, where Ladakh is administered by India and Aksai Chin is administered by China, it is also relatively close to the Line of Actual Control.
- The terrain is rough, with deep, narrow gorges and ravines, making the area extremely uninhabitable.