Shyok : The River of Death
The Shyok. A wild River which rises in the Rimo Glacier which is one of the branches of the Siachen Glacier in the Karakorams and and its one of the biggest Glacial systems in the Trans Himalayas. The Glacier is more famous for the dubious distinction of being the highest battlefield in the World.
That the name of this River rising from this Glacier means “The River of Death” in the Ladakhi/ Yarkandi language is rather a matter of coincidence and does not stem from the same reference. It comes from the fact that during the journey North from Leh towards Yarkand in Central Asia the River had to be crossed multiple times. In fact for the Winter route the Shyok had to be crossed a total of 22 times. But the upside was that it was comparatively the easiest to cross in the Winters. Many Men and pack animals were swept away by this River and hence it ended up with the notorious name and a deadly reputation. Thankfully nowadays there are many Bridges over the River which enables one to cross over safely.
From its point of origin the Shyok the River flows in a Southerly direction and is joined by the Galwan and the Chang Chenmo Rivers. In this area the Shyok forms a boundary between Ladakh and Tibet. And then the River takes a u turn and starts flowing North from somewhere before the Village of Shyok. This has been attributed to the fact that the Shyok flows through one of the main Tectonic fault lines that separates the Himalayas from the Karakorams. The Shyok is still considered the landmark that demarcates between the two mightiest Ranges in the World. So when you descend from the Khardung La the Mountains you see beyond the River are the Karakorams.
Strangely the whole area through which the Shyok flows beyond Khalsar is referred to as the Nubra Valley where as the Nubra is a just a tributary which joins the Shyok in vast flood plain just before the Village of Diskit. Like the Shyok also rises in the wilds of the Karakorams / Trans Himalayas and heads South like all good Rivers do but the same phenomenon which causes the Shyok to take a U turn compels the Nubra to also join along the Shyok.
And the Shyok continues its journey North as it enters what was historically the region of Baltistan somewhere before the Village of Turtuk which is well known Tourist destination now. And beyond Turtuk it passes Tyakashi and finally the last Village on this side of the LOC Thang and then flows into Pakistan controlled territory.
Once there it is further joined by the Shigar River which carries the glacial waters from the Baltoro and the Biafo Glaciers. It passes by the town of Khapalu and finally merges with the Indus at Keris, a town to the East of Skardu. A total journey of around 550 kms through some of the most hotly contested border areas between India, China and Pakistan. From the Siachen to the being the dividing line between India and China to again heading up the LOC at the head of the Nubra Valley. Its almost the like the nomenclature “The River of Death” has a new context. A much deadlier one.
One can now travel almost 190 kms along the length of the River from the Village of Shyok all the way upto Thang at the LOC. Like I did last week and the River of Death was in all its fury especially where the Valley became narrower. And we had a narrow escape when a landslide hit just a few minutes as we were driving along the River. If it would have hit us we would have been swept away into the wild Shyok and the River would have again lived upto its reputation.
Posting a Video which was shot the next day when the Road open after crews came in from the Thoise Airport to remove the landslide debris. The next day also when we reached Men and Machine were hard at work to remove the last of the debris. The Video was shot as we waited for the all clear to cross affected part.
Next time you are there do pay your respects to the Shyok, the River of Death