Driving through one of the dangerous yet proudest lands of India : Part 4 of Ladakh series

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Photo of Driving through one of the dangerous yet proudest lands of India : Part 4 of Ladakh series by Diya Tilara

On our second last day of our trip we were going back to Leh from Pangong Lake. We had to again reach Leh via Chang La pass. But the morning we were leaving, we got to know that the road through Chang La pass was closed due to heavy snowfall & landslide. We were a group of 8 people travelling in an Innova car & we also had an army gypsy with us, as we had our uncle who was a retired wing commander in the navy travelling with us. So there were orders given that the army vehicles could not go through Chang La pass for safety reasons. And all the other private vehicles could go from there on their own risk. All of us wanted to be together throughout the journey so the Army Jawans and the Innova driver decided to go back to Leh through Chushul though it would take us alot more time to reach our hotel in Leh. We all obviously assumed that after Pangong our exciting trip had come to an end, but little did we know that we had more adventure coming our way. I & one of our fellow traveller were seated in the Gypsy with the Jawans and everyone else was in the Innova. We started our journey towards Leh through a land where there were no proper roads at a point as it was not a route which travellers usually took. We were knee we were going in the right direction as we followed the telephone wires and poles. After 1 hour or so of us driving on the bone rattling route, we lost those wires and poles and there came a patch of frozen snow. As the Gypsy's are made to be driven on all terrains, it could go across it but the Innova could not. So we were stuck in the middle of nowhere for 15/20 minutes figuring it out. Then we saw a shepherd there. She was taken aback on seeing the Army Gypsy and jawans approaching her. But they had to for asking her if there was an alternate route. On asking, she pointed towards a wide stream parallel to us and said that we had to cross the stream and could continue our journey. The jawans then told us that the land after crossing the stream was China's land. We were shook, they then showed us the Chinese Army's bunkers on the mountains across the stream and also Indian Army's bunkers in the mountains on our side of the land. We then thought that there might be some miscommunication with the shepherd because of the language barrier, she might have misunderstood the question. After some more of brainstorming we got a solution and were out of the problem. We were all thrilled to be on such a land. The sight was too scenic, there were rocks, pebbles, snow, stream, mountains, mules and horses grazing nearby. After one and half our of the scenic drive all thr scenery vanished and it was all barren.  We also could see a van across the stream on a mountain which was supposedly a van which supplied food to those Soldiers on duty in the bunkers. We had alot of time to reach Leh and were being annoying to the Jawans by repeatedly asking them that when will we reach our hotel. Then to keep us engaged they started telling us about the battle which was fought on the land which we were driving. We were flabbergasted and were then curious to know the details about it. They were also enthusiastic to share the stories of the bravery of the Armed forces. They began, on 18 November 1962 Chushul was the place where the greatest stand was ever taken in the history of armed forces across the world. The Charlie company of 120 Jawans of 13 Kumaon led by Major Shaitan Singh was protecting Chushul airfield which was vital if India had to hold on to Ladakh. The people's liberation Army of 5000-6000 soldiers equipped with heavy artillery support attacked Chushul early morning. And to make matters worse, a crest of the ridge prevented Indian artillery from lending support, leaving the Jawans to fight for themselves. A lesser army might have retreated but the company led by Major Shaitan Singh fought till the last man, last round, last breath. Legend says that the brave 120 killed close to 1300 enemy soldiers. Only 6 of the 120 member company survived the war. They did not hive up & kept retaliating with whatever means they had. Those remaining 6 were taken as Prisoners of war by Chinese, but miraculously all of them escaped. Major Shaitan Singh was later awarded the much deserved Paran Vir Chakra, the company was also awarded 5 Vir Chakras and 4 Sena medals. Listening to this story of bravery by the courageous and proud soldiers on the land on which it took place gave me chills. We also saw the memorial which was built in their memory, it was situated nearby. Mostly tourist visit that memorial and return back. It was almost 6 to 7 hours drive and as proud as we were about our Armed forces we were also exhausted due to the journey. We then stopped at a natural spring, rested there for a bit, had maggie and continued again. It was around 11 pm when we reached our hotel in Leh. But this offbeat drive was all worth it as it will be the most cherished memory of our trip.

Photo courtesy: Yogesh Sarkar

Photo of Chushul War Memorial Park, Chushul by Diya Tilara
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