By R S Jassal
1. Sometime back I along with my wife was returning from Somsai (Ukhrul) after attending the Raising Day dinner, that on way back at Ramva, we decided to spend a few moments in the Gazebo so beautifully constructed by the Assam Rifles for rest and refreshments. The moment I entered Gazebo I was received with grin smile and salute “Ram Ram Sahib” and the Johnny vanished to bring water for us followed by refreshing tea. I glanced through the visitor book lying in one corner. I was struck with the recorded remarks by one visiting officer Col OP Beniwal (Retd) ……quote, “17 AR THE SUPREME”, as we all know has a very chequered history ………. But can’t help mentioning that the PBOR (Persons below officer rank) are simple hearted and authority reverent. They spontaneously call “Jai Hind” very proudly and do not utter a single word more unless spoken to further”………… unquote
2. This ‘Jai Hind’ and remarks in the Visitors Book and the “Ram Ram” made me travel down the memory lanes rever-berating the ethos of my 34 years of long service with the force in various sectors of the North Eastern Region. I received many such greetings, days in and days out but I never gauged the depth of a soldier’s simple but well treasured wish then, as I did at this particular moment that day. Thanks to Col Beniwal’s pen. (Incidentally he happens to be the father of the present CO of the Bn).
3. Getting over the nostalgic undercurrent emotions, I shook my head erect to realise how true the observation was, I was with this very Battalion in 1982-1983-1984. It reminded me of the conduct of one memorable Long Range Patrol (LRP) with 17 AR boys when they were in Sikkim North which just reeled back. It was on Thangu to Tsa-La pass to Mungthang absolute high altitude and back to Pegong – the Bn HQ. It was a special patrol consisting of all arms i.e. Infantry, Artillery, EME, ASC and Medical Corps with responsibility fell on me as Infantry officer to be the leader. We were provided full logistic support by way of employing local guides and ‘yaks’ to carry 50 men’s ration/tentages and woollens, which were otherwise not possible for men to carry on person. Thangu about 10000 feet above the sea level was start point and the distances to be covered were in short stretches though, but time consuming, as we were to go up to the top of the Tsa-La mountain, over high altitude rising up to 15500 feet then to go down the other side of the mountain into Tibetan territory to, go along a river bed and with up and down scaling down to lower altitude of 13000 ft to go to Mungthang southwards and back to Thangu. Since the abortive patrol of SIB (1959) the pass was understood to be closed for commutation so I was given an option by Commander 64 Mtn Bde to call off from any point if risk factors dictated so. We set on. After half an hour to 45 minutes marching, we started exasperating for breath. A Yak was offered to me I climbed on but straight comes my helper (Batman) urging me to avoid ride. He told ‘you go as slow as you wish, but if you ride even for 20-30 minutes your knees will feel jammed and it will be difficult for you to climb the last stretch after 2-3 days’. This stretch was mostly vertical covered with loose slipping stones covered with dwarf bushes and the yak was to take us only up to foothills as beyond that the yak also could not have climbed and had to be back with tentage etc, to join us on the other a
xis to receive us on the way back for carriage of our loads. It exactly happened so that after 10 minutes I started feeling my legs going motionless. So I climbed down and joined the walking party.
4. On arrival at first halt, the boys started the administrative goodies of camping and I was given my readied bivouac followed by a hot cup of tea. While camping we saw a single extended line of snow deers, of about 30 in number over a wide spread of slipping boulders and stones caused by shooting avalanches 500-600 ft above us. The deers were looking down into our team with anxiety and their numerical strength kept on adding. After about 10 minutes while other preparations were on, I heard sound of a rifle shot of two rounds. I came out and saw three – four jawans on the skyline. It came to, that two of them were carrying enamel plates and no weapon and two others carried rifles. The fire did not achieve the target as their move was detected by the deers and the entire flock ran fast and disappeared in the high reaches beyond. Since I am basically not in favour of killing animals, but did not want to scold these soldiers, in their act for not being pre-consulted, I was more than happy that no animal was killed. I was explained that if any animal of this lot had got contact of the reflection of the enamel plate, it couldn’t have moved and the firer could have gone closer for a sure kill. I don’t know what was amiss in the event there other than that sun rays had set down behind aloft finger hill ranges. Then during night about three & four big stone like slated objects fall (rolling down) quite close to our tentages which disheartened half the team who decided to fall back and they implored me also to return.
Night moon light was amazingly illuminating. However after three days with the camp stores yaks rolled back to Mungthang via same route to meet us on the other side of the Tsa La mountains. After two hours of zig zag scaling over steep up climbs we reached on a well laid wide foot/yak track, which was an old established route to Tibet over which His Holiness Dalai Lama or his plenipotentiaries used to come down to Sikkim Monastery (very big monastery) in West of Gangtok to bless his followers and also on other routine political / religious/spiritual missions. On the north easternly side we could see a huge wide deep open cauldron type well created by slid-slip fallen snow avalanches inside due melting in process and somewhere loaths of broken but huge snow materials lying inside having slipped from top of the surrounding mountains of Tsa-La ranges. It was terrifying to look to imagine supposing somebody from the team in a climbing mode slips into that and he just could not be evacuated even by helicopter.
The more we go up the more terrifying it looked as & when ever glanced down stealingly though it presented a spectacular view but definitely not without a fear – a fear of unknown. So our guide kept us pressing westward to make us walk safely on the loose stones confirmed for stability by his preceding safe test walk and he took us onto the top in six hours. Now the choice was either to abandon mission and return or move forward with calculated risks. I was told that the last abortive mission to go up though this route was attempted by one SIB patrol during 1959 and up to 1983 no other patrol was ventured and pass remained closed and unmaintained providing negative knowledge to the locals. May be during 1959, there was a necessity to reconnoiter Tsa-La route to get the Dalai Lama team to Gangtok Monastery through that pass to lodge them there temporarily & then to Siliguri. On the third day all other officers from other services returned as they got apprehensive of becoming casualty from the shooting stones/slabs likely to be trapped over. More over proper pass route stood blocked & closed. Our AR team of 18 total plus one Artillery young officer (a Subaltern) remained intact till completion of our mission. He was a really determined and tough guy and carried his ANPRC 25 wireless set also on him throughout, and I was feeling heavy to move on even with pistol, forget about carrying wireless set. My hats off to him.
5. Around 3pm we reached on the top and then we were to roll down the reverse slope. I straightaway asked the radio set operator to pass back information that we have achieved our mission. I then decided to lie on my back with my face looking upward to the sky for brief rest to appreciate Mother Nature about the clean atmosphere at such heights. No pollution, no litter around and the wind was so comforting. Here again comes my helper, “Sir, get up, do not relax, you have to move down running or in quick steps but with balanced control” and I agreed. Lo! within 20 minutes we were on the down slope the other side. Must have lost about 2000 feets in altitude. There was huge lake of blue water not stirring: we could also see our faces reflection down in clear water. There were lot many coins inside lake offered by visiting devotees. I also pushed in a coin and quickly said some prayers as I generally used to carry on me our “Gutka Sahab” (smallest holy book of the Sikhs). I real
ly felt all my tiredness vanish, for this I say my thanks to my Assam Rifles helper who had earlier experience of this nature of LRP and especially of Tsa-La. While moving down to the lake, at times we had to run steadily fall on the slope, get up again, readjust and slide again. Some of us even getting our pants bottoms torn due to surface rubbing against hard rocky stones. This experience I wanted to write many a times but I could not muster up any opportunity since I write on subjects of varied interests after my retirement. And Manipur is heaven for journalist so far access to topic of variety is concerned. Thanks to Col Beniwal (Retd) for reigniting this desire in me because of his remarks in the book. This LRP is not the only event I have experienced. AR jawan jumps up to grab any opportunity to volunteer if there is any call for flood relief, earthquake relief or other natural calamities like outbreak of fire, mechanical transport accidents. Equally they act tough on search missions in counter insurgency duties. My mission was successful because of Assam Rifles personnel on my patrol
6. Earth Quake – sinking of road MANGAN. There was a big earth shake up preceded by continuous downpour of 7-10 days in North Sikkim affecting Mangan & Rangrang, 96 families with accommodation of BRTF labour force along road moved in lap of mother earth due big crack & sink submerged in to Teesta side road wide opening gap and disappearing into the oblivion while asleep in the night and no survival was left to tell any story. With no trace they just vanished into earth’s lap. Assam Rifles wing HQ at Rangrang was severely damaged yet in the morning on call of duty they were up in areas around to prepare tracks for human movement to reach Mangan as road was badly broken with wide gaps severely affecting road alignment making human movements impossible to unthinkable grid. AR jawans themselves awake whole night provided relief in exceptionally high spirits, though many of their own belongings were lost leaving one ration store completely damaged. It was in 1983 Sep on yet other occasion 104 Engineer Regt on way to Yumsemdong South to construct two coy RCC defences came under heavy crush of loose stones with earth & water mixed debris. The Regt lost one officer, four JCOs and about 34 Sappers buried alive due to earth cracks & four loops of road to Yumsemdong south disappearing & stones with heavy mesh of earth falling on their tents. There also, Assam Rifles troops of this very Battalion joined the survivors to take out dead bodies. It was a real pathetic scene. But AR jawan did his duty undeterred and bringing evacuees to nearby Lachung post. Mission of moving up was again undertaken within four days. A very good work done GOC 17 Mtn Div christened main defenses as Janak Garh and Rattan Top (Artillery Observation Post) on names of Lt Col Janak Singh Sesodia the then, CO and Rattan of course my name as a result of Assam Rifles Jawans “Service above self”. I am really proud of you my wing troops for construction of company defenses, Construction
was completed within 45 days against granted period of 60 days despite the odds aforesaid. The nation respects you Junior Commanders, their Wing Commander & Commandant since honoured. I salute you my dear “SENTINEL OF THE NORTH EAST’ ‘FIGHTER OF NATURAL VAGARIES”. Here in Manipur, same Battalion along with 23 AR were tasked to evacuate NSCN (IM) camp at Siroi. They did wonderful job by displaying human spirit & duty proving their mettle of determination to complete job without firing a shot. Bn was to evacuate NSCN (IM) camp at Siroi – tourist RH, ‘camp also taken note’ of Siroi remained under siege for 24 -27 days till up stuck under final instructions from MHA. Explosive situation then, but controlled deftly standing face to face with both sides armed for days and nights together. Uniformed soldier were either side, could have caused any situation. I had my self visited that camp one day to convey through village headman & pastor that fight was between MHA & NSCN (IM) leadership so not to vitiate the environs under any hasty step. The response was good and stand-of solved by closing that camp and shifting them to Bunning camp merging with already existing another camp also taken note of there. Now I learn it is called Hothrong Camp. This is the superb fine contribution of Jawans. I retired from Manipur-Mizoram border Jiribam to Tipaimukh in 1997.
7. Assam Rifles jawan is a figure of discipline, dedication, smartness and sparkling shine of Majri-Silver grey in peace and OG in combat role with smiling salute ‘Jai-Hind’ revering their authorities. He is replica of strength, valour, endurance and thrusted thrust of ferocious face to the enemy at IB and a combination of quick action with sympathetic approach while on IS duties. A real sagacious soldier, embodiment of peace and development, upholder of secular image of the Nation.