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Visiting Chushul 50 years ago
7/8/2020 11:53:05 PM

Dr. S.S.Soodan

In the words of Einstein, “Time and Space are not conditions of existence, Time and Space is the model of thinking.”
Fifty years back, in the year 1970, I volunteered to conduct eye surgeries in the then remote frontier district of Ladakh then a part of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. It was almost 8 years after the ‘1962 Indo-China War’. Those days even when on Government duty, an internal permit was required to enter Ladakh.
The journey by Jeep from Nyoma to Chushul on the makeshift dust track was a unique experience. The rugged terrain flanked by endless hills, barren lands and the sight of few Kiangs (Himalayan wild ass) roaming around in the hope of finding some sparse vegetation in the area was in itself a reflection of an unheard echo of an era for their survival! A strange silence filled the air; the flat plateau and the area around were littered with jerry cans which must have been used for air droppings of fuel before and during the inclement weather. Such were the harsh conditions of the place, it was said that the retrieval of those supply materials was more expensive than leaving it as such.
Coloured with the natural hues of brown, pink and purples; the rustic mountains as if reflected their own mystical silence after the war. Short of Chushul, we paid our homage to the modest memorial of 1962 war hero Major Shaitan Singh. It was located in a small enclosure on the side of road in the region where he sacrificed his life fighting the enemy. There were scanty shrubs planted around this desolate, windswept place and it somehow looked as the most unvisited memorial. He was a posthumous winner of Param Vir Chakra- we knew the saga behind the supreme courage and devotion to duty of this fearless spirit who was killed in the battle to protect the Chushul airfield, I still remember that after visiting this soul stirring place, a deep longing and conviction had engulfed the heart that one day our nation will do better to have memorials for such heroes in the main land also where others could learn and emulate their feats.
The Chushul air field and its air terminal used earlier for transport planes appeared deserted. To avoid harsh and chilly winds, we took our yak milk salt tea in an underground cellar with side walls made of jerry cans.
Onward travel to Darbuk was along the pristine banks of Pangong Tso lake. Situated at an altitude of 4350 meters (14270 feet) above sea level, this mesmerizing lake is 134 km long and is the biggest salt water lake in Asia which extends from India to Tibetan autonomous region. Standing and looking at the lake, approx 5 km wide at its broadest point, suddenly it felt that the shimmering turquoise water made the area look more majestic. Even today this lake remains as a bone of contention between the two warring nations. Daulat Beg Oldi and Galwan Valley were at close distance and reaching those places also demanded much physical strength.
Visiting Chushul in 1970 when at each step the travel seemed perilous and comparing it to the development of the barren cold desert into a beautiful tourist destination now looks as if time and space has rightly overtaken the meaning from mere existence to creating the model of thinking.
Dappled by light and changing colours, even today the Pangong Lake remains as one of the most visited tourist destination as many flock to the beautiful backdrop where the last scenes of bollywood film 3- idiots were shot. So to put it simple let’s not forget that the things have developed. Contemplate on what all we have achieved in this land over the time. New road connections have made life more sustainable than it was then many years ago. It is to the credit of our subsequent Governments to have developed the roads and communication network at such high altitude in this area. Reaching the heights, defending our rights and winning with our might should not seem impossible now.
The efforts for saving the national integrity shall surely not go wasted. The sacrifices of many war heroes will always be valued. Surviving in extreme harsh climate with limited facilities and other essential supplies was one of the greatest hurdles of those times. The 1962 war during the extreme winter months was a tough wakeup call for our ill equipped forces fed on a regular diet of the oft repeated hollow slogans like ‘ non violence’, panchsheel and Hindi-Chini “Bhai Bhai’’.
Thank heavens we are much better prepared now. Let’s also not forget that during those times, the news papers were our only source of information. These days, the satellites and information technology have involved the whole nation and with better equipped men and materials, let’s keep the faith that the nation is ever ready to defend its borders.
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