Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The Karpola (16,000 feet) and Hatungla(18000) Pass, the three rivers Towang Chu, Nayamjang Chu and Namka Chu are intimately connected with the trials, tribulations and travails of Seven Brigade Troops during Op Leghorn.

Pushed and prodded relentlessly, threatened ruthlessly with a long stick, the Seven Brigade staggered into the valley of River Namkachu, struggling up the formidable Karpola pass, only to face the massive Chinese build up across the River Namkachu on the Thagla ridge. The men bereft of equipment, heavy weapons, mines, barbed wire, digging implements, rations, ammunition, snow clothing. Illequipped either to take an offensive action against the Chinese or take effective defensive positions and more importantly without a cause and motivation to fight.

The valley deceptively serene all this time suddenly bared its fangs on 20th October 1962 and turned into the valley of death.

A valley of death for those who perished on that fateful day strung along the river line. For those herded across, to languish in the prisoner of war camps. It was worse still for those mortally wounded, lying unattended in the valley, on the riverbank, up the slopes, life slowly draining out, without food, water or medical aid, in abject misery, unbearable pain. With no one to provide succour and no hope, they could only wish for a quick and early merciful end.

Those who did manage to escape from the valley of River Namka Chu on 20th /21st some had to once again negotiate the Karpola pass, others the Hatungla pass, cross the river Nayamjang Chu near Shakti over a half demolished rope bridge and finally the River Towang Chu on the night of 23rd into the uncertain safety of Bhutan,

Survivors who managed to crawl out also did not return intact, losing their pride and self-respect in the process. All that they brought out was vision of comrades dead and dying, a nightmare which refuses to go even after more than 40 years. The eternal unanswered question still haunting: why were we sent in and why the manner in which we were sent in?

The Valley of River Namka Chu was indeed the ‘Valley of No Return’ for all those who had ventured into it. Equally for those who perished and also those who survived.

The Seven Brigade Signals was deployed with the brigade at Towang the HQ of Keming Frontier Division of Northeast Frontier Agency (NEFA). It also moved forward, consequent to the Sino-Indian conflict starting 8th September 1962, along with the brigade.

The less told story ‘Letters from the Border’ pertains to The Seven Brigade Signal Section, for the simple reason that the author was involved in the trails and travails of the Section from the beginning to end. The ‘ Less Told Stories’ are equally relevant and pertinent in bringing out the devotion to duty, unquestioning obedience and feelings of those who did not form part of the decision making loop of the higher echelons of military or of those who had political reasons and priorities to keep and maintain.

From My book: "Letters From the border and other less told stories"

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