THRILLING, HEARTWARMING, NERVE WRECKING TRUE LIFE MEMOIRS
Copyright © 2015 by TamuliTora Publications
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Why You Should Read This Book
Why I Wrote This Book
CHAPTER 1. Ordeal In The Sky: Our Aircraft Had Caught Fire in Flight
CHAPTER 2. Baby Elephant And The Security Officers, Oil India Limited
CHAPTER 3. I am The Third Luckiest Man Alive
CHAPTER 4. My Experience of First Breakfast, 15000 Feet Above Sea Level
CHAPTER 5. The ‘IGLOO’ Is a Comfortable Shelter In Snow
WHY YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK
The book connects the readers with the human side of a man trained for combat. It thrills you with the wild enchanting mother nature It brings forth to the readers the unexpected, unexplored flora and fauna of the desolate terrains which the soldiers call their home.
All that has been included in this Title is based on true incidents; the language is homespun, coarse and totally original, hence crude and ethnic too.
I have some more writes ups in store relating to human relation, adventures and drama in real life; depending on the acceptance of the valued reader, I shall try to show such write ups the light of the day.
It is not an autobiography, a biography or a travelogue. Go ahead.
WHY I WROTE THIS BOOK
INTRODUCTION TO THE TITLE
The Title, KALIABOR TO KARAKORAM is purely non-fiction and the write-ups involve places and areas right from Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand (Garhwal & Kumaun), Arunachal Pradesh of Union of India, along the Indo-Tibet Border and some areas of my Home Land, Assam. KALIABOR of district Naugoan, Assam, India is a very large area comprising an equally large number of villages and had once enjoyed the honour of being the granary of Assam and I believe, still so. It is represented by a Member of Parliament (MP) and a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLAs)
HISTORY IS THE WITNESS OF THE TIMES, THE LIGHT OF TRUTH
Several centuries ago when the mighty ‘Ahom’ kings ruled the entire North-East till the days of the British and later, Kaliabor was an important place, both administratively and strategically and had occupied a place of honour from ages. Silghat, the River Port was the gateway to Nowgong, now Naugoan and other parts of the State during the British regime.
The Mother Nature has blessed the entire area most abundantly with Her beauty and resources. The vast fertile green area, the abundant green meadows that extend to the horizon, coupled with hills and hillocks of varied dimensions, the mighty river Brahmaputra and its tributaries look like a man-made canvas of endless dimension, mind stirring and inviting. Besides, the monuments, mostly Hindu religion oriented that exist in general area Kaliabor and the engineering skill coupled with artistic works are the evidence of the archaeological marvels of the then ancient era. The ‘Kamakha’ temple at Silghat, the ‘Maa Durga’ temple at Hatimurah, (Jakhalabandha), the ‘Nara-Simha’ temple at Jakhalabandha and many more, dotted in general area Kaliabor are the testimonies. Made of locally available materials without the benefit of present day modern building skills and technology, aids and know-how, it endured the offensives of time and Nature, and had defied valiantly till today.
The general population of Kaliabor is advanced and more enlightened, took a leading role during the struggle for independence of our country. Hatbor, an integral part of Kaliabor, is situated on the bank of a small river Kolong and the National High Way-37, which is one of the longest National High Ways in India runs along the course of the river for a considerable distance. Hatbor, is located about 50 km short of the District
Headquarter Nagaon on the National Highway and is an upcoming locality and also considered a nerve centre of Kaliabor, and a ‘Light House’ for the general population.
The small river, Kolong, a tributary of the river Brahmaputra and a lifeline to the locals of Kaliabor runs along the Highway for a considerable distance. It provided everything in abundance that one could expect of a small river. The Kolong was a source of delight and sorrow, companion to many, solace to many more. She silently endured and enjoyed the fun and frolic on her banks and the atrocities that we youngsters unintentionally had inflicted on her bosom. Born at Hatbor, I grew up with Mother Nature and the tiny river Kolong was a part of my whole being and growing-up. My relationship with the small river was more intimate, more lively and personal. This little river turns into a very fast moving large mass of water during summer.
DEATH OF A RIVER
When the natural flow of the river was regulated with artificial means, to provide water for irrigation purposes to the general area, the river was gradually strangulated and had died in course of time. It died of water starvation, thanks to the progress of science and technology and planning that lacked imagination, genuine initiative and forethought! It is a brutal rape of Mother Nature! With its death, our memory of an eventful past, filled with pleasures and pains, the tradition, history and culture of the area that existed and flourished had also gradually died. I felt isolated, withdrawn and forlorn despite being with crowd. In the later age whenever I happen to see the skeletal remains of this magnificent small river topped with waterweeds, debris and household waste, I feel pain somewhere inside me, my heart becomes heavier. My memory goes back to the childhood days and in my inner vision, I see this small river of my childhood days with clean water that used to flow silently unmindful of the activities on her bed, on her banks. I feel nostalgic, my mind goes back to the happy bygone days of joys and excitements that I left behind decades ago and had buried with her death.
THE KARAKORAM PASS
While in 7th or 8th standard, I remembered to have read the name Karakoram in geography book and then had forgotten about it. I did not take any interest then. Geography and History had never appealed to me even now. And decades later, while in ITB Police service, the name Karakoram Pass was more frequently heard. Because of various factors the Karakoram area is considered an important and a difficult one. Before the Chinese took over Tibet, traders from many countries, particularly from Tibet used to frequent to India via this pass for trade and business. This was one of the most frequented trade routes. During that time all kinds of business was transacted through barter system. Very high quality wool and pasmina, which is a very fine and superior quality wool, woollen carpets with attractive colourful design and colourful woollen blankets, all handmade, white yak tail, gold, silver etc. from Tibet were bartered for salt, condiments, tobacco, opium, brass utensils, yarns, fabric and many other useful commodities including medicines from the Indian counterpart. It is probably the only pass in the world that connects five countries: India, Tibet, China, Russia and Afghanistan. The other unique feature with this pass is that the name does not have the suffix ‘La’, like in other passes. The word ‘La’ in Tibetan/ Buddhist language means ‘pass’, like, Nathu La, Khardung La, Parang La, Chang La etc.
INDO-TIBETAN BORDER POLICE FORCE (ITB POLICE, MHA, GOI)
This Para Military Force was raised on 24th October 1962 during the Chinese aggression with a specific purpose. Only physically strong and mentally alert, tough and rugged young persons were taken in ITB Police, and justifiably, the personnel of ITB Police are known for their vitality, stamina and quick reaction. They have proved their mettle wherever deployed all over the world.
ITB Police is on the rise and a most sought-after Force. What is most heartening to place on record, the Force has also earned love, respect and trust from the locals, where deployed. The progress and development that have been brought into the area of deployment, the employment avenues generated for the local eligible youths, looking after the health and hygiene of the local population and also domestic animals merit a mention. The quick reaction to emergency like fire or flood, vehicular accidents, landslide or during cloud burst which are regular affair both during summer and winter, is worth for record. ITB Police, where deployed, is a hope and solace to fall-back to, for the local administration. This pioneering service is no more unique to ITB Police now, as other Forces have also adopted and followed the policy.
Because of the all-round magnificent performance, only ITBP in India was awarded a place of honour amongst the ‘Elite Force’ of the world, like the ‘Green Beret’ and other International Para-Military Forces. But in India, ITB Police was the first to break new ground. As member of Peace-keeping Force under the United Nations, ITB Police has earned very encouraging reputation. As on today, the Force has also been deployed for protection of Officials of Indian Embassies abroad and it is on record, the Force has negated many attempts by the Militants to attack the Embassy. As expected, the Force has expanded many folds, in rank and file and so also in the name and fame worldwide.
Being one of the six direct officers of the first batch to this magnificent Force and having joined in March/1967, it became our home and hearth; we had grown up with this Organisation for more than three decades of our prime youth and had tried to contribute to its progress and development overcoming the enumerable initial teething problems. The contribution we made to this magnificent organisation may be meagre, may be a few drops in the ocean, but then, without it, the organisation would have been poorer by that few missing drops.
The road to Karakoram, the destination of my dream was rough, undulating and dangerous and full of adventurous too; it was not a cakewalk. Had Encountered many daring acts and facing many more real life dramas, which forced me to make several detours before I could finally reach the Karakoram. It took close to two decades to actually reach the ‘KARAKORAM’― hitherto almost unknown to me!
There are some photographs in black & white, I had myself processed at my head quarter, all in black and white in contact print. A small part of a room of my quarter located above fifteen thousand feet was converted into an improvised studio, in a climate much below the freezing point. I did not realise the importance of such photographs then; it was just for learning the technique of photography and the chemistry of processing and printing with a contact printer. The small contact printer and other accessories and ingredients necessary for the final print were taken to my Headquarter located at the foothills of the Karakoram where I spent one year on Border duty. The power required was from the PRC-10 batteries (a portable radio communication) , battery-operated like walkie-talkie set. I did not know, rather had not heard about GUINNESS BOOK OF WORLD RECORD or Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” then, otherwise I would have certainly contested for a coveted place in the Record Book for processing photos above 15,000 feet, sometimes at -30o Centigrade during peak winter in such crude setting, way back in 1977.
CHAPTER 4. MY EXPERIENCE OF FIRST BREAKFAST, 15OOO FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL
INTRODUCTION TO PLACES AND NAMES
Bada khana: A community feast when all ranks enjoy meals together.
Though roads connect most of the border areas, some areas in hills and mountains, road construction is difficult due to terrain condition. Therefore, one has to walk to go to such places. Government is spending a very large amount for road connectivity and almost all border areas now have good roads. Up to middle of 70s, the road network was not as good as it is now. To go from one place to another, with varied distance, one has to walk all the way for days, sometimes involving almost three weeks, self-contained, to reach the destination. We had undertaken such a journey― rather an adventure, in the peak of winter involving 21-day trekking in high altitude. In this particular journey, our destination was somewhere at the foothills of the Karakoram, located above fifteen thousand feet, involving more than twenty days’ walk from the road head. In hills and mountains, the distance is measured in terms of hours/days, not in kilometers or miles. Keeping in view medical, physical fitness and above all, psychological factor of the men, the journey period in high altitude has been prescribed for various locations and in the instant case it is 21 days. One shall not exceed the total distance, prescribed in a day’s walk in high altitude. Health factor is also a major factor for such restriction. In order to avoid the problems enroute, when the standing orders are violated by any group and made for the camp in much earlier time prescribed, developed high altitude problems and had to be evacuated.
The thought of camping in different locations with diverse natural settings every day, had tempted me to track down the distance around 250 km, I decided to avoid a helicopter flight involving little more than 3 hours and had walked with the men instead. By the time we reached our destination trekking, we would be automatically, rather naturally acclimatised, a most important factor in high altitude.
Because of the winter month, the track, as anticipated, had a lot of snow, hard and soft and not visible. The tons of debris that came down with the avalanche and innumerable glaciers and landslides from the higher ridges on both sides littered all over the area. With gaining of height, the furry of Nature was more obvious. Such devastation reminded me of ruin of villages by cyclones in the plain area, particularly in coastal areas. The tall mountains on both sides of the narrow valley, and our walking surface were white and white only as far as my eyes could survey. Coupled with the prevailing serenity in a stilled environment, one tends to be depressed and discouraged. But that is not to be so with the men as they move in groups and keep on sharing matters of common interest.
Our track was along the course of the top-frozen River, the ‘Shyok’ and was badly mutilated by the fury of Mother Nature and we had to make many detours to advance; but always kept the River like a ‘Lighthouse in the Sea’ to tread forward. Moving along the course of the River would take us to our destination, and help of the map was not needed. Such devastation of Nature had forced me to be more careful in selecting site for night halt throughout the trekking. One never knows when and where avalanche would roll down. A contingent of thirty men from all ranks is a large group, so also the administration, given the state of problems that severe winter presents in high altitude in middle of January.
The entire journey despite all the Nature and height related troubles were really enjoyable and also memorable for many reasons. The trekking had given me enough opportunities to see the Nature intimately in its creative and unadulterated form. Seeing the state of the damaged track where visible, injury inflicted to the surroundings, I could very well imagine the fury of Nature too. Large boulders that rolled down from the upper ridges had blocked the track at several places caused delay to negotiate. We could not use the top-frozen River for fear of the surface giving away thus causing serious accident and may be death; the speed of the water current underneath was very fast.
The morale of the men who came with me was at their peak on the twenty-first day, when we reached my Head Quarter little after eleven in the morning. Earlier same day, a ‘TEA-PARTY’, headed by the senior most commander present at the Company Head Quarters had come about three kilometers ahead to receive and serve us hot tea / coffee and the freshly prepared hot ‘Pakoda’, the most popular and common snack in the Forces. The practice was routine for all those who used to come to the Head Quarter. But this time it was not a routine practice; the Company Commander was coming to take over the charge of the Company. And, therefore, the standard of the snacks were also not routine.
The ’Bada Khana’, a community feast at lunch time, arranged to welcome us to the new location was the immediate programme that we had participated. My food was about to be served at the residence but I decided to share with the men. We all had our meals in the open air; there was no room or shed large enough to accommodate such a large strength. After the meals when I was to take a nap, the post In-Charge wanted to see me. ”The snow has been cleared of the field and the men would like to play a Base-Ball match with your team, Sir.” The post In-Charge was very polite and requested my approval. By ‘your team’ he meant the men who came with me. “4 O’clock and, complete rest for ‘my team’ and I would also be a playing member.” It was a snap order. My participation in the game was to boost the morale of the men and to see their stamina, so also mine, who had walked more than 20 days in the high altitude without a break and then play a Base-ball match in the afternoon same day, was a physical efficiency test of very high order.
The only luxury en-route we all had enjoyed was, to move for the next destination little late, after a hot complete meal in the morning and an equally balanced meal was provided in the early evening. Long rest was a necessity and hence sun-set time was bed time for all except the security group. This routine, strictly followed had worked well throughout the tracking; it was a leisurely walk, no hurry, no risk and no disorderly move, which I had made it clear during briefing to all the members at the start of the long journey. Normally in high-altitude, headache and loss of appetite are very common if the body does not get proper rest to recoup the energy lost during the trekking. Besides, the food has a vital role to regain the stamina. However, prolonged stay without proper care and caution, one may suffer from other serious high-altitude sickness like memory loss, enlarged heart and ‘Moongage’ disease. Since we walked leisurely all the way, we were gradually and properly acclimatised and nobody had any physical or psychological problem at all during the entire journey. I had really enjoyed the tracking as visualized.
High altitude starts from nine thousand feet and above and the first indication is the thinning tree line, perennial accumulation of snow. Due to higher altitude the oxygen content in the atmosphere is less and hence one suffers from breathlessness, headaches and less appetite. This happens to those who exert more than the body can adjust to the speed, as their aim being to cover the distance in a shorter time and thus, suffer from such ailments. Also, one may suffer from high altitude effect when travelled by air to such height and to avoid such problem, he has to carefully acclimatise for about seven days. In higher altitudes the effect of the ultra violate rays of the sun in the rarefied atmosphere, burn any exposed part of the body and eyes are the easy victims. Sleeplessness is another effect of the high altitude. There are adverse effects of snow in various forms including snow blindness, frost bite and for all such hazards, preventive and safety measures and aids are available and have to follow accordingly.
The entire track, without any inhabitant, surrounded by hills and mountains, bereft of any vegetations, the boulders, small and big, scattered in the area had given a disappointing look. For me it was like walking on the Moon’s surface from the day we had undertaken the tracking twenty days previously. As a matter of fact, the entire Ladakh region has close resemblance to the Moon’s surface.
The very sight of the improvised residence on arrival had frustrated me, I was unhappy for the accommodation. I was thinking to do something to improve and many other things simultaneously. The photo studio, the library, the guest room and what not, were to be organised, and, I fell asleep without my being aware of. High altitude had no effect on me; we were gradually and properly acclimatised during the long march.
It was around 8 O’clock in the morning next day, when I had the first cup of tea, generally called bed-tea. A liquid in any form, except, of course liquor, was essentially required for the body in high altitude. And, tea or coffee was freely available for all as and when needed. First thing after the tea I did, was to survey the adjoining area and my quarter where I shall spend one year. The semblance of a structure, called residence where I shall live, had projected a disappointing sight. The walls were made of unserviceable jerry cans filled with sands and stones, in two rows, placed horizontally, one above the other, in an orderly manner, like bricks in masonry works and it gave the shape of a wall. Empty bottles were vertically placed at a height to allow sunlight to filter in, not wind. And, clean parachute was spread to hide the jerry-can walls and regularly overspread with a cleaner one, once the old ones get soiled. Our entire ration is dropped by air with the help of parachutes which are abundantly stocked.
The soiled parachute ceiling was another eye-sore. Instead of cement or mud plaster, which were ‘un-heard-of’ commodities there, the roof was covered with unserviceable parachutes, supported by some wooden logs and angle iron. There was no soil around, it was only sand and pebbles. “We replace new parachutes every time it becomes soiled,” my next junior had informed. Because of the wax coat, the parachutes were highly inflammable and a lot of fire accidents had taken place earlier in other organisations, some are fatal. I was slightly worried. The accommodation for the men I command and other areas were safe from fire being ideally constructed, without the use of parachutes, I was relieved.
I went to the kitchen first. It was a horrible sight, one large ‘heavy-duty’ kerosene burner was on ’active duty’ and the sound it emitted was, as if, a couple of diesel Railway engines was in full blast. The pitch of the burning kerosene cooker was so high that nothing could be heard even though the person was standing next to me. But that did not horrify me as much as the sight of dried-up trout fish did! The river Shiyok was flowing close to the camp and the men made full use to retrieve the abundance of Nature’s gift in the form of ‘trout fish.’ To catch the fish during winter, they used to break the ice-shield on the river surface, sufficient enough for a small net to go inside and in no time a large quantity of trout fish would be trapped. The cook in turn, would clean the belly of the fish, sewn with a fine parachute thread and place along the walls of the kitchen in many un-geometrically parallel and circular rows. It looked like as if, flowers of a large number of garlands, bereft of its original shade, fragrance and freshness were carefully preserved for memory. The cook would take out some and prepare a dish, either fried or the most popular common dish― the fish ‘pakoda’ as per demand.
By then I had slightly attuned to the blare of the ‘Railway engine.’ ”Do you have ‘fresh’ eggs?” I enquired. ”Yes ‘sirji.” They would always suffix the word ‘ji’ after ‘sir’or ‘Sahib’, to show more respect to the seniors. “And tomato, onion, green chillies etc.?” I further enquired. “What would you like to have? Stuffed omelette or fried eggs, everything ‘fresh’ is here, it was brought by your party yesterday,” the cook wanted to know. ‘He knows cooking’ I thought. “O.K. omelette with two eggs, a lot of green chillies, fresh tomato, onion, and cabbage, all stuffed”, I informed.
Because of the tinned rations we were accustomed to, the word ‘fresh’ meant anything edible that was not tinned, be it eggs or onions, potato or plume. Eggs come in powdered form and tinned, and I never liked the taste and flavour because of the chemicals used for preservation. The tinned stuff of various other items was good though but fresh item was a craze for taste to the tongue and to the mind as well and a weakness and appeal for us all. After visiting the other rooms and adjacent area, I passed through the kitchen again to see the progress of the stuffed omelette being prepared.
The moment I saw the eggs, the tomatoes, the green chillies and the onions and cabbage were being boiled together in a saucepan, my impression of his being a good cook had vanished instantly. “What are you doing? I wanted a stuffed omelette and you are making a mess of it,” my annoyance was visible. “All the fresh items get frozen here; everything has to be boiled first to make it tender to bring to original form, even potatoes or tomato before a dish is being prepared, Sirji”, he informed politely. He took out a ‘fresh egg’ from a basket and gave it to me. “It is like a stone now, if you drop it to the ground, the shell will crack; the contents will not spill over, Sirji.” I actually dropped the egg to the ground and, the cook was right. I felt little embarrassed for my ignorance and having talked straight to him. ‘Yes, it is more than 15,000 feet height at this place. At minus -33 degree Celsius, the entire region was virtually a deep-freezer; anything with liquid contents would freeze.’ I was sure.