Enemy on the gates and a 910-km stroll


Lt-Gen Baljit Singh (retd)

Unbelievable as it might sound, however approach again in 1957, our prudent mandarins in South Block had prescience of China’s impending army intrusions throughout the well-acknowledged boundary of Northeastern Ladakh. So, an audacious reconnaissance was conceived to evaluate the ramifications arising therefrom and Captain SL Tugnait was picked from amongst volunteers to steer the project.

Retracing his steps: Zoomed in phase of a panorama of Kashmir,

Ladakh and Karakorams displaying Tugnait’s reconnaissance route.
Serbjeet Singh


When Tugnait walked out from Leh for Darbuk on his outward journey, he trudged throughout the exact same place names that immediately are amongst confirmed PLA strongholds (Pangong Ridge South Top, Phobrang, Kongka la, Lingzithang, Aksai Chin plateau, Hazilangar and so forth). And on the return journey, he handed by locations (Karakoram Pass, Daulat Beg Oldie, Saser la, Khardung la) in whose neighborhood the Indian armed forces have stood entrenched in counter-poise to checkmate the PLA from any additional westwards mischief.

The plucky Captain lined a hitherto unchartered route of some 910 km at imply elevation of 15,700 ft above sea stage, crossing 4 among the many world’s highest mountain passes and terminating at Leh about three months later! Bravo Tugnait for the form of perseverance actually past the decision of responsibility!

Fundamental provocation for this unbelievable exploration arose from the emergence of the 2 sibling sovereign republics in 1947 and 1949 specifically, India and China in that order. While India’s freedom motion was anchored by Mahatma Gandhi across the ideology of non-violence, China’s was the offshoot of a full-blown battle towards the Japanese invasion of mainland China in 1938, adopted by one other decade of bloody civil battle in the course of the PLA’s “Long March”.

Admittedly, there was no formal unity of goal between these two Asian nations throughout their struggles for nationwide emancipation, but there was a way of unspoken sympathy for one another’s purpose. So a lot in order that in 1938 Chinese General Zhu De made a proper request to Jawaharlal Nehru for a staff of physicians and surgeons to handle their mounting battlefield casualties. The Congress celebration promptly dispatched a staff of 5 volunteers led by Dr Kotnis and a good reward of Rs22,000 stacked in the course of the All-India China Day Fund Raising drive whereas one other donor properly offered an ambulance.

On disembarkation at Hankou port in Wuhan province, the Indian medicos had been obtained personally by Mao Zedong, General Zhu De and different prime leaders of the Communist Party. This bonhomie obtained additional increase with an invite for a go to by Nehru which can have sown the concept of Nehru’s latter days’ optimism within the spirit of “Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai!” and who might fault him however narrow-minded sceptics? For that matter PM Narendra Modi’s Wuhan outreach to China, 80 years later, is in the identical league; each efforts had been afloat on wings of optimism in India however, quickly after, floundered by deceit of China.

But this maiden ideally suited of peaceable coexistence was rudely jolted by China in 1954 when PLA besieged Lhasa with a garrison of about 4,000 fight hardened and motivated troopers and commenced the method of constructing a street linking Xinjiang province to Lhasa. So, what for aeons had been a peaceable Indo-Tibet border would sadly grow to be essentially the most bitterly disputed Sino-Indian border that has remained on the boil to current occasions.

The most worrisome for India was the alignment of the street to Lhasa (NH 219) because it cuts throughout Ladakh’s Aksai Chin plateau and thus unilaterally altered the border alignment of the northeastern phase of India’s Ladakh province. India had barely stemmed army hostilities ignited by Pakistan in J&Ok by January 1949 and right here was NH 219 with portents of even larger army challenges to India within the Ladakh area.

Captain Tugnait, who retired as a Brigadier, on his half accomplished his mission efficiently, but his accomplishment lies all however forgotten apart from an entry within the Register for MacGregor Memorial Medal, for 1958. It goes:

“Captain S.L. Tugnait… Air OP Squadron, Regiment of Artillery. Valuable Military Recce in Northern Ladakh. Covered the route from Leh over the 21,000 ft Chang La (Sic. 17,590 ft) into the Shyok River Valley to Ponyvang Lake (Sic. Pangong Tso). From there to Quazi-Haji Langer-Quaratag Pass, and back by the Karakuram Pass to Daulat Beg Oldi – Sasar Kangri over the Sasar La into the Nubra Valley and back to Leh over the 19,600 ft Kharding La”.

As could also be imagined, Tugnait’s report stays off limits for public perusal however we could safely conclude that it led to (i) the positioning of an Indian Army brigade-sized drive in Ladakh in 1959, subsequently upgraded to a division by 1962; and (ii) occupation of a series of platoon-company outposts (armed with bolt motion rifles and restricted ammunition) ranging from Daulat Beg Oldie all alongside the India-Tibet/China boundary eastwards to Longju in Siang Valley and Kibithu within the farthest nook of Lohit valley (Arunachal Pradesh). In the strict cartographic area, this could have left no scope of misinterpretations pertaining to what each by authenticated cartography as additionally “by custom and usage” precept had at all times been India’s frontiers along with her neighbours.

It is nearly not possible for any Indian citizen to really “dream” up from the contours on cartographic map sheets, the barren and inhospitable terra firma in excessive, of Tugnait’s reconnaissance area or the logistical nightmare for sustaining such a army deployment towards the adversary as an ongoing posture. Fortunately, there exists a three-dimensional panorama by Serbjeet Singh (a rare cinematographer and painter of the Himalayas) which exhibits up each the magical and the maddening dimensions of the area as nothing else can and is reproduced by the type courtesy of his son. As per a notation by Serbjeet on the decrease margin of the portray, the framed unique was once within the Prime Minister’s Office.

When I zoom within the exact space of reconnaissance route from the panorama, I’m merely awed by Tugnait’s psychological and bodily endurance and his gutsy perseverance to cheerfully face excessive odds within the discharge of his responsibility. I’m proud and humbled to have served the primary two years of my profession underneath him.



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