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The Rediff Special/Amberish K Diwanji
Ladakh Scouts: The Heroes of Batalik
Major Wangchuk, a Buddhist, is a deeply religious person and in fact, before going off to the warfront, he and some Ladakhis had sought the blessings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama who was on a visit to Leh.
Coming to the climax of his battle, Wangchuk continued: "So we began to climb up to the ridge, the aim being to get to the height on the left side of the Pakistanis. The temperature was minus six degrees Celsius, the slope gradient was 80 degrees [almost vertical], and the snow was two feet deep."
Wangchuk and his men were literally climbing an ice wall , using hammers and ice picks. And though the Pakistanis could not see through the mist, they continued to fire sporadic bursts along the mountainside. Indian artillery in rear positions too were firing on the Pakistanis.
By the time Wangchuk reached the top of the ridge, it was 3 am (May 31) and he and his men were completely exhausted from this extremely difficult climb.
"We stopped on top of the ridge, but I warned the men that they could not afford to fall asleep. If they even turned over slightly in their sleep, or move a bit, they would simply roll over and plunge to their death," he said.
"Then we silently crawled up to the height [on a ridge, the men can only move in a single file; a false step can lead to a fatal plunge]. We reached the height at 4.30 am, just the time that dawn was breaking.
"And then we opened fire on the unsuspecting Pakistanis. Catching them by surprise, we killed 10 of them. The other Pakistanis ran helter-skelter down the slope, dragging down the bodies of those killed with them, leaving behind three bodies.
"Once the Pakistanis saw that we had control of the entire ridge, the entire company (over 100 men) who were camping behind the ridge further up immediately withdrew, leaving behind food, clothes and other items."
Major Wangchuk concluded by saying that since his platoon did not have an MMG (middle machine gun), the Pakistani casualties were less. By gaining the highest ridge in the area, the Indians are now in a commanding position. Is it any wonder that in Batalik, Indian troops are very close to a complete victory!
Later, on May 31, Wangchuk sent down some troops to collect ammunition and rations. "Our position was still risky since we really did not know at that time whether all the Pakistanis were gone. That is why I sent the soldiers down via a different route. My sepoys left at 5 pm and reached Handen Brok at 10 pm," he said.
"They began the return journey at midnight of May 31-June 1, and reached up again at 5 am," he added.
More soldiers also reached later in the day to relieve the tired Ladakh Scouts men, many of whom are now in line for gallantry awards. Major Wangchuk, though, deserves a Maha Vir Chakra for leading from the front with such exemplary guts.
Actually, Major Wangchuk does not belong to the Ladakh Scouts but to the 4 Assam Regiment. At present, he is on a posting with Indus wing of the Ladakh Scouts (the other wing is named Karakoram).
In the current war, the Ladakh Scouts have proven indispensable for their ability to scale mountains, survive in the cold, march longer on less food and their all round fitness.
If Wangchuk could match his troops and actually race up the mountain height, it is not only because he is a Ladakhi but also because he is something of a health fitness freak. He was a top athlete at Delhi's Modern School and has represented his battalion in various sporting activities. "There is no doubt that being totally physically fit really helped me in the mission," he added.
Incidentally, Wangchuk was not really keen on joining the army, in which he will complete 12 years this September. "One of my relatives was a colonel and he was keen that I should join the army," said Wangchuk.
Reason: Young Wangchuk was an extremely shy and reserved boy and his relative thought that the army was the perfect place for Wangchuk to become more sociable. Also, given Wangchuk's interests in sports and physical fitness, it was the best place to be in.
So Wangchuk joined the army on a Short Service Commission basis, which means a tenure for five years only. "I was sure that I would leave the army after my commission of five years was complete," said Wangchuk.
Destiny had other plans. After four years in the army, he got married and suddenly began to think in terms of a career and steady job. More important, he realised that he actually like army life.
"Army life is never monotonous or boring. There are challenges every day, there are numerous activities and given my passion for sports, I realised that I would be misfit anywhere else. So I decided to continue in the army," he said.
Indians today are grateful for his decision.
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