TODAY -

Meeting the Enemy at Nathu La

Kamal Baruah *



When Pakistani forces fire along the Indo-Pak border, my Chinese connection at the ancient Silk Road had raised eyebrows over the border. There are many tales of extraordinary solidarity among military. Being soldier, I had keen observation with my foreign counterpart. Savdhan! (Attention) Warrant Officer Wagh was taking POP (Passing-Out-Parade) rehearsal for our Entry at Air Force Station Jalahalli.

All but one refused to do. “I’m not supposed to follow as my country sends me India to study”. Nobody dares to talk against ferocious Commander (We called him Tiger). KD Joseph was a would-be trainee Pilot who stood up as the member of royal Seychelles Peoples’ Defence Force.

And we passed out basic training with uniform personnel of overseas nation. We had a funny feeling when Seychelles would be around. KD, are you married? “No man, but I’m three child”. We used to chat with East African after PT with a full mug of tea.

The other day he was asked to answer Newton’s First Law. The answer was another of his silly answers “Ya...Newton’s First Law...Yes...Newton’s First Law is... (After a long gap)...I don’t know sir”. The entire class went into laugh. But other foreign trainees from Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal were rather studious. Perhaps Mr KD was right as his intuition for further aiming high with US Air Force.

It had been a steep learning curve for my first tenure at New Delhi. We had a fear of CD (Capital Diplomat) Car Number Plate. Defence forbids us from making any relation with embassy. We aren’t supposed to even rub our shoulder with them. The military law talks a lot about the camouflage and secrecy of espionage. Being combatant, we’re supposed to perform military assignment involving over protecting instalments. There is saying goes a soldier is never off duty.

I was supervising for a Flag meeting in harsh rainy winter. I saw a black Sedan approaching me lowering its headlight. The windshield wipers were moving continuously sweeping away raindrops. I must stop it. My first reaction of a CD car came instinctively since it was left hand drive. The gentleman was quietly rolling down the window from the steering.

While peeping through I saw a glass of drinks placed at dashboard and a cigar in his right. The deep voice came in low pitch from a huge personality “I want to cross the road”. I replied with pride and dignity. “Sir, do you have any pass?”

He was shaking his head no. “I’m sorry; this Cantonment road is restricted for civilians. Please follow the adjoining road”. He smiled leaving a quick card for me. “Thank you soldier, Here is Ex General XXX and whisked away under the neon light”. I raised my arms in a triumphant salute.

My desire to meet enemy soldier didn’t happen early although I worked with enemy call sign at Border Dett 24X7. My HF Receiver at Indo-Pak border at Rann of Kutch suddenly went on clear voice “PAF ONE CRASH-LANDED” (Pakistan Air Force One - call sign of the aircraft of Pakistan Army General).

I was frantic with worry and pressed the record button instantly. With President Pervez Musharraf on board, it was in fact a mock drill at Keti Bandar near Karachi. I wasn’t disheartened those memories of faint noises between ATC and F16 pilots down at night, drifting off to sleep and kept awakening while flying on.

As a soldier my quest for meeting the enemy face-to-face had not been fulfilled since being fought Kargil but as a tourist recently. And I can’t remember an occasion when there was so much excitement and anticipation that made merrymaking through the rugged terrain of winding road.

Sharp cliffs didn’t end our enthusiastic. Indian Army welcomed us offering chocolates at the final steep path and with a note of caution ‘you are under observation, no stopping, no halting and no photography’. The ‘Nathu La’ gate rose in front of us. We climbed up stairs leading to the peak at 14,420 feet elevation.

It was shivering cold of sudden dip in temperature and I experienced the coldest time as chilly winds swept in the air. The barren hillside were shrouded in mist and covered by thick clouds in the atmosphere. The visibility was very low. We felt breathlessness at that height. A cloud of tiny water droplets suspended at our face. Even the sun disappeared behind cloud. It’s a major corridor of passage between India and Tibet. We reached the top of the world.

Nathu La holds strategic importance. The soldiers are patrolling along the perceived border. Basically there was no fencing. It was like barbed wire frontier. Surprisingly they’re unarmed. The lively presence of Chinese in olive green made us so cheerful.

I felt totally unnerved by the encounter as I happened to shake hands with one young Chinese from People’s Liberation Army but he disliked the idea of meeting us. I was trying to communicate “Hallo, how’re you?”. But he quietly left us nodding head without answering anything. Chinese military law covers them under another great difficulty. And probably English language ain’t their cup of tea.

Despite their spirits are high even undergoing several operations through their face and shattered arm. Soldiers are able to endure hardship resiliently. Army is protecting us as tough as old boots. The Nathu La memorial inculcated us to motivate the feeling of nationalism.

The saying goes ‘when you go home tell them of us, we gave our today for your tomorrow’. But I couldn’t stay long for low level of oxygen. The sudden changed in weather forced me to leave the historic point. But I’ve fulfilled my dream of meeting the enemy soldier without firing a bullet at the regions bordering China.


* Kamal Baruah wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is a former Air Warrior and currently working for SBI Dispur. He can be reached at kamal(DOT)baruah(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 26, 2019.



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