Monday, June 1, 2015

Baba Mandir near Nathu La, Sikkim

The true value of effort and bravery of security personnel guarding various vital installations and watch posts on our international borders often goes unnoticed. There are many beautiful spots in the upper Himalayan Region, where a tourist cannot spend more than a few hours during day time in summer, when the weather is very pleasant. The burden of the heavy overcoats and gum boots make us feel miserable and get out of them at the earliest opportunity.  But these personnel of the Army and security forces spend days and nights continuously, even under very severe weather conditions.  They routinely face chilling winds, heavy snowfalls and continuous rains.  Sunshine is not seen for long periods of time. There are areas where one does not understand the end of land or beginning of the sky. Everything appears murky and white. Supplies of food and water are difficult to reach them and the threat of a showdown from across the border is always there. The burden of arms and ammunition is a constant companion for them.  That the tourists are able to enjoy their vacation and have grand sight-seeing time is entirely due to the sacrifice made by these Officers and Soldiers of the armed forces. This brings to mind, our visit to "Baba Mandir" near Nathu La in Sikkim, a few years ago.

Nathu La border post between India and China is 55 Kilometers east of Gangtok. Indian tourists are allowed to go the border post on selected days of the week, as decided by the Government.  For going to Nathu La, a permit issued by the Department of Tourism and civil Aviation of the Government of Sikkim is required. The applications are to be submitted through an authorized travel agent, two days in advance of the visit. Major hotels in Gangtok arrange for the permits as they have tie up with the authorized travel agents.  An acceptable identification document is required to be produced and this document is to be carried by the person on the day of visit.  Nathu La pass is on the old silk route at an altitude of 14,150 feet above sea level.  The pass was closed after the 1962 Sino-Indian war, but was reopened in 2006 after bilateral trade agreement.  Limited international trade is permitted through this pass.  There is an Indian War memorial at Nathu La.  The road to Nathu La from Gangtok is one of the highest motor able roads in the world. Tourists are taken in six-seater jeeps. An ATM is available here and is said to the world's highest ATM. 

During our visit to Sikkim, our Hotel owner wanted our documents to obtain permit.  He told us that we can visit Babaji Mandir and Nathu La border post.  I politely told him that we are not interested in visiting any Baba Temple and our permit should be only for Nathu La post. He advised that all vehicles to Nathu La pass through Babaji Temple and if we do not desire to visit it, we may sit in the vehicle until other tourists return.  We decided to do the same.  But once the vehicle reached that place, the surroundings aroused some curiosity.  We went to the Mandir and found that it was not any other Babaji Mandir, but a memorial built for one of our brave soldiers who laid down his life in the course of his duty.  All soldiers and officers who pass through the area stop here and pay their respects to their departed colleague.  We were indeed glad that we did visit this sacred place.  The pictures given here, taken from the internet, gives a view of the temple's exterior and photo of the babaji kept inside the temple.
            
Major Baba Harbhajan Singh was born in the year 1941 in a village in Punjab and joined Indian Army in 1956.  He was commissioned in 1965.  As per the official version, he died in a battle with Chinese at a battle in Nathu La border. He was awarded a posthumous "Maha Vir Chakra" for his bravery. According to a legend, he drowned in a glacier while escorting a party with mules carrying supplies.  He is said to have come in the dream of his fellow soldier and told him the actual place where his body was lying. Three days later his body was found at exactly same place.  His body was cremated with full military honors.  He was only 26 years old when he died.  He is hailed as the "Hero of Nathu La" and a temple has been constructed in his honor.  Soldiers on duty in the area believe that his spirit gives them advance warnings about lurking dangers and attacks on them, and protects them. Chinese soldiers are also reported to respect the sentiment and said to have even set up a chair for him during a flag meeting.  Every year on September 11th, his death anniversary, one vehicle leaves the temple with the personal belongings of the soldier kept in the temple, to New Jalpaiguri, nearest railway station.  A new set of uniform and other items are kept in the temple.  From New Jalpaiguri, the belongings brought from the temple are kept on a berth booked in his name on a train, and accompanied by army jawans to his village in Punjab. The berth is not allotted to any other passenger, though unoccupied.  The sentiment is respected by all concerned without fail.  A board near the temple reads: "Call of duty beyond death".

Baba Mandir and Major Harbhajan Singh are a standing testimony for the bravery of the members of the armed forces who spend the most important years of their lives in guarding the country's borders in such unfriendly terrains.  Anyone who visits this place is sure to come out with wet eyes, as we too did.


On the return journey from Nathu La, there is a usual stop at Changu Lake, also known as Tsongmo Lake, which gives a beautiful view with different colors during different periods of the year (see picture).  The return journey from Nathu La is scary as the roads are in treacherous terrain and visibility nearly zero by evening. Some of the passengers with us closed their eyes and most of them started their prayers!  The driver of our van could view the road only by putting his face outside the window as the windshield became opaque due to fog.  I told him to stop for some time till the visibility improved. He did not respond and continued to drive.  After reaching Gangtok, when we were about to get down, he told me that the visibility will only get worse and this is the situation every day. There are many interesting boards put up by the army personnel that we cross as we return from Nathu La.  Two of them are fresh in my memory and read something like this:


"We are sacrificing our today for your happier tomorrow"

 "Go back and live happily with the thought that we are here guarding your safety"

*****

This is, by coincidence, my 200th blog post in 195 weeks.  I am glad that the subject of the post is a soldier who laid down his life in the protection of our motherland.  One who is alive and on duty even after his death. 

I am grateful to all the readers, friends and well-wishers who have encouraged me over the last four years in this journey.  This hobby has kept me away from unwanted TV viewing and wasteful pursuits.  It has helped me in learning new things and develop interest in varied aspects of life.......       

11 comments:

  1. One should not miss this one s life time.Thanq Keshavmurthy to freshen up my memory.I think u missed one more point that it seems he has been kept still in service with annual increments n timely promotions I was told there.

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  2. Incidentally, i was at Nathu La in Oct 2014. Thanks Prof Keshav Murthy for this enlightening info. 200 not out and going strong.

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  3. Touching article!

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  4. Touching article ! Thanks


    Meena

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  5. this is worth reading by all patriots who have concern for the country an for the jawans who gave their life fo rthe nation .I remember the song sung by Lata di in the name of soldiers which brings tears in eyes of any one who has concern for these soldiers

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  6. Congratulations Keshavji for your 200th article. I am sure, you will continue to treat us with many more articles in the coming days.
    Mother India is proud to have such children who are protecting her 24 X 7 irrespective of all hardship they face.

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  7. I remember this trip distinctly well. A most wonderful time. Thank you for re-creating the memories through this blog post.

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  8. Congratulations sir, it was a touching post and I throughly enjoyed reading it as always. I always have been wondering about our brave soldiers call of Duty and I am glad to learn that such sentiments and sacrifices of our brave soldiers is remembered and respected by our government.
    Thanks to you sir, I get to learn much more about our country and it's past, it feels like watching a movie when I read your stories.

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  9. Very informative and touching blog indeed.

    And sir you not only gives us good reading material but also inspires to really do some productive work in free time which can serve to others also.

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  10. Great Sir - Hearty Congrats on this Mile Stone. look forward to many more of such.
    Warm Greetings - Vasan

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  11. I salute the Baba and the selfless soldiers of our country.

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