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Friday, September 1, 2017

Nathu La 'on top' ~ the indomitable spirit of Harbhajan Singh and the famous temple .. ##

Sepoy Harbhajan Singh of the 23rd  Battalion of the Punjab Regiment resides in a small cluster of buildings set in a breathtakingly beautiful valley, a short way from Sikkim's famed Nathula pass. The dutiful soldier takes two months off a year to visit his parents in Kuke village in Punjab's Kapurthala district.  Well, would we read this further, so many sepoys – standing brave at our borders protecting us from all misery – yet most of us do not care much .. .. .. Harbhajan is different, for he is a hero, worthy of being worshipped in a Temple !

On June 16, it became public information that Indian troops had entered the Doklam region near the Chumbi Valley tri-junction area wedged between Bhutan, India and Tibet/China, and stopped a Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) construction crew from completing the hard-surfacing of an earlier dirt track. The Doklam plateau is one of the disputed territories between Bhutan and China. It is closely opposite Sikkim and slightly north of the narrow Siliguri corridor connecting the mainland territory of India to its seven northeastern states and region. Bhutan and China do not have formal diplomatic relations. Despite that, the two states have held a number of meetings to resolve their boundary differences inclusive of the Doklam area, without any resolution so far.

The beautifully and clean Sikkim is far different and more strategic ~ the only Organic State is a beautiful tourist location and one has to see the cleanliness to believe that a place could be so neat and tidy.  Besides beautiful scenic spots, it also has – ‘Nathula Pass’ once a major corridor of passage between India and Tibet before it was closed in 1962. Located around 56 kms from Gangtok at an altitude of 14450 ft, the road to Nathula passes through the Tsomgo lake. It is one of the highest motorable roads in the world and is richly surrounded by alpine flora. Tourists are allowed to go close to the international border from where you can see Chinese soldiers at a handshaking distance  on the other side of the barbed wire.

A part of the Eastern Himalaya, Sikkim is notable for its biodiversity, including alpine and subtropical climates, as well as being a host to Kanchenjunga, the highest peak in India and third highest on Earth. The Kingdom of Sikkim was founded on the Silk Road by the Namgyal dynasty in the 17th century. It was ruled by a Buddhist priest-king known as the Chogyal. It became a princely state of British India in 1890. After 1947, Sikkim continued its protectorate status with the republic of India. It enjoyed the highest literacy rate and per capita income among Himalayan states. In 1975, the Indian military deposed the Sikkimese monarchy. A referendum in 1975 led to Sikkim joining India as its 22nd state.

Nathu La ( नाथू ला) is a mountain pass in the Himalayas. It connects the Indian state of Sikkim with China's Tibet Autonomous Region. The pass, at 4,310 m (14,216 ft) above mean sea level would make us gasp for breathe and realize the hardship of being there.  The 80 odd steps to the Indo-China checkpost at such altitude makes you feel the wind, velocity, chillness and difficulty that our soldiers brave daily.   Citizens of India can visit the pass,  after obtaining a permit  and we were lucky enough to be there in June 2017.  Sealed by India after the 1962 Sino-Indian War, Nathu La was re-opened in 2006 following numerous bilateral trade agreements. The opening of the pass shortens the travel distance to important Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the region and was expected to bolster the economy of the region by playing a key role in the growing Sino-Indian trade.

This post is not on escalating tensions, China’s unbridled aggression, mocking attempts at International level, Gangtok’ cleanliness, its scenic beauty or tourism but on a great soldier revered by the Indians. Major "Baba" Harbhajan Singh (30 August 1946 – 4 October 1968) is acclaimed "Hero of Nathula" by soldiers of the Indian army, who have built a shrine in his honour. He was accorded the status of saint by believers who refer to him as the "Baba" (saintly father). Many of his faithful - chiefly Indian army personnel posted in and around the Nathula Pass and the Sino-Indian border between the state of Sikkim and Chinese-occupied Tibet - have come to believe his spirit protects every soldier in the inhospitable high-altitude terrain of the Eastern Himalayas.  Harbajhan  Baba is believed to grant favours to those who revere and worship him.

His indomitable spirit still guards the post and protects Indian soldiers, that is what the soldiers posted at Nathu La firmly believe.   Late Sepoy Harbhajan Singh (23 Punjab) was born in a village in Kapurthala District and enrolled into the Punjab Regiment. Serving with his unit in Sikkim in 1968, he passed away on October 4 that year while escorting a mule column from Tuku La to Dongchui La.  After his death, he is believed  to have appeared in the dreams of his fellow soldiers and asked them to build a ‘samadhi’ for him. His unit did so 9 km from where the present shrine stands.  Units of the Indian Army that are posted in the region, seek Baba’s blessing with various plates dedicated to him lining the shrine’s walls. They also believe that Baba will warn them of an impending attack days in advance. The Army even promoted him to an Honorary Captain and a paycheck was sent to his family. He is  granted an annual leave on 14 September every year. His belongings  travel all the way to Kapurthala and back by train for a few more years, till he officially retired !! 

So revered is he, that even the Chinese on the other side of the border leave a seat  vacant for Baba as a sign of respect at flag meetings. People and soldiers passing through make it a point to pay their respects at the shrine. Clearly faith is stronger than anything else here.  When baba visits home on September 13 every year, he has a berth booked on the Dibrugarh Express - his portrait and suitcase are accompanied by three soldiers right up to his village where his family greets it with fanfare.

You may feel this defying reasons and the shrine a strange one – but it is all about belief – and the army men too strongly believe that they still get the strength to cope up with the adversities peculiar to the snowy hilly unfriendly region.  I felt happy and proud in visiting the shrine and bowing there in reverence as a mark of gratitude and respect to the great soldier.  It is innumerable faceless jawans who protect us, braving most unkind weather and hostile elements – we do not even understand the lurking dangers, sleep happily, live happily .. we are ever indebted to our jawans.  Long live the brave warriors – long live happily their families.

Jai Jawan ~ Jai Hind – saluting the spirit of Baba Harbajhan Singh **

With regards & reverence
S. Sampathkumar

19th Aug 2017.

1 comment:

  1. Jai Jawan ~ Jai Hind – saluting the spirit of Baba Harbajhan Singh.