Day before yesterday of 73rd independence day of India, every state displayed their vibrant celebrations. But this independence day was very special to the new union territory of India, Ladakh.
People Ladakh with their MP danced on the streets in joy.
Ladakh had always considered itself an integral part of the Indian Union, and its people have done a remarkable service to the country by defending the borders in high altitude areas in treacherous weather.
The responsibility of securing Ladakh side of border is mainly on the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, and more even significantly, the Ladakh Scouts. They are an infantry regiment of the Indian Army with over 4,000 personnel, nicknamed the “Snow Tigers”, who specialise in mountain warfare.
The personnel are recruited primarily from Ladakhi and the Tibetan communities. the Ladakh Scouts are easily among the most decorated units of the Indian Army. They have taken part in every major wars of India. And they have achieved a staggering 605 military honours and medals.
in May 1948, the Pakistani tribal raiders from across the border, attacked and captured kargil, leaving the main town of Leh vulnerable.
Even though Maharaja Hari Singh had signed the Instrument of Accession in October 1947, there was very little Indian military presence in the region.
Standing up to the tribal raiders in Ladakh were just 33 personnel of the J&K state forces, and a tiny volunteer force of 20 men led by the legendary Lieutenant Colonel Prithi Chand. Called the ‘X-Force’.
they had crossed the extremely harsh climes of Zoji La pass in winter.
Pakistani tribal raiders were in anticipation of looting the region’s numerous Buddhist monasteries in leh. And they had thought the locals will not put up a fight.
When Lieutenant Colonel Prithi Chand hoisted the Indian tricolour in Leh and called out for volunteers, the first person to raise his hands was a 17-year-old boy from Nubra Valley called Chewang Rinchen, who went on to become an Indian Armed forces legend.
It took two more months for the first batch of Indian Army troops to arrive via airlift, but in the meantime, Rinchen and his band of young Ladakhi volunteers called the Nubra Guards, did everything to keep the hundreds of tribal raiders at bay.
The rest, as they say, is history, as the Indian forces successfully pushed the tribal raiders back.
For his efforts, Rinchen was inducted into the force as a junior commissioned officer and awarded the Mahavir Chakra, the second highest gallantry award.
He went onto win the Sena Medal in the 1962 War against China, and a second Mahavir Chakra for leading Indian forces to capture 800 square kilometres of territory from Pakistan in the 1971 War, including the strategically critical village of Turtuk.
The main task of this regiment was to guard India’s borders in the high-altitude areas of the Ladakh region. These ‘Snow Warriors’, affectionately called ‘Nunoos’.
In 1983, the armed forces decided to reorganise the Ladakh Scouts into a Headquarter and two wings–‘Karakoram Wing’ and the ‘Indus Wing’.
Another moment of success came during Operation Meghdoot, where along with the 4 Kumaon Battalion, they captured the Siachen Glacier right under the nose of the Pakistani forces.
Ladakh Scouts personnel played a critical role in the occupation of the critical Sia La and Blindfold La mountain passes on the Saltoro Ridge perched at an altitude of 20,000 and 18,000 feet above sea level, respectively.
Capturing these positions helped the Indian armed forces establish a tactical advantage over the Pakistani forces, who were taken by surprise.
Genetically conditioned for high altitudes, Ladakhis do not suffer from mountain sickness. It is said, they are God sent to guard the region.
However, their real moment of glory came during the Karil War in 1999. The Ladakh Scouts were one of the first units deployed for Operation Vijay – the Indian operation to clear the Kargil sector. Displaying exceptional courage, the unit won multiple gallantry awards, including the Maha Vir Chakra for Major Sonam Wangchuk.
Praising their efforts, Rinpoche then MP of ladakh recommended that the Ladakh Scouts be upgraded to a regular regiment of the Indian Army. Responding to his letter, General VP Malik wrote, “They (Ladakh Scouts) have performed in an exemplary manner, displaying extraordinary courage and determination.
It was following their heroics in the Kargil War that the Indian Army decided to convert the Ladakh Scouts into a full-fledged infantry regiment in June 2001 along the lines of the Gorkhas and Dogras.
The Ladakh Scouts today comprise of five battalions, each one with approximately 850 soldiers. Two of five are deployed in very high-altitude areas, one of which invariably includes the Siachen Glacier.
Among the other three, two are stationed in other parts of Ladakh, while one is restricted to a peacetime location in Chandimandir cantonment of Panchkula, Haryana.
For the people of Ladakh, the Scouts offer not just an opportunity to serve the nation but earn a decent living.
Besides defending the land, the Ladakh Scouts have also helped the region recover from the economic devastation caused by successive wars.
On August 21, 2017, President Ram Nath Kovind honoured the Ladakh Scouts by presenting it with the President’s Colours—an honour reserved for those units that distinguish themselves over decades. Whole of the India knows they deserved it.
Dr Sindhu Prashanth