Noel Ellis's Official Blog

I wield the pen to explore the vastness of the human mind

Category: DESERT

WATERY TALES

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I was watching a programme on water scarcity where I saw long queues of residents waiting to fill water in Simla. India may see a water crisis soon. Does this strike a chord somewhere? War for oil is passé, the next World War is going to be for water, I reckon.

Hills do have a peculiar problem where water freezes in pipes in winters. In summers tourists flock the area and consume water in bucket loads, in rainy season every drop gets washed away. So how to sustain is the question. My place has an average rainfall of 2500 mm plus per annum and all goes to the sea. Villages around are crying hoarse for drinking water but nothing is being done to harvest a single drop or address their perennial problem.

Be that as it may. I remember in the deserts I was lucky to have served in a battalion which had no dearth of vehicles and had many bowsers of 1000/3000 litres capacity. We were also fortunate enough to have our Engineer Regiment friends who used to go in advance to establish water points for us in midst of nowhere. I must also thank the Indian Government and their vision to construct the Indira Gandhi canal from Harike barrage in Ferozpur to deep inside Rajasthan, teeming with fish and delivering pure water from the confluence of Beas & Sutlej Rivers to the parched deserts. Fresh canal fish, fried to perfection with rum and “thanda pani” was ultimate during exercises.

I remember a place called “Dharmi Khu”. It was a deep well very close to the boundary of India and Pakistan. Shepherds of both countries used to water their cattle from this common well. I for the first time saw two camels pulling a huge leather bucket (MASHAK) made of one piece camel skin out of the well from a depth of about 1000 feet for water to reach the surface. The communication between the camel operator and the man at the well used the typical one finger whistle. It used to be fun to see the irritated camels come back in reverse gear grunting and blabbering their frothy tongues. I have tasted that water, it was very brackish. Normal people will spit it out like a shower but man and beast in those far off lands had to drink it. I hope “Sagarmal Gopa Canal” water has reached there by now.

The chaggal (water canvas small) and the pakhal (mule tank) were the ultimate Army water carriers. As a Mech Officer I never carried a water bottle but had chaggals tied all around my open jonga. The thin crust of ice in the chilly desert winter on canvas buckets was common. How can one forget, beer bottles were chilled in deep pits left overnight, sprinkled with water in the golden sands of Jaisalmer.

In Ladakh fetching water was fun. Though we had an engineer detachment but they were left to run the boat in Pangong Tso with a modified one tonne engine. The water point was between Lukung and Phobrang village. My “Pinja” buddy in a 3 Ton with my wife and our post dog Rambo used to hop on with a small working party to fetch water every second day. Wife, I & Rambo used to get down at the fishing point to catch Brown Trout. Rest of the party used to go to fetch water. I used to wonder why they didn’t carry water tanks. They used bring back frozen blocks of nice clean transparent ice. This also solved the mystery of why these guys carried crow bars instead of rubber hoses. Later I found this a common site in Ladakhi villages where ladies used to carry ice in baskets.

Water both in High altitude and the deserts was rationed. Our unit water bowser used to pump water in our over head tanks once a day in married accommodation at Jodhpur. Jaisalmer was equally bad where we lived off pakhals. While one was deployed in the deserts for exercises and operations one had the privilege of having an exclusive bucket of water as an officer. Men generally took a dip in the canal in case it was in the near vicinity. In my whole army life it was rarely I would have taken a shower. Today, in Jodhpur one has to store water in underground tanks and it is 1000 rupees for a tanker these days. All our lives we lived with water timings and never complained.

Most of us would never have witnessed dry cleaning of utensils. Let me tell you about a typical desert village where the utensils are rubbed clean with sand and we too did it in various exercises to conserve water for the days ahead. I haven’t seen “BARTANs” cleaner and glistening like gold after dry cleaning with sand. They will beat Vim bar any day.

A man can live without food for weeks but maximum three days without water. If water is so important, then what are my countrymen doing to preserve it? I think fauji’s can manage with rationed water can the rest of India too? I wonder!!!!!!!!!!!

JAI HIND

© Noel Ellis

FIRST DAY IN LEH

http://zspskorcz.pl/pictose/eseit/5697 FIRST DAY IN LEH

http://modernhomesleamington.co.uk/bathrooms/case-studies/itemlist/category/4-bedrooms?format=feed Se questo accade in una tendenza verso il basso, a un livello noto di resistenza, durante la luce di trading vacanze o altro momento non  I was posted to a new battalion on deputation based at Durbuk, (Tangtse) in 1990. It was in high altitude. Cold, frozen, snowing and icy was the impression in my mind. I was told it has a rear near Leh. “Rear” had a very different impression in my mind.

I was posted in Jaisalmer then and having measured the hot & sandy deserts by all means of transport available in the army including by foot I was looking forward to this change.

Zozila pass had not opened so I had to travel by air from Chandigarh to Leh. I was shoved into an IL-76. I saw this huge aircraft up close for the first time. It had been converted into a double Decker and I got a seat near the tailboard. Engines started and that whine was getting to scare me a little. We rolled off. With the first “jhatka” when the brakes are released I almost fell off. Soon the ears started getting blocked. I kept praying not realising I shall be jumping with parachutes from this plane later in life.

A 45 minute flight was an experience in itself. Then there was a thud, it was touchdown at Leh. We taxied and parked and as the tail door opened I saw a mountain of sand. I said to myself, hope I have landed at the right place. A very smart looking NCO with a red beret received me. We were off to a transit camp in a very shinny one tonner. We reached the site and I was taken inside a mess.

One had to bend to get in. Two odd bulbs were glowing in that room, flickering with the fluctuating voltage. They used to go dim and then flicker and then suddenly emit a bright light. I saw four people sitting on the table playing bridge. A few Gorkha looking people wearing torn sandow baniyans and combat pants were serving drinks and snacks. The bar man had a weird haircut with locks of curly hair over his ears. He was also chewing gum, unheard of in messes I suppose. I was not used to the “Pinja” way of life. I wished the crowd, they acknowledged as if saying one more “murga” has come and continued playing.

I was feeling cold in the month of April and watching those waiters in sleeveless baniyans I was getting the shivers. My feet were getting cold too and I was itching to go to the loo. The waiter guided me to a bathroom where I saw the Indian style thing. The door latch was a wire cable which one had to hook to a nail. No flush and I also noticed that the window glass was actually a transparent plastic sheet with which we used to cover maps. Water was freezing; sinks were there but without taps. Boy, I was in for adventure. I looked up to God, as I was closer to him by 11000 feet and asked him to bless me.

I came back and took a seat when someone said “saab ko drink lagao”. I said it’s too early, he said how you dare disobey the commanding officer. The waiter was already on my head with a whisky-pani. I asked for soda and he gave me a dirty look as if such things were never heard in these valleys. My mind floated back to Jaisalmer where Naik Padmasanan L our unit soda factory NCO could be hauled up for not filling adequate gas in the soda bottle.

I was a rum drinker so got it changed, took a swig and felt a little warm. In the mean time I found one waiter lighting up a contraption which I later came to know is called a “bukhari” (Kerosene heater). My feet were as cold as ice as the sky was overcast. The rum gave me a little pep but the bukhari boosted my morale. I was in summer uniform and constantly getting goose pimples which I think the mess Havildar noticed and from somewhere he brought an outer of a “coat parka”. I wanted to stand up and kiss him for his thoughtful gesture.

The barman was refilling the glasses without anyone even saying a word. I was already feeling little  tipsy by midday. The CO got up to take a leak & shook hands with me. He told me to enjoy my drink and left. Bridge continued. At 1.30 pm a person came with soup. It smelt good and I had a sip and it tasted really good. I asked the waiter what soup it is. He said “Haddi ka soup”. I was taken aback, “kis ki haddi ka soup”. Later I found out it was chicken soup.

Lunch was laid and I was feeling glad already. I ate well but the foursome had their “saunf” on the bridge table itself. We exchanged pleasantries during lunch. They told me to do as the Mess Havildar tells me to do. Then they got glued to their dealt hands with toothpicks stuck in their teeth.

I was taken to my room and given a sleeping bag. The mess Havildar said saab “aap sho jao”, dinner will be served in the room. I being from 17 Mech Recce and Support and that too Tracked was taken aback that in JA-SALE-MER even in midst of summers, we were told to report in suit and tie to the mess. Mess Havildar replied Sir; aap ka “climate” nahi hua hai is liye. Baki shaab log climate kar chuke hain. He meant to say that you have walked the earth more than you had to on the first day of acclimatisation in Leh, others are old hands. I thanked my stars and knocked off in deep slumber.

This was on first day of my posting to high the altitude desert. The next stage was at 13000 feet in the battalion after four days. The foursome also said “In the Land of Lama don’t become a Gamma”. What did they mean? I kept wondering!!!!!!!!!

JAI HIND

© Noel Ellis

ARMED FORCES TO RESCUE POLLUTED INDIA

The buzz in Delhi and the media is pollution. To that extent my mind has got so polluted that I cannot think rationally anymore. The constant bak-bak, tu-tu-mai-mai about the subject is getting on my nerve. Worst is what can be implemented now is being deferred or postponed. Governments are busy with what they are best at doing that is passing the buck. It is not surprising that now even Pakistan has started blaming India for polluting its air, like we blame everything on ISI and Pakistan.

How can the Armed Forces contribute to reduction of pollution in North India? I have an idea. The serving folks will kill me for what I am going to suggest but I shall take it in its stride because we have done so many things for this country so why not chip in here too.

Let all transport aircrafts sprinkle water over the complete affected area, from Punjab to UP and from Himachal to Rajasthan, in and around Delhi where smog exists. I don’t know if our aircrafts can be modified to carry water but if need be let’s do it to our transport fleet. If the Government of India or for that matter Delhi goes to hire such aircrafts, it would be two seasons passed due to governmental delays. In case government hires aircrafts emergently, the exorbitant rates it might have to pay and how many people will make money needs to be considered. Yes, if we need to buy a few aircrafts which douse forest fires, let’s start the procurement process now for the next season.

The basic issue is the burning of stubble in Delhi & its neighbouring states. This year the farmers have already burnt what they had to but for next season let there be a massive logistics exercise by the Army or under the Army with Indian railways included. The complete fleet of the armed forces transport, civil hired transport (CHT) and goods train rakes be mobilised with adequate manpower by forming a grid across the affected states. As the farmers harvest, the trucks pick up the stubble and transport it to the remote desert of Rajasthan by rail and road.

Few things will happen; one, animals in Rajasthan’s will never go hungry. Two, thermal power plants can utilise this for generating power. Three, tremendous amount of compost can be generated which can be sent all over the country for farming. Four, in case Rajasthan wants to start organic farms along the IGC (Indira Gandhi Canal) I can assure you we will have radish (mooli) and carrots three feet long. Five, prices of vegetables will drop and six, there will be no need to import vegetables. The only thing is we will have to ban “Mooli Parathas” for obvious polluting reasons.

Let us try it out for one season. Let us have no burning of any crop waste. All this has to be done in a time bound manner and no one can beat the forces in punctuality. Let the government agencies clear all roads for passing of these huge convoys and railways give highest priority to such rakes. Let the CHTs be moved under the army supervision to places earmarked. Let a civil organisation get into fodder distribution and compost making so that well before the next crop all that was received is disposed off. Once the forces have shown the way let the civil administration take over and carry out this ritual as their primary duty to save people from pollution.

I am still not sure how do the developed countries expand their infrastructure without polluting their cities. Why Delhi needs to stop construction? Odd even rule needs to be followed but not with a double whammy that you quadruple the parking charges. Make Delhi so transport friendly that everyone commutes by public transport. If you count the number of cabs in Delhi the figure would be in many lakhs. Registered four wheelers may touch a figure of one crore plus. So rather than having 20 cars in the PMs Fleet can we reduce a few. Down the line Mantri’s who have such categories of security also need to prune their fleet. The Army Chief goes around with just two or three vehicles. Could anybody be a bigger target than the Chief himself? Let’s stop this show-sha bazi.

Well complete North India is gripped with this menace. Let us implement the short term measures today, plan for the long term in the next 30 days and be ready for its implementation in the next harvest season.

I gave this suggestion of using the forces in jest. You never know I might be given the Nobel Prize for “idiotic thinking”. If we as a force could do so many things for this country then why cannot we contribute to saving the residents of North India from this deadly pollution?

I have one more suggestion; someone needs to take the responsibility straight away irrespective of state, center, gram panchayat or whatever. The citizens have to stand up with the government now. Situation is becoming desperate. Stop this mind pollution, stop this venom and hatred spreading, stop all kinds of pollution of minority, majority, Hindu, Muslim. PM Sir, India is the biggest canvas where you can paint a collage. Let us see it emerging rather than it getting blurred in this mix of all sorts of pollutants. Will it be now or will it be never? I wonder!!!!!!!!!!!!!

JAI HIND

© Noel Ellis

 

RAKSHA MANTRI IN THE DESERT

It gives me a good feeling when my Raksha Mantri (RM) finds time to visit forward troops. I recently saw her in the desert sector atop a BMP modified like a chariot. The crew would have been, the Army Chief as the Commander, the Army Commander as the gunner and the Brigade Commander, no you guessed it wrong, poor fellow must be hanging on for dear life as the driver would surely be the senior most Havildar. Can’t take a chance with Brigadier saab’s driving and giving jhatka’s of a life time to the minister. (With no offences meant please)

 

Be that as it may, I am reminded of the good old days when I started my career from the deserts. Jaisalmer Sector was the place I joined. The then Army Commander was on an operational tour and I was made the official photographer with one pip on my shoulder. My location was in the navigation party led by open jongas of the Motorised Battalion. For me map of the desert meant nothing as I had just come from IMA Dehradun, where I could never make out the difference between a spur and its contours. We all just did “Bhed chal” to reach Bhadraj top behind Mussorie. There maps were green and shades of it. Here I had a khakhi blank sheet of paper with one odd marking of a toba, taal sar, khu, talai, tibba and an odd Dhani (hamlet) after two map sheets. This jonga was modified for carrying many tubes. One could mistake them for missiles. Actually they were stuffed with map sheets and tons of them. That was my abode for the next fortnight and I was off on my maiden desert safari thereafter.

 

These motorised guys taught me how to join maps in a sequence as every 10-15 odd kilometres the sheet used to change. My CO used to be in the gunner’s cupola and the Army Commander on a Tatra’s seat welded behind. A jeep’s seat was also welded in the rear for all and sundry. This was the Army Commander’s chariot (BMP). Our two waiter’s Gabbar Singh and Jagjit Singh were stuffed into the stick compartment in the rear of the BMP.

 

Hats off to the waiters, as moment there used to be a halt they used to stick their necks out from the gunner’s cupola in between CO’s legs with some beverage. Our CO had catered for thanda pani, garam pani, neebu pani, narial pani, meethi lassi, zeera lassi, garam chai, garam coffee, cold coffee, frooty, unit soda in three flavours and you name it. There was one officer detailed to keep fetching ice from wherever he could. Our ice supply never ran out. Administration was perfect.

 

Yours truly had no clue of Mechanised tactics. So I hung on to dear life on to that leading jonga with a “hot shot” camera and clicked away merrily. One of my photos of the BMP tracks on a virgin desert stretch was later used to design the Recce & Sp logo showing the track marks. Well, we did move bound to bound, the Pakistani rangers were following us, there were no border fences that time and we used to take the shortest cut between the border pillars. It used to be a pleasure to relieve oneself on the other side of the border. Somehow it gave a kind of sadistic pleasure and a feeling of satisfaction deep within that we watered Pakistan.

 

I learnt to read a map, I learnt to bear the heat, I learnt to face sand storms, I learnt to navigate a little, I learnt navigation by stars while moving cross country at night, I understood what a mirage is. I learnt to identify blind wells and how to avoid them. I learnt how to use a magnetic compass while on the move, I learnt to survive on limited water, I learnt to handle start a jonga, I learnt how to negotiate a vehicle in absolute lose sand, I learnt to recover a stuck vehicle, I learnt to enjoy cold meals, I learnt to enjoy the sandy crunch in the meals, I learnt the importance of a “patka” and sand goggles and this learning stood me in good stead later in life as more than half my service I did in the deserts and above all I learnt to use my seventh sense and instincts.

 

It took us lot of reconnaissance and practice to achieve the mastery of the desert. Yes I also learnt a lot of Rajasthani. I learnt what a KHOJI was. He is a person who tracks down animals in a village. Their expertise was such that they could tell by the footprints of the camel that was it laden or empty. They could identify number of camels in a group by hoof marks & foot prints. They could tell how long the animal was sitting in a particular place by the droppings and urine. They could make out that the animal is tired or fresh by the belly marks on the sand; they could even say whether a particular animal is injured or had a natural limp by the imprint on sand. They could indicate the direction of the move of the animal, was it running or walking. Basically they were the most sought after people. Later in life we used to take their help for navigation to reach our objectives.

 

Well I transformed from a desert novice to a desert fox many moons later. But it was nice to see our RM on the “Mechanised ship of the desert”. Madam I hope now you will try and understand how life is in the deserts especially while operating such equipment. I hope now you will change your opinion and understand that life in the sandy wilderness is tough too. Will you? I wonder!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

JAI HIND

© Noel Ellis

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