Noel Ellis's Official Blog

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

Tag: Ladakh

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

MY LADAKH DIARIES

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My climate (acclimatisation) at Leh went off well and I was ready to take on the mountains. For a Mech officer to get posted to high altitude meant one more medal. To earn it, I had to spend 180 days excluding breaks which I thought would be a cake walk. The reality was way off and I shall share how tough life is subsequently.

Early morning we started in a 1ton for Tangtse. It could take 6-8 hours, I was told. All was going well till we passed by a canal. I saw huge layered ice slabs neatly piled like files in a rack. A thought passed my mind, that why they want ice slabs in such weather. I looked at the Indus which was smoothly flowing, shimmering and meandering in the valley below but got no answers. Then I thought they must be transporting ice to Leh. Such weird thoughts get sorted out very fast. I got to know later that the canal had frozen in winter, ice was still melting and water goes to the Stakna hydel project. How stupid I must have felt. Bloody mechie come down to mother earth, I told myself.

As we were crossing a causeway near Karu, my excitement knew no bounds when I saw a BMP near the Indus river bed. My imagination started running wild as the valley was broad enough to take a Combat Group. I had also heard that a Mech Battalion and an Armoured Squadron were located there. I was on home turf kinds and without even reaching Tangtse, I was already making plans to take on the Chinese with anti-tank missiles.

Karu onwards the climb started getting steep. I, who had driven a 1 Ton up every sand dune of Jaisalmer District, now started to feel the presence of the mighty mountains. The scene was barren but sublime. The drive was bumpy and kept getting bumpier. Soon the road disappeared and converted into a track. Our vehicle started skidding. The sound of the engine in constant low gear was telling me something. Sitting behind, I was not able to see the valley below but when suddenly our driver braked and we started to slide backwards and the damn thing turned away from the mountain wall. My instinct to jump out was at its peak. Luckily the tailboard hit the vehicle following us & we came to a halt. All of us jumped doing a kind of obstacle course as the vehicles were kissing each other.

My heart skipped a beat when I peeped over the side into the valley. There were more than 10 odd vehicle chassis crumpled and crushed half buried in a graveyard of sorts. My goodness Lord I said, today we would have been minced. Our driver quickly got out, put a rock under the tyre and opened the tool box. He pulled out some chains. They were very funny looking things and I assumed that they would be for towing but to my surprise I found them to be anti-skid chains. Water had frozen and made a thick slate of ice on the track. Every year I was told that one odd vehicle goes down this slope. Frankly, I got the shivers down my spine. Whatever parts can be recovered from the vehicle is recovered and rest is destroyed in-situ. I shuddered but put up a brave face. The cold now started to grip me; I wore my coat Parka thereon.

I was shocked to see two drivers trying to burn their vehicles by lighting cotton waste under fuel tanks of their 3 Tons parked on one side. I almost shouted at them but I was told that the diesel has frozen in the pipes, as they must not have put anti-freeze in their tanks. I would have arrested them for destroying government property.

We reached Changla, it is 17,586 feet above mean sea level. It is the second highest mountain pass after Khardungla. The GREF teams keep it open but in the thick of winters it closes for weeks together. People told me that kindly pray before you leave or else Changla Baba will keep calling you back. The driver knew that I was a novice; he opened the glove box and handed over a pack of Parle-G and an aggarbatti to me. I thanked him as my “batti” was really band for obvious reasons.

The toughest part was yet to come which was down hill to Zingral. I could see the TCP but the road was multiple Zs, a zig-zag kind of landscape. On the first hairpin bend I saw a 3 ton in its grave. The officer sitting next to me narrated the story that it was a 3 Ton carrying CSD stores of a regiment which went down. He was part of the rescue mission. They told me that day every local Ladakhi they met was drunk. The reason was this vehicle was carrying about 150 cases of the most precious liquid on the other side of Changla. All bottles broke on impact and the liquid froze. The local fellows, after rescuing the men got busy sucking on ice and carried chunks of frozen liquor home. The drink was definitely on the rocks. In Jaisalmer one craved for ice, here one just needed rum and a glass.

It was close to dusk when we rolled into our battalion. The welcome board said “Second to None” with Snow Lions painted on its sides. I looked up and thanked the Lord and also said Changla Baba ki Jai in my mind.

I was cold, fatigued, disoriented and dizzy with a slight headache. I just wanted to have a hot cup of tea and I wasn’t disappointed as a jawan said “TASHI DELEG” & poured piping hot tea from a Chinese thermos in steel glasses. I rolled the glass vigorously in my hands. With one sip, I was already feeling better.

How many such trips would be needed to please Changla Baba? I wondered!!!!!!!!!!

JAI HIND

© Noel Ellis

THIS WAY TO KASHMIR

 

The Army officer who tied up a stone pelter in front of his jeep became the talk of the town. The only people who did not like it were the Kashmiri people and the peace nicks for Kashmir. 9 soldiers: 1000 plus mob is some ratio. Are the Kashmiri’s justified to stop forces from doing their polling duties? Was it fair to attack nine people, who under orders “not to fire” and could not have extricated themselves without help? Would the loss of nine lives solve the Kashmir issue? One thing was sure had they been left to fend for themselves and they would have come back in body bags? The worst kind of death is dying while not facing the enemy. To add to the tragedy is when being fully conscious of pain, of being hit repeatedly over the same wounds above all one knows that he is losing blood which will lead to sure death if not evacuated. Was it fair to send people for such duty with their hands tied behind their backs and guns on their shoulders as if carrying batons? These Kashmiri people were nothing but barbarians. If they did what they wanted to do then what our officer did was well within his rights to save his comrades. Choice was to save nine without loss of life or open fire to disperse the mob. Thank your stars my Kashmiri friends, you live today.

I scrolled the dictionary to find out what weapon could a stone be classified into. As per the oxford dictionary “a missile is an object which is forcibly propelled at a “target”, either by hand or from a mechanical weapon”. So rather than calling these people stone pelters they are missile pelters. I also know mob mentality is the most difficult thing to control. One idea, one spark, one thought converts a peaceful protest into a riot. One instigator is needed to trigger the process. One person can change the entire complexion of the mob. I see the Kashmiri’s have decided that the Indian forces have to be stoned. This implies that now the forces too need to change their tactics. If need be more force will have to be used and if the consequences are death of a few Kashmiri’s for their unruly conduct, so be it. One cannot take it lying down always and every time. Troops and their safety come first always and every time, especially while handling such unruly trouble creators.

Why should there be any death? Can any Kashmiri politician reply? Are they responsible in any manner to this nation and to their electorate in particular? They eat out of the Indian plate and chant slogans of Azadi. Is it justified and fair? Either don’t eat out of our “THALI” or don’t make a hole in it. They want subsidies, they want freebies, they don’t want fellow Indians to come their land, they don’t want infrastructure to connect them to India, don’t want Indian security forces, want autonomy of every kind, don’t want to come under the Indian flag, don’t want to part with the so called constitution of J&K, want to keep article 370, will continue to harbour, feed, support, hide, shelter, guide, protect, give refuge, and shield people who in their myopic view will get the so called freedom from a country so big that its many states are bigger than the country where militants come from. They also expect to defeat the Indian armed forces which are many times the size of the armed forces of Pakistan. If they think that a nuclear threat looms large and will be initiated if war is proclaimed due to Kashmir. My foot!

What do Kashmiri people actually want? Is it Azadi? OK Granted. Leave India and go take asylum where ever you want to. Want to join our Kashmir to Pakistan? Forget it. At least whatever is remaining with us will remain with us. Whatever has been grabbed from us will be taken back shortly. Whatever has been handed over to China by Pak will definitely be negotiated as and when the atmosphere and the time is right. But if you guys think that Kashmir can be annexed and made into a dreamland of yours with the support of any one, my second foot.

Do Kashmiri people want to avoid unnecessary loss of life? I am sure the answer is yes. If so then cooperate with the Indian forces and government Allow them to do their job which they are meant to do best. Let there be a democratic process. Stop the anti-India policy, stop running parallel governments, If you want to prosper with increase in tourism let infrastructure be built, let the abundance of fruits and flowers be an economic enhancer for your land, allow access to companies supporting agriculture, horticulture, pisciculture, white revolution, canning, jam and pickle making, cold storage facility providers, wood industry experts, animal husbandry and forest researchers from rest of India. If you want jobs, educate your population. Come progress with India. Hope you understand the logic.

The present Kashmiri political leaders and leaders of Hurriyat now stand exposed. Their antics now lay bare the way they are fooling everyone in India and themselves. They can now no longer sustain their pseudo stand. They cannot face you people thus stay in the confines of their homes. They do not believe in your cause so do not allow their children to be part of any protests. The only things they understand is that keep these cauldrons boiling and enjoy all the fruits that are pumped in to keep the fire lit under this cauldron of hatred. They are the ladle, which keeps stirring the bitterness within. They are the people who can keep telling the world what should be done but can’t do a fig themselves. They are cheating and leading you to hell. The sooner you guys emancipate yourselves the better. I am fed up of paying taxes which is either pocketed by these politicians or flow down the Indus and Jhelum wasted in giving away subsidies. You have been spoilt because we are giving you fish rather than training you to catch your own. Had the Indian government been strong enough to set the tone and tenor right for your state, it would have remained “jannat”.

How many generations will fight this war with us Indians as you call us? You haven’t got many generations left if you don’t understand peace. Allow all communities to live and let live. Pundits yearn to go back home. Let good sense prevail, give peace a chance and give India a chance to help you develop. Ladakh and Jammu are getting step motherly treatment courtesy you. Indian armed forces are adding to the body count for no reason. This is getting beyond tolerable limits. Time now is ripe to choose either this side or leave us alone and migrate to the land of your friends’ philosophers and guides. You will be welcomed very warm heartedly, given a royal treatment, fed, clothed and settled like their very first class citizens. If not then they may tie up a bomb laden waistcoat around you to meet the promised virgins in the name of the most holy. Is it understood? I wonder!!!!!!!!!!

JAI HIND

© Noel Ellis

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