Brave Major Sonam
in the freezing mountains of Kargil is a warrior and his men. At 18,000
ft where the thin air makes breathing ragged, every step an ordeal, Major
Sonam Wangchuk, 35, and his band of 30-odd soldiers from the Ladakh Scouts
are entering the realm of legend. In the close-knit society of Ladakh to
which he belongs, they talk in hushed tones of their son. And in his army,
they talk in awe of his battle prowess.
Buddhist soldier gives India one of its major footholds in the icy mountains.
On one of the
world's most brutal battlefields, his colleagues and officers say, Wangchuk
has captured a vital mountain ridge in the Chorbat La sub-sector near Batalik,
giving the army a foothold that it desperately needed. They've gone over
the mountain tops and now directly face the Pakistani side of the loc.
"Thanks to his heroic action, we are sitting bang on the LoC in Chorbat
La," says a Ladakh Scouts officer. For over a week now Wangchuk and his
men -- cut off from the world except for their wireless and living off
survival rations -- have snapped shut a crucial infiltration point. Wangchuk
is now being recommended for the Maha Vir Chakra, his fellow JCO and six
other jawans, gallantry medals.
On May 26, when
Wangchuk got his orders, he promised his son he would return for his birthday
on June 11. Given his battle experience in the Siachen glacier, Wangchuk
was the obvious choice for the assault. Two days later he was asked to
capture an 18,000-ft high ridge just inside the Indian side of the loc.
Glacial and rocky, with days warming to minus 6 degrees Celsius, the mountain
with its 80 degree gradient was a test even for skilled mountaineers. Information
filtering in over wireless dispatches from the LoC describe how while leading
a platoon (36 men) and supported by artillery fire from the rear positions,
Wangchuk was negotiating an ice wall in the dead of night on May 31 when
he heard sounds of picks and hammers on the other side of the ridge facing
Pakistan. He quickly flashed a wireless message to the rear. Wangchuk and
his men made it to the ridge top in three hours under heavy fire by Pakistani
troops from the flanks. The mountains rang with the Ladakh Scouts' war
cry, "Ki Ki So So Lhargyalo" (The gods will triumph), as the superbly fit
Wangchuk -- he was a top athlete at Delhi's Modern School -- led his men
towards the brutal enemy-held cliffs. From there they spotted a group of
intruders trying to scale the ridge from the Pakistan side.
his men to hold on till the enemy came within firing range. Four intruders
were killed in the gun-battle. Wangchuk and his column had foiled a major
infiltration attempt. The soldiers then retrieved the bodies of the intruders
who turned out to be Pakistani Army regulars. Next day, Wangchuk led the
charge to clear the heights and return to India the commanding positions
that the intruders wanted so desperately to occupy. The Ladakh Scouts are
particularly being used for the battle in Kargil because of their natural
acclimatisation to a frigid desert of a war zone where plainspeople with
their lower blood-oxygen levels find it difficult to breathe.
By all accounts,
Wangchuk is an extraordinary soldier, a contradiction even. "We could never
imagine he could even hurt a fly," recalls Pintoo Norbu, hotel owner in
Leh who knows him. The son of a paramilitary soldier, Wangchuk is a deeply
religious Buddhist -- before going to battle he and some of his men went
to the Dalai Lama, who was visiting Leh, to seek his blessings -- soft
spoken and scrupulously polite. But that gentleman's exterior hides the
tough interior of an officer the army is proud to showcase.
For now his family
is secondary. On June 8, Wangchuk's wife requested his unit to allow him
three days' leave to attend his son's birthday. But the army commander
reluctantly told her that her husband was "required elsewhere" -- up there
in the mountains, where Wangchuk's war isn't done yet.
highest wartime gallantry award MAHA VIR CHAKRA was awarded to Major Sonam
Wangchuk on 15th August 1999.