When I appeared in the Service Selection Board in Bangalore, one of the questions I was asked was about the location of Chushul and why it had made headlines during the Indo-China war of 1962. I remember having indicated the general area and saying something I had read in the papers. That saw me through but my desire to know more about the place became intense. My opportunity came 24 years later when I was posted to Leh in 1986 to command a logistics support battalion.
I learnt that the unit I was to command for the next 24 months was deployed in bits and pieces at many remote locations. There was one such detachment at Chushul to support the ITBP unit. I made up my mind to visit Chushul at the first opportunity. I was fortunate to get first-hand information about the battle of Rezang La from the GOC who was the adjutant of 13 Kumaon during the fateful days. The general's outstanding leadership made my resolve to visit Chushul even stronger. When I let my intentions known to the 2IC and others, they opposed the idea. But by the end of November, I set off for Chushul.
The journey by jonga was not as uncomfortable as I had anticipated. A couple of stoppages en-route to meet my men rejuvenated me. I was full of pride to be at a place where a saga of unprecedented courage, valour and supreme sacrifice had been written by the Army. Around 140 men had given a befitting reply to the enemy against all odds, before 120 of them, including the legendary Major Shaitan Singh, laid down their lives. My chest swelled with pride when I met the men and observed the high morale of ITBP soldiers and regular troops. It was a humbling moment.
The havildar in-charge informed me that I was to stay in the same room where former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi had spent some time during their visits. I could not believe my luck. On a wall were displayed the photographs of the two prime ministers interacting with the troops. I was overwhelmed to see the photographs in the dimly-lit room. The Visitor's Book had the comments and signatures of the two VIPs. I was elated to put my comments in the same book. I wanted to take some pictures of the room but the rules forbade that. Next day was the time to head back to Leh. I was fortunate to get lift in a chopper. When I landed at the Leh airport, I felt I was no less than a VIP, though only for a day.