The hero of Chorbat La

During the initial day of Kargil war, an extremely courageous Major of Ladakh Scout established an observation post on the LOC at Chorbat La without artillery support. The establishment of this border post stopped the infiltration along this route. Know the exploits of this gallant Officer, (now) Colonel Sonam Wangchuk, MVC from this article.

May 1999: The Major was on leave. He was spending his time with his family at Khakshal in Leh. He was suddenly called back to join his unit. He promised his son Riggyal that he would return before his birthday on June 11. Thereafter, the Major went to meet Dalai Lama (who was at Leh at that point of time) to seek his blessings. He definitely needed his blessings-war was imminent on the horizon.

Although he had been on leave, fortunately his home was very near to his unit's location. Two days later, the Major reported at Handen Brok, a BSF base camp at Chorbat La sub-sector of Batalik sector. This was the last stop before the LoC.

The initial reports of infiltration were being received, but the magnitude was not fully understood. The then 121(I) Brigd. Commander, Brigadier Surinder Singh infamously stated that only few infiltrators were at the top of the hills and his boys would throw them out by the scruff of their necks. But the actual fact was different.

Regular small arms fire interspersed with artillery fire targeting Indian positions became a regular feature. More infiltration was noted along with ridgeline at Chorbat La. The Major was asked to establish an observation post on the LoC- high on the mountains. He was given the task because he was a local man. He knew the topography of the area like palms of his hand and he spoke the local language.

The order was simple but in actuality it was next to impossible. No artillery support was provided to this Ladakh Scout Major. He was strictly prohibited to enter even an inch inside enemy territory. There was no information about the strength of the enemy. Undaunted, the Major started his journey with 30-odd soldiers to establish observation post at a height of 18300 feet at extremely rarefied weather on the LoC.

Within a very short time of commencement of journey, the party was ambushed. Concentrated and accurate small arms fire from enemy tried to pin down the Indian party. One soldier was killed. The major was forced to send another soldier from his small party to take the body back to the base camp at Handen Brok. But he never stopped moving forward. He never got pinned down by enemy fire. Shooting, taking cover and again shooting, the Ladakhis started running upwards. The Major knew the importance of reaching the ridge-line. The nimble-footed Ladakhis knew that they had to stop the infiltration along the ridgeline. After three hours, the party reached a position above the position which the enemy held.

Now it was the time to give the enemy the taste of their own medicine. Ladakh Scout soldiers started rolling the boulders behind which they had earlier taken cover, on the enemy. At the same time, the Major ambushed the enemy. He waited till the enemy reached within his party's firing range, and then attacked them from the flank. Soon the ridgeline was littered with Pakistani dead-bodies. Machine guns, ammunition and stores were recovered.

Fully understanding that his team would not be able to get artillery support and would not be allowed to cross LoC, the gritty Major established the observation post at Chorbat La and sealed the infiltration route. The team was cut off from their base camp. They were living on survival rations. But they did the impossible. Ladakhi war-cry 'Ki Ki So So Lhargiyalo' ('The Gods will triumph') echoed the mountains. The Pakistanis never dared to reach near the gallant Ladakhis led by their gallant Major. They held the post against impossible odds for seven days till the reinforcement arrived. Further infiltration through the ridgeline of Chorbat La was altogether stopped.

The gallant officer, Major (later Colonel) Sonam Wangchuk of Ladakh Scout, won the first commendation of Kargil war from the then Chief of Army Staff, General V.P. Malik,. He fulfilled his promise to his son and returned before his birthday on 11th June. He later re-joined his unit, and, after the war, received Mahavir Chakra for his exemplary bravery.

Concluding the narration

Those who know about Kargil war would tell that India tasted first significant victory during the war at Tololing. Rajputana Rifles, with active artillery support, cleared Tololing hill from the dirty hands of enemy in mid-June, 1999 after suffering heavy losses. But very few know that during mid-May of the year, at the very initial phase of the war, Major Wangchuk established Indian post at Chorbat La without any artillery support suffering minimum casualties. This daring act stopped further infiltration inside our country.

Article by Partha K.
“Those who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and those who dare not, are slaves.” - George Gordon Byron

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