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A Journey Through Zojila Pass

About ColNarinder Singh Malhan

Colonel Narinder Singh Malhan was commissioned from Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun. On having served for almost four decades in Indian Army, he loves to share his experiences through his writings. In his opinion, every life has a lot to unfold. Each life is unique and is an historical document with its own identity. He strongly feels, real discovery is through introspection by looking back in own time. He believes, sharing own experiences are like revisiting life's milestones with more intensity. He thoroughly enjoyed his journey in uniform.

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It was late September 1984 when I had to pass over Zojila to reach my home for a short leave. It turned out to be life’s dreadful experience. At Kargil, where I was posted at that time, the weather had gone bad during the last two days. Excitement to reach home was very high. Seven months had passed since I had gone for my previous leave. It was a hard earned leave. Relief to replace me had taken more time than usual due to shortage of a suitable officer at the unit.

We were to travel around seventy kilometers to reach Zojila from Kargil. There were seven big army logistic vehicles, by which we were traveling. Previous two days, it had snowed heavily around the Zojila. Once Border Road Organization (BRO) extended clearance on suitability of the road, we commenced our journey from Kargil. Time was around 1300 hours. With huge build-up of snow around the area, one could easily fathom the intensity of the journey. Border Road Organization had worked hard to clear the snow to ensure that the pass was fit for traffic movement, at the earliest. People from the organization still could be seen working around.

Ground situation was entirely different from what had previously been painted by the personnel of Border Road Organization. Snow had hardened over the pass. I was shocked that the vehicle by which I was travelling was skidding freely, with no control of the driver on its movements. Ours were 2–wheel drive vehicles. Vehicles of this make are not suitable for driving through snow bound areas. Two front wheels being free, offered no resistance against skidding.

The situation was terrifying. On my left, I could see exceptionally sharp, deep area. In case of a fall, losing life was guaranteed; even the remains would not be found. Looking down sent shivers through the spine. Bridge between life and death looked too narrow. Our right flank was dominated by a steep and sharp wall of a mountain. Big boulders and debris, mixed with snow, and falling with speed was a common scene. Not very far, we could hear frequent sounds of descending stones and sand. Life appeared enveloped with the narrative of hell. One of the drivers was so scared that he conveyed his inability to drive under those conditions. Another driver, finding his vehicle skidding, had thumped it against the wall of the mountain.

Gravity of the situation was further discovered once I came out of the vehicle to coordinate further move under the given circumstances. My shoes were failing to hold me firmly. They had become like skates. Leather boot heals proved to be disadvantageous. They provided requisite momentum for skidding on hardened snow surface.

The situation was of gloom, despair and panic. Darkness of night made it scarier. We only could see through headlights of vehicles. Road being narrow and circuitous, added fright even to the experienced and skilled drivers. Some of them were driving vehicles in difficult terrains since many years. But, today the situation was entirely different. It was the situation of a bolt from the blue. This was the time to revisit own guts and nerves. Remaining calm and collected appeared to be the only way out. Weather was inclement and possibility of heavy snow fall further could not be ruled out. So staying there for any longer duration could have been life threatening and perilous. We decided to move slowly and gradually. We were almost crawling. Some of us walked throughout the complete route to guide the vehicles. Even a chance error by fraction of a second could end our story.

In a matter of routine, traversing through Zogila was possible in about one hour’s time. By the time, we reached the other side of Zojila, it was the journey of about seven hours. We had a great sigh of relief. We had completed a journey of life and death, separated by a thin and invisible thread. Drivers who drove those vehicles that day were brave, courageous and dare devils. Revisiting the experience sends shivers through spine even today. Remembering those brave drivers is my way of paying gratitude to those great soldiers; they are part of my memory lane for ever.

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