Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Major Prithi Chand Saves’Ladakh’
It is the story of a person who was inspired by an ideal. It is an example of selflessness of one leader, who raised the vision of people all around him to achieve the impossible.

Prithi Chand was a scion of the ruling family of Lahaul. It was a small principality, tucked into the Himalayas to the north of Kulu and Manali. It borders on Ladakh.

In 1936, when he was about to finish his studies, the family Guru of Prithi Chand visited. He came from the Buddhist monastery in Ladakh. The Guru was ailing and said that the visit would be his last one. One evening he looked straight into the eyes of Prithi Chand and asked him to promise something. Prithi Chand readily offered to do whatever the Guru wanted. “Protect my monastery when it is in danger”. Not dnowing what it meant, Prithi Chand promised to do so.

On the eve of World War II,in 1939, Prithi Chand joined the Indian Army as an officer. It was December 1947 when Major Prithi Chand’s battalion fetched up in the Kashmir Valley to fight the tribal invasion launched by Pakistan. Soon thereafter, the Himalayas received a heavy snowfall and the only route leading to Ladakh across the Himalayas at Zojila Pass was blocked for the duration of the winter.

One of the thursts of the Pakistane invasion was along the Indus river towards Leh, the capital of Ladakh. The Indus River here is on the northern side of the Himalayas and flows from Tibet in the East towards West. The invading column was making slow progress in the severe wintry condition, against resisitance being put up by a small force belonging to the state of Jummu and Kashmir.

The Ladakhi community in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, started getting news of the imminent fall of Ladakh. During the long winter lying ahead, it was only a matter of time befor the invaders would reach and capture Let. On a tenuous radio link, the news started coming in that people were packing up their belongings to send them away to Tibet, along with their women and children. Major Prithi Chand was getting all the news through a Ladakhi classmate, who was a civil engineer at Srinagar.

One night, Major Prithi Chand saw a brief dream. His Guru appeared before him and told him to fulfil his promise. Prithi Chand woke up with a start. What promise? He had completely forgotten the incident of 1936. Slowly, the memory came back.

Prithi Chand got up, put on his uniform and set to work. He had got a clear-cut ideal to save Ladakh in order to protect the monastery of his Guru. His mission was more important than his life.

The senior military commanders felt that Prithi Chand had gone mad, when he suggested that an operation should be mounted to protect Ladakh . There was no way Ladakh could be saved. The route had closed down for the winter. And, in any case, they had no force wich could be diverted from the difficult task of protecting the Kashmir Valley.

Prithi Chand was not discouraged. He knocked at every door; military as well as political. He even persuaded the Ladakhi community to send telegrams to the Prime Minister of India at Delhi.

Finally, the military authorities relented and approved a plan prepared by Prithi Chand. Privately, they were of the opinion that it was a most scatter-brained idea. But they agreed to it, to get Prithi Chand off their backs! The plan was that Major Prithi Chand, along with thirteen volunteers from battalion and his civil engineer friend, would cross the snow bound Himalayas. They would carry about 200 rifles and some ammunition, using porters. On reaching Ladakh, Prithi Chand would raise a guerrilla force from the local youth and train them. they would then delay the Pakistani invading columns. Simultaneously, the civil engineer would prepare an airfield at Leh for the military aircraft, Dakotas. Once the airfield was ready, reinforcements would be flown into Lakakh.

The story of Major Prithi Chand is one of the great sagas of the profession of arms. It needs a full book 19 to narrate his adventures. But in a nutshell, he did cross the Himalayas in midwinter; escaped an avalanche; did reach Ladakh; did raise a guerrilla force; did hold the Pakistani invaders at bay for sixty days; did get the airfield ready at Leh and did pester the military authorities to honor their promise to fly in reinforcements, just in time to prevent the fall of Leh! He was awarded a Maha Vir Chakra, but his greater reward was the fulfillment of an ideal.

Selflessness based on an ideal or a vision is the real foundation of leadership. It inspires a leader and also those he leads, to achieve the impossible.

“As long you are clouded over with this
Possessive attitude, thinking only of yourself,
Your family, your people, your things, you can
be certain that sooner or later you will be cast
Into sorrow, you must travel from the stage of
identifying yourself with’ I’ and ‘mine’ to the
Higher stage where you are constantly
Identifying yourself with ‘we’ and ‘ours’. From
Selfishness you must gradually travel to
Selflessness, from bondage to liberation.”
-Sai Baba