View Full Version : Lama fauj -- The Army of the Lamas: The Ladakh Scouts

10-30-2004, 01:57 AM
Lama fauj... stalking the enemy (http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/sep122004/sh1.asp)

Somewhere in the formidable landscape of Ladakh are an army of men whose valiant tales resonate across the dull soil. They have toiled for over 40 years now, to protect our fragile borders in perhaps the most inhospitable terrain. Fighting fit at over 11,000ft, occasionally trudging to beyond 18,000ft, these soldiers are quipped to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the Indian Army - battling not just a hostile enemy but even harsh weather in the higher reaches of Ladakh.

Ladakh Scouts - indeed the pride of not just of the Indian Army but truly the entire nation, stand as one of the most decorated regiments.

Tsering Samphel is a proud man. As he speaks of the year 1999, tears swell in his eyes. He gets emotionally involved while narrating a personal account of how the war affected them. His mules are now used by the army to lug ration to far off posts; this has meant a supplementary income for this poor farmer from Sanachey, a small village, on the Line of Control, near Batalik, district Kargil. Post Kargil, he was so impressed by the efficient response rendered by the Indian Army in general, he now has got his two sons enrolled into Ladakh Scouts. He is visibly proud of this act as he notes, “Ladakh Scouts drove the enemy off so furiously that the enemy left their boots and ran away in a hurry. But for our Ladakhi jawans, nobody else could have given the enemy an even fight.”

Traveling across Ladakh, one realizes, this is not just Samphel’s personal view, but a sentiment echoed by the entire population. The locals speak of their sons, husbands, and brothers and indeed Ladakh Scouts in general, in a feverish pitch as they gloat that they have always been the bravest and most able in the treacherous terrain on these high mountains in Ladakh. In fact I happen to meet so many Samphels on the way, that it got me so curious. Hence this small tribute.

Kargil - and the word conjures up images of a war torn area. Fair enough, considering the extensive coverage Op Vijay received way back in 1999. It was a tumultuous time for the nation. Pakistan’s misadventure cost many lives. Five years now since the war has ended. But those horrifying images that television media captured for us come back to haunt many. Tiger hill and Tololing became household names. Gallantry awards were given away, men were remembered, and regiments were commended for their brave effort. As time went by, quite naturally, the hoopla about war was also buried.

Amongst all the units that were rushed to counter the Pakistani intrusion was one force which stood apart for a variety of reasons. First, the war was an attack in their backyard; the intruders were close enough to enter their homes. Being ‘sons of the soil’, it punctured their pride first. Second, the terrain was familiar; this gave them a strategic advantage. The peaks and ridges in the line of fire had been their playground as young children. To put it simply, they were well versed in mountain warfare, and knew how to use the mountain to their advantage. Best acclimatized, best suited, most fit - the superlatives are indeed many. In time, they have established themselves to be the most affective infantry units to be deployed in the high altitude area. Ladakh Scouts or ‘lama fauj’ has etched a permanent place for itself in India’s military history.

Raised in 1963 in the wake of the 1962 debacle against the Chinese forces, Ladakh Scouts is credited to be the first unit of the Indian Army to successfully launch the counter strike against Pakistani incursions during Kargil war, 1999, in Batalik sector. Soon their battle-worthiness in the world’s most brutal battlefields came to be respected and the force was split into small platoons to guide and lead other units in attack. In the process, Ladakh Scouts as a unit slipped away from the media glare and till date not too many are aware of these ordinary heroes who gave India a critical advantage in the war. How did such a formidable force not get its due attention during the war?

As one of the Junior Commissioned Officer explains: “At the time of war we were not formed into individual battalions. We were two wings. We were given the most difficult tasks (like fixing ropes on steep ridges, guiding the other troops to the final assault etc.) yet our name was never mentioned after the successes. Since we weren’t a battalion, we didn’t have officers who could capitalize on our successes and project it to receive the deserved commendation.” Ladakh Scouts is credited with having participated in most number of attacks. While other units claimed credit for capturing individual features etc. here were troops wherein each soldier had participated in multiple attacks.

The scouts were the backbone of the war. Be it opening routes along the tough rock faces, guiding fellow jawans from other infantry units, they donned the mantle with grace and performed to the best of their ability. Locally well-versed with the language, the people, here were troops who survived with frugal logistic support - food, water, ammunition; lack of it didn’t dither them a wee bit.

As Tsering Murup explains “during the war, all supply lines were affected. Ration, water would not reach us for long time. But we had local sattu (barley porridge) which we used to mix it with water and carry on. I survived on sattu and water for three days.” Sattu was so popular during the war that the Ladakh Buddhist Association organized for sattu packed from each home to reach these Ladakhi soldiers. It supplemented their ration needs at a critical time.

Hurling stones!
Local ingenuity came handy for the Ladakhi soldiers; as Tsering Angchok elaborates, “I was part of the Chorbat la attack. At the end we didn’t have ammunition left. We had reached the tallest point in the area from where we managed by hurling stones down on the enemy.” The Chorbat la success requires a special mention. One of the first victories in Batalik sector, this one was special for Ladakh Scouts as it was led by a Ladakhi officer, Major Sonam Wangchuk, who later was awarded with the Maha Vir Chakra for his gallant effort. Around Batalik, the local people are in awe in these soldiers.

Religious lot
Governed by religion to a great extent, religious integrity some say, is the key to their success. “The Dalai lama had blessed us. He guarded us against the enemy. With his strength, we were an unbeatable force at those heights,” swears Morup Chodol who has participated in four attacks on important features along the Line of Control in 1999.

Simple, straightforward, resilient and loyal, ‘nonu’ (meaning younger brother in Ladakhi) as they dearly referred to, comes across as anything but fierce. And here lies their crucial weapon; the ability to give a well-planned and strategized response. As one of the officer reasons why nonus perform so well: “the best thing about them is that they don’t panic in times of crisis. And I think that’s their biggest strength - to stalk and strike.” Having served as part of many such operations, these soldiers are war-hardy. The officer further adds, “I have seen other troops as well. But here are men who take all eventualities in their stride with a blink. You just need to give them a task and it’s done. Like other troops, you don’t need to explain technique/plan/strategy elaborately. Alternately, infact the soldier can give you a tip or two while planning an attack, as he knows the area best.”

Quiet, calm, and peace loving, interestingly, a Ladakhi comes across as a mild, non-aggressive solider incapable of a vicious attack. Contrary to this impression, one of the officer quips “this is his silent strength - the ability to conceal one’s capability”. Freezing mountains, an untrusting enemy, a lonely life, high altitude battlefields aren’t for the faint hearted. This was proven so during the Kargil war. Acclimatization in these areas is a must for troops; for acute mountain sickness is very common. Here again these soldiers have an inborn advantage. “During Kargil war, other soldiers suffered a lot due to altitude, but none of us would feel anything. We are used to mountains,” explains Padma Namgyal beaming proudly.

The war ended after a three-month long stand off. Ki Ki So So Lhargyalo (Victory to the Gods) - their battle cry echoed from almost every feature on the Line Of Control. Yet, the accolades, the praise, and of course limelight in the public eye evaded these soldiers.

I am drawn to think that their valor surpassed all this. These soldiers didn’t need praise to keep them going. They were motivated from within. And continue to be. A salute to Ladakh Scouts!

(Names changed to protect identity).


The Scouts over the years

Ladakh Scouts’ origin dates back to the 1948 skirmishes with Pakistan. Soon after independence, in order to save Ladakh from Qabalies (intruders) who came from across the border; the National Guards were formed out of local Ladakhi warriors. In 1952 they formed the erstwhile 7th J&K Militia. The 14th J & K Militia was subsequently raised in 1959 in Srinagar. On 1st June 1963, Ladakh Scouts (I Border Scouts) was raised by the merger of the 7th & 14th J&K Militia. During the 1971 Indo-Pak war, Ladakh Scouts launched a brilliant attack in Turtok Sector and advanced 22kms into enemy territory in just 14 days, thereby liberating 804sq kms of area. In 1984, Ladakh Scouts was the first unit to be inducted in Operation Meghdoot at Siachen. In 1999, a small force, the unit displayed several gallant acts and won quite a few gallantry awards, including a Mahavir Chakra. The Chief of Army Staff made a special instant award ‘Unit Citation’ to Ladakh Scouts for their meritorious and gallant performance. Post Operation Vijay, 1999, the Ladakh Scouts were formally organized into regular infantry battalions to enable more enrollment as their battle-worthiness was proven and time-tested. With this, Ladakh Scouts now has the same status as any other regiment of the Indian Army. [/quote]

10-30-2004, 02:28 AM
Indian Army's Ladakh Scouts is a 4,000-man paramilitary unit of local Buddhists and Tibetan commandos. The famed fighters, nicknamed ‘Snow Tigers’, is one of the Army’s most decorated units, with more than 300 gallantry awards to it’s credit including one Ashok Chakra, ten Mahavir Chakras and two Kirti Chakras.

With so many families in the hills of Garhwal and Kumaon who have sons (and daughters) in the military, the conflict in Kashmir has taken a heavy toll. The Garhwal Rifles, as well as other Himalayan regiments (the Gurkha Rifles, Ladakh Scouts, Naga Regiments, and Jammu and Kashmir Infantry) were all entrusted with operations in Kargil in 1999. They joined their Sikh, Rajasthani, Mahar, and Bihari brothers as a multicultural and multifaith force on the frontlines, suffering the brunt of casualities in defense of the state.

Ladakh is part of the Indian sector of divided Kashmir. The region of Ladakh spread over an area of 96,701 sq.Km. and consists of two districts, Leh and Kargil. Kashmir fighting has engulfed Ladakh's Buddhists. The 100,000 followers of Tibetan Buddhism who are caught in a half-century of war between local Muslims and Hindus, and between Pakistan and India, for control over the disputed territory. The word Ladakh is the ancient name of the third region of Jammu and Kashmir and not relates to any ethnic group, caste, creed or religion.

The Ladakh Scouts, which is considered to be the "eyes and ears" of the Indian Army, had been serving the nation ever since its inception, under most inhospitable high altitude and arctic weather conditions with zeal and dedication. Not only this unit served the nation by guarding the high altitude and inhospitable borders but has also helped directly or indirectly to build the shattered economy of Ladakh which had suffered badly due to three wars with Pakistan and one war with China. The Ladakh scouts in its short history of nearly 50 years have earned countless distinctions and gallantry awards as one of the highly decorated unit in the Indian Army, while rendering service to the nation.

The Ladakh Scouts was raised in 1963 in the wake of 1962 debacle against Chinese forces. It was the first unit of the Indian Army to successfully launch the counter strike against Pakistani incursions in Kargil operations in 1999 in Batalik sector.

The Ladakh Scouts has a glorious history which dates back 1948 Skirmishes with Pakistan. Soon after independence, in order to save Ladakh from the Qabalies (intruders) who came from across the border; the "National Guards" were formed out of the local Ladakhi warriors. In 1952 they formed the erstwhile 7th J&K Militia. The 14th J&K Militia was subsequently raised in 1959 at Srinagar. On first June 1963, Ladakh Scouts (I Border Scouts) was raised by the merger of 7th and 14th J&K militia. During the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the Ladakh Scouts launched a brilliant attack in Turtok Sector and advanced 22 kms into the enemy territory in just 14 days, thereby liberating 804 sq kms of area. The period from 1982 to 1985 witnessed the reorganisation.

The Ladakhi Scouts, a small force of a few battalions, displayed several gallant acts during Operation Vijay and won quite a few gallantry awards, including a Maha Vir Chakra for Major Sonam Wangchuk. The Chief of Army Staff made a special instant award of "Unit Citation" to Ladakh Scouts for their meritorious and gallant performance during the battles of Point 5000 on night 05/06 July Dog Hill on night 30 June/01 July , and Padma Go on night 09/10 July 1999, in Batalik Sector. The unit performed with distinction during Operation "Vijay" and displayed exemplary valour and grit in the face of the enemy.

In August 1999 the Indian Army planned a multi-****g strategy to combat Islamic terrorism in Kashmir region. It includes increased recruitment of Kashmiri youths, strengthening of the Ladakh Scouts by merging it with the army as a regiment, and setting up of a new corps headquarters at Leh, the capital of Ladakh. The central idea of the strategy be to strengthen Indian army's presence on the Line of Control with additional deployment of 'early warning troops' such as the Ladakh Scouts.

In September 2000 the Indian Government approved a proposal to restructure the Ladakh Scouts, on the lines of infantry regimental centers. This paved the way for raising more battalions. . The raising of ‘additional battalions’ of the Scouts would in the long run mean decrease in deployment from other sectors, thus saving high costs of redeployment. With the up gradation of status for the Ladakh Scouts, Indian Army would be left with only three scout units -- Garhwal and Kumaon Scouts deployed on Indo-Tibet border, and a small detachment of Dogra Scouts. With this restructuring, the regiment of Ladakh Scouts obtained the same status as other regiments of the Indian Army


Crack Ladakh Scouts team with their Commander and Kargil War Hero, Maha Vir Chakra Awardee, Major Sonam Wangchuck.