Friday, January 07, 2005

War in the Wilderness - II

22 June

Spend the morning getting stuff ready for the impending op. Pore over the map. It's a long walk and I'm not at all happy about moving by day. Maintaining surprise is a prime requisite for this op and movement by day is open to getting spotted. Sadly, the terrain is too tough and the numbers too many to be able to make good time by night. I'm not worried about whats going to happen when we get there. Thats because I'm convinced that the number of militants supposedly there is exxagerated. Kilos talk only in multiples in 10, and therfore any numerical information must immediately be divided by that figure. So, IF there are any militants there, I seriously do not expect more than a total of 15-20. Anyways, first let us reach that darn place.

In the evening Karan and I hop across to the RR company which is going to be the launch pad for tomorrows padyatra. We reach by 2000 hours. Bravos already there and Karan goes off join the other jawans. The RR Company Commander has a small hut and Bravo , he and I settle down in it. We talk awhile and after an early dinner, knock off.

23 June - M Day

Up in the wee hours. Weather looks okay. I'd hate to be walking in the rain. I mean I love doing that, but when I'm in civilisation and don't have 40 kg on my back.

Bravo's lads assemble and after a quick check of weapons, equipment, logistical loads, etc we set off.

The RR Company Commander has given us a guide for a part of the way. He knows a little foot track that goes upto a Gujjar settlement. The walk is not too bad and we make good time. Around 1400 hours, we reach the Gujjar huts and take a break for lunch. MREs are broken out and I can see guys sprawled all over the place. No human beings in sight. I bid farewell to our guide and after lunch, we set off again.

The trek is getting tougher now. No specific track now and we are on hit and trial mode. Walk up a spur, then find a very steep gradient, get back a bit, try another approach. Can't be helped. The walk goes on. I look back at Bravo's lads and they all seem in fine fettle. No fatigue problems......yet.

1700 hours. Its started raining. F*** ! Now the climb has got a few more things added to trudge.....slither, slip, slide, etc. No place to halt. We keep moving. Around 1800 hours I decide to call it a day. The rains got heavier, it's getting dark and we're in a location that affords some cover. Bravo issues orders to his men accordingly. A few guys are sent out around us as sentries. The boys find places beneath trees, boulders, whatever to bed down. A few little fires start up and in spite of the rain, the place suddenly seems very cosy. Essentially, it's the tiredness catching up.

Bravo and I study the map a bit and plan out the next days route. Karan gets me a very welcome cuppa tea. Hot, strong and courtesy condensed milk, very sweet. Just the way I like it.

Around 2000 hours, we eat dinner and before I can ever think of my God and my kids, I'm fast asleep, snuggled up in my sleeping bag under a tree.

0100 hours. I wake up with an uneasy feeling. Look around. Bravo's not in his sleeping bag. I can sense a lot of movement around. I tug my boots on and go looking. Find Bravo in a huddle with a few men.

"Whats up, Bravo?" I ask.

"The sentries to the north reported seeing some lights , presumably torches, on the spur to our north Sir."

Thats not good. Gujjars don't move at night and in any case, even if they do for some odd reason, they don't use torches. But then, neither do militants. And theres no other kind of people here for miles in distance and a few thousand feet in altitude.

Bravo tells me he's sent out a small patrol to the north to check.

Thats not good either. Theres radio silence and the spurs too far away to support from here if the patrol makes any kind of contact. But I hold my silence. He's made his call and I'll respect it. In any case, the patrols out and barring keeping my fingers crossed, I can do nothing. Best to wait it out.

24 June - M plus 1

First light is approaching. I'm back in my sleeping bag, though half awake. Bravo informs me that the patrols back. NTR.

I decide to move on. A quick mug of tea and some biscuits and we take off again.

The climbs getting bad. The gradient is much steeper. Luckily, there no rain. We keep trudging on. I'm thinking about and wondering how my other columns are doing. I hate this concept of being in command of guys that are so far placed from me in time and space. I curse the General in my head and walk on.

1300 hours. A quick lunch and move on. I want to get to the ridge line before the end of the day. Only then will we able to complete the descent and be in Zulu by last light tomorrow. Walk on.

The tree line has vanished and we're out in the open. Scenic splendour at it's best. Walk on.

1530 hours. We're negotiating a tricky part of the feature. A very narrow stretch. The columns spread out in single file.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

F***! Whats this?

No space to even take cover. In any case, there is no cover. I look around. Can't see a thing. But I can definitely hear firing. Karans behind me. He draws my attention towards our north. Far away, on the spur running parallel to us, I now spot some movement. Binos (binoculars) out. A group of 6 militants, firing at us. With AKs. Crazy jerks. Those bullets can't reach us from there. Bravo has also spotted them and has by now got an LMG firing at them. Well, even our bullets won't get to them. I yell out for Bravo and tell him to get an RL HE (High Explosive) airburst onto those guys. A minute later.....Boom!

I watch through my binos. The HE rocket explodes in the air over those guys. I don't see or hear them any longer. Walk on.

No further incident and we reach just short of the ridge line by 1900 hours. It's dark and cold. But thankfully, dry.

Tea, dinner, bed. 16000 feet altitude. Aching bones and muscles. A warm sleeping bag. I'm out like a light within a nano-second.In any case, I can sleep easy. No more climbing. Tomorrow, we roll down.

TO BE CONTINUED .....

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