Monday, September 4, 2023

Revisiting 1962

The Namkha chu which witnessed the first battle in October 1962
A recent visit in the forward areas of the Tawang sector opened my eyes wider. Though I have been studying different aspects of the 1962 border war with China for years, it is only by seeing the terrain of the tragic confrontation which turned into a debacle for the 7th Brigade of Brigadier John P. Dalvi, that one can realize the utter incompetence of some of the ‘political’ generals who conducted the battle of the Namkha chu on behalf of the senior leadership in Delhi.
Two conclusions came immediately to mind: first, the disaster wass entirely of the Indian political leadership’s making, particularly from Prime Minister Nehru and a small clique of sycophants around him (such as VK Krishna Menon, BN Mallik, Gen PN Thapar or Lt Gen BM Kaul).
Seeing the scene of the battle, makes you understand that a similar defeat can’t happen anymore. I shall further elaborate on this later.

Escaped Unpunished
What is flabbergasting is that the ‘culprits’ of 1962 never bore any consequences. In his Himalayan Blunder, Brig Dalvi wrote: “General Pran Nath Thapar resigned on ‘grounds of health’ - the hackneyed euphemism for what the British call ‘the bowler hat’. He was rewarded with the Ambassadorship to Afghanistan. Lt Gen BM Kaul, the Commander of the ill-conceived and ill-fated IV Corps, was compelled to seek premature retirement - a bitter pill for Mr. Nehru to swallow - as Kaul was widely believed to have been his protégé and military confidant.”

The Forward Policy
One often speaks of the Forward Policy decided by the government in 1961, as being the trigger for the war; according to Dalvi, during a meeting in the autumn of 1961: “at which Mr. Menon, General Thapar and General Kaul were present. Studying a map showing recent Chinese incursions, Mr. Nehru is reported to have said that whoever succeeded in establishing a post would establish a claim to that territory, as possession was nine-tenths of the law. He then asked if the Chinese could set up posts why couldn't we?”
Gen Kaul later claimed that “(Nehru) was told that owing to numerical and logistical difficulties, we could not keep up in this race with the Chinese. …China with her superior military resources could - operationally make the position of our small posts untenable.”
But wisdom did not prevail.
Seeing the narrowness of the gorge between the Hathungla and the Thagla ridges and the small nallah (the Namkha chu) running between the two giant massifs even a child would understand that the Himalayan stream was not the best defensive place (or even offensive). But Delhi stuck to its guns: “Chinese have to be evicted.”
In his Himalayan Blunder, Brig Dalvi recalled: “My appreciation of September 1962 is a pivotal document. It is capable of various interpretations by different people. Gen Kaul has used copious extracts to weave a claim of reprieval for his impatience and haste between 5th and 10th October (1962). He has manipulated passages to insinuate that he was on occasion a helpless spectator of events …and that he was compelled to implement the defective plans devised at the tactical level.”
The politicians (including the ‘politician’ generals) are masters are justifying their foolishness and blunders, Dalvi recalled: “(Kaul) has muted his role in moving 7th Brigade to the Namka Chu. …He omits the antecedents of the Appreciation and how it came into being, but quotes excerpts to achieve his ends. He has attributed some parts to Gen Umrao [33 Corps Commander] and others to the Brigade Commander.”
Kaul later justified his decision for accepting to be associated with what he called the Government's final desperate gamble: “I was thus expected to perform a miracle and begin operations immediately. I could hardly start bickering (sic) about the obvious handicaps at a time when India found herself in a precarious situation and therefore decided to cross my fingers, make the best of my lean resources (one brigade) and face the situation as best I could.”
The truth was that to force the 7th Brigade to set up posts near the nallah and hope to defend India’s position from there, was criminal.

Tree planted by the Dalai Lama as he arrived in India
on March 31, 1959
Chinese Tactics
Kaul and his patrons in Delhi did not know anything about the Chinese tactics.
The Chinese author Jianglin Li, who has masterfully recorded the movement of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) after the 1959 Tibetan uprising, wrote: “By analyzing many memoirs, autobiographies and biographies, openly published, classified or semi-classified, I found out that the 12 large scale battles fought in central Tibet from March 1959 to early 1962 were in fact conducted as a thoroughly organised military training, beyond the actual requirements of a counter-insurgency operation …commanders were testing the battle strategies best suited to the terrain.”
She cited battles which were clearly fought to gain “experience of fighting with the large unit encircling tactic and carrying out policies in pastoral regions. …It has been proved by many experiences that carrying out encirclement is the most effective method to wipe out large numbers of rebel bandits.” Encirclement was extensively used by the PLA during the border war with India, but Kaul had never heard of this and insisted on climbing the Thagla ridge from the narrow nallah (using log bridges).

Flying Orders
Beginning of October 1962, orders were flying over the ridges, “have all the troops of 7 Brigade moved to Tsangdhar?” asked Kaul. Tsangdhar was a high altitude plateau used as a dropping zone.
When the officer answered, "Not yet, Sir", Kaul demanded: "Why not? It was my definite order that the troops must be in position by the evening of 7th October [1962].”
The newly-appointed Corps Commander then threatened: "How dare you disobey my orders, you are the Brigade Major. I have given an assurance to the Prime Minister that I will carry out the operation.”
In these conditions, it was difficult for Brig Dalvi to ‘disobey’ and realign his forces to better strategic positions, for example on the top of the Hathungla.

Why things are different today
The debacle of 1962 will not be repeated for several reasons.
Today, a brigade commander can take an immediate ‘strategic’ decision on the spot; as the chain of command is clear and respected, the brigade commander first refers to his Division commander who in turn will consult the Corps and Army commanders. Eventually final orders will have to come from the Army HQ in Delhi and the Ministry of Defence.
Today, there is no question of being ‘friends’ with the Prime Minster.
Further, India has tremendously invested in the infrastructure (though the Chinese side has an easier access to the LAC). Having visited the area for the first time in 1996, I have witnessed the unbelievable changes; in a couple of months time, the tunnel below Sela pass will be opened, shortening the journey between Assam and Tawang by one hour.
Another factor is that the Air Force (IAF) will be used; it was recently reported in the aftermath of the Galwan Valley clash in June 2020, that the Indian Air Force airlifted more than 68,000 army soldiers and a variety of military equipment to Eastern Ladakh along the LAC); PTI commented: “This swift deployment was facilitated by a combination of strategic airlift capabilities and increased surveillance measures.”
Would China adventure to cross the LAC, it would have to deal not only with the Indian Army but with the IAF too.
A visit to the historic spots of the 1962 tragic events convinces you that China cannot advance even a few meters without being inflicted heavy casualties. Is Xi Jinping ready for this? Certainly not.
After all what did the Emperor gain in Eastern Ladakh?
Did the Darbuk–Shyok–DBO Road get blocked or stopped? The answer is ‘no’.
Did China gain strategic advantages in Galwan or Pangong tso areas? No.
Did Beijing manage to intimidate India with their Information Warfare? No.
Did the Ladakh ‘adventure’ bring any economic gain to China? The answer is again ‘no’.
Did the operations of May 2020 enhance the prestige Chairman Xi or the PLA? Not in India at least.
The above explains that it is today difficult for Beijing to walk out of the imbroglio and return to prior to the beginning of the confrontation.
Perhaps the Chinese leadership did not expect that the Indian Army would conduct negotiations; Indian soldiers know the value of even a few meters on this range or that ridge.
In conclusion, a look at the terrain and at today’s defence preparedness as well as the change of mindset makes you confident that 1962 debacle cannot and will not be repeated. The incident in the Yangtse sector in December 2022 is another proof of this.

Friday, September 1, 2023

The Holy Waterfalls and the Great Guru

My article The Holy Waterfalls and the Great Guru appeared in

Here is the link...

It is on the exact spot where the Guru is said to have created 108 waterfalls, that the Yangtse clash took place between the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA on the night of December 9, 2022.
As it had done in Ladakh in May 2020, the PLA tried to change the unmarked LAC in the Yangtse sector in Arunachal Pradesh.
It was the most serious border incident since the Galwan Valley clash in June 2020, notes Claude Arpi.

The Chumig Gyatse Holy Waterfalls are truly special and worth a visit, if you have the occasion (or the good karma) and this for several reasons.
First, this very sacred place in Arunachal Pradesh has been blessed by Guru Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche by the Tibetans), the great yogi and tantric master who lived in the 8th century AD.
Padmasambhava (‘Born from a Lotus’) was a tantric Vajra practitioner from Oddiyana (or Swat, in today’s Pakistan) who played a crucial role in the establishment of Buddhism in Tibet.
After King Trisong Detsen invited Shantarakshita, the Nalanda Abbot to Tibet to teach Buddhism, the latter faced a lot of difficulties from the old shamanic faith. The King had to send him back to Nepal to fetch Padmasambhava in order to tame the local spirits and covert the Tibetans with his magical and ritual powers.
Padmasambhava practiced various forms of tantric Buddhist yoga and thanks to his great occult siddhis, the Samye Monastery, the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet, could be constructed.
The Great Guru extensively visited the border areas and his legacy can still be found not only in Nepal and Bhutan (for example Taktsang monastery in Paro), but on the Indian side too (Rewalsar in Himachal Pradesh or Gurudongmar in Sikkim, etc.).

The 2022 Yangtse Clash

It is on the exact spot where the Guru is said to have created 108 waterfalls, that the Yangtse clash took place between the Indian Army and the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) in the night of December 9, 2022.
As it had done in Ladakh in May 2020, the PLA tried to change the unmarked Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Yangtse sector, northeast of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.
According to the Indian media, violent clashes took place between the two armies which confronted each other with nail-studded clubs and other melee weapons on a ridgeline above the waterfalls. It was the most serious border incident along the boundary since the Galwan Valley clash in June 2020.
After receiving timely reinforcements, the Indian troops were able to send back the Chinese PLA to their side of the LAC, though six Indian soldiers who with severe injuries had to be flown to Guwahati for medical treatment. As usual, the casualties on the Chinese side were not disclosed.
Interestingly, Yangtse was one of three main ‘disputed’ areas in 1960 when the Indian and Chinese officials held several months of talks to try to sort out the boundary issue (the other places were Khenzimane/Sumdorong chu sector in the west and Longju sector in today’s Upper Subansiri district).

A Tourist Spot
The good news is that the area has recently been opened to Indian tourists.
To reach the place is a pilgrimage in itself; it takes some 4 hours drive from Tawang. One first moves in the direction of Bumla, the pass where senior Indian and Chinese officers regularly meet to sort out their differences of ‘perceptions’, it is known as Border Meeting Point or BPM.
Just 6 km before Bumla, one takes an eastward turn towards Nagu-la Lake: “One of the most picturesque places to visit in Tawang. …with some alluring reflections of the mountain waters in its serene waters, Nagula Lake is a captivating tourist attraction in Tawang,” says a tourist site.
The scenery around the lake and the pass (at an altitude of 4,200 meters) leaves you spellbound. Of course, one encounters a heavy military presence, due to the proximity of the border and the constant Chinese belligerence.
Then after one more hour drive on the high plateau one reaches a grazing ground for a large number of healthy yaks and often wild horses; the only vegetation is rhododendrons.
Later, moving down, one returns to a thickly forested area with extremely old and tall pine trees. The sight of the sharp gorges further down is rather scary. It takes one more hour of driving in this stunning paradise-like landscape before reaching the Tsona chu (river) gushing down from Tibet a few kilometers upstream.
Everywhere on the road, one crosses groups of local ladies working for the Border Road Organisation (BRO) to improve the road. In this very difficult terrain, the BRO’s work is really commendable.
After a few hundred meters walk, the great falls dropping from the cliffs like fairy hair suddenly appear; a signboard says “Enjoy the Magical, Mystical & Magnificent falls.”
Though the fighting took place on the ridge above the falls, it is in this idyllic surrounding that the clash took place in December 2022. 

Chumig Gyatse
It is truly is a magical place; as in most of the places associated with Guru Padmasambhava, one can feel the presence of the great master around.
A small Chumig Gyatse monastery, below the falls, was inaugurated by the young Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Pema Khandu on July 20, 2020 (note that it was a month before the Galwan incident in Ladakh). Khandu had then to walk for an hour or so before reaching the holy place.
Below the falls, a board said: “The temple is a symbol of spirituality. The magnificent falls adds to the beauty of the temple and makes it one of the most picturesque and mystic sights on earth.”
The same board describes various beliefs about the origin of Holy Waterfalls (also known as HWF by the Indian Army). According to the most popular religious belief: “during 8th century an epidemic struck the villages of this area and all villagers came to Guru Padmasambhava in the hope for relief. Guru Padmasambhava mediated and did penance in the area; in order to make the villagers free from the epidemic, [he] took out his rosary beads garland & threw the 108 beads on the mountain. Wherever the beads fell, a stream of water originated and thus Holy waterfalls came into existence. It is believed that the water here has magical medicinal values.”
It is said that Guru Rinpoche spent five days near the falls before moving to another retreat.
The board near the small gompa which houses a statue of Guru Rinpoche (and where a resident Lama reads the scriptures) informs us: “The Holy water is believed to have medicinal and healing properties and anyone consuming it with faith & devotion gets healed from all his ailments. Also childless couples if consumes holy water with credence, then blessings of Guru Padmasambhava are showered upon them and they are blessed with children. …Chumig Gyatse is a sight to behold.”

Chumig Gyatse and the LAC
The Chumig Gyatse falls lie some 250 meters from the LAC; it is today the main landmark in the Yangtse sector where the two prominent ridges, namely the Bumla ridge to its southwest and the Tulung-la ridgeline to its northeast, meet. The McMahon line at Yangtse is said to be coterminous with the two ridgelines.
It is only after the Chinese tried to occupy the Wangdung pasture in the Sumdorung chu area in 1986 that Indian troops moved troops to the ridge above the falls and occupied the area.

Open for Tourism
It is a great move from the Government of Arunachal Pradesh and the Ministry of Defence to have decided to allow tourists to visit the sacred place. Isn’t it the best proof that the area belongs to India despite the repeated Chinese claims?
Last year only, 6,000 Indian pilgrims/visitors had the darshan of the falls. Probably a similar number will visit this year.
A Tibetan friend told me that by throwing his mala, Guru Rinpoche certainly knew that one day the area would be disputed; he marked the place with the beads of his mala.
A news item reported by Radio Free Asia (RFA) came back to mind: a three-storyed high statue of Guru Padmasambhava was destroyed at the Chanang Monastery in Drago county of the Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Tibet. According to sources living in exile and satellite imagery, it was razed in late January 2022.
Satellite imagery of the Chanang Monastery taken October 3, 2019, shows the statue of the Guru on the site, but on another shot taken February 25, 2022, one can see the destruction of the statue indicated by the circular mounts on the ground: “Though there has been no explanation of the reasons for its destruction, it falls in line with the Chinese government’s policy of demolishing Tibetan religious sites in the region,” a Tibetan told RFA.
It is really a grace that the falls are on the Indian side of the LAC; had they been 500 meters north, Guru Padmasambhava would never have been even mentioned, let alone worshipped.
Further, many believe that the Tantric Master still offers protection to the Indian soldiers, who guard this remote scenic spot.

The Gompa

The Holy Waterfalls and Tibet in the background

The Gompa

Guru Padmasambhava looking after the place

Yaks on the route

En route

The Ridge marking the LAC

Tsona chu flowing from Tibet