Behind The Enemy Lines

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BEHIND THE ENEMY LINES When you are young with bubbling energy the quest for adventure does not let your mind rest since the desires are unlimited. One loves action, adventure and thrill at that age. The mind gets motivated for doing action merely by just watching action movies sitting in a theatre relishing the false feel of the thrill. The realty experienced on ground is quite different from the one experienced while sitting inside. Action books also motivate no less to the young readers be it commando comics, war stories or a biography of a great general. Fantasies appear to be realty as the mind takes the form of a hero of the story by engrossing itself into it. It was in the year 1989 when I was at a location called Akhnur doing our bridging training camp which the sappers have to undergo as a part of their annual routine to keep themselves abreast of the knowledge of the combat engineering. As the bridging site was far away from the city hence we had occupied the open area in the tents on the banks of river Chenab which had ice cold flowing water throughout the year in it. I loved taking cold water bath with that water as someone wise had convinced me with the belief that taking bath with the water of Chenab keeps you healthy. I do not know whether the good health was due to it or the routine army PT which we did daily on the banks of river Chenab but one thing was definitely true; I did not feel cold after taking bath with that water which would make me give out shrieks when I poured a mug full of it on the back of my neck under which lied the spinal cord. The place was also excellent from the scenic point of view. All what a child draws while making a scenery on a white sheet of paper was prevalent; The rising sun, hills, green trees, rivers, blue sky, villagers working, hut etc. The feel of fresh cold air and the sound of flowing water which could be heard in the night added to the excitement in addition. The day schedule remained busy starting from 0600h with PT till about 1400h after which was lunch and rest time till evening wherein again the training would continue unabated till about 9 pm in the night. There were about a dozen officers and 300 men camped for training at one time which constituted a good learning session in the field. The area where we camped was open with some small hills located far off in the background and mostly surrounded by villages on all the sides with the Akhnur town to the east about 18 km from there. The big fast flowing river, Chenab astride our camp was the centre of attraction of that area over which we practiced making the floating bridge time and again. To the north of our camp along the river about 10 Kms from there was the border of India and Pakistan as the crow flew but there was no clear demarcation on the border except some international boundary pillars hardly visible as the area was a mix of jungles, marsh small distributaries of the river Chenab emanating from many points in between radiating to the other country’s territory further north. There were large gaps which were difficult to man all day and it was difficult for both the sides to keep a strict vigil over it all the time due to the nature of the terrain. My unit had just received some brand new Mahindra jeeps and it was like a lottery for the youngsters of the unit to have such a privilege. All the youngsters would love going outdoors on pretext of some duty to have a feel of its drive. Moreover it was a part of training itself which made the things further easier for us. The old man of the unit was only worried about the accidents as the Akhnur road carried all the traffic of civil trucks but we took care of that by going into the village roads for the driving thereby avoiding the main road. I had just learnt to drive the four wheeler which further added on to my interest to go for a drive into the village roads on one of the routes which seldom had any traffic on it. Driving and exploring the new places was a great fun especially when one could also watch some coloured inhabitants also. The life had become sick seeing uniformed men all day so desire for exploration was eminent. The roads were good for a novice to learn as were straight and had long stretches with practically no traffic at all except for some tractor with trolleys carrying the fodder and the village stuff which would be visible from a distance. I generally had an experienced driver with me who taught me all the basics of driving. We would generally go for long drives deep into the villages immediately after the lunch till late evenings but return before the dark so as to be in the mess in time before the old man arrived for a drink. The Chenab River flowed from East to West towards the enemy side. It had a kutcha road following parallel to its bank into the villages in the thick forests the cluster of which would be visible from our location. The rivulets subdivided further into it were not visible as were at a distance and plenty in numbers. Whenever I glanced that side I wondered what could be there across it as no one had ventured out that side till now due to absence of proper road and the unmarked kutcha roads which were not even marked on the map. Moreover going there would shake everything out in the stomach if you travelled on that route being a bumpy track. It however had some straight smooth stretches parallel to the river with compacted mud which was good for a jeep drive. Only some contractor’s truck were seldom seen carrying sand in them from the banks of the river Chenab on this track. Exploring the unknown gives birth to adventure so did this thought erupt in my mind one day resulting into my decision to go for a drive on it on the next day in the afternoon and return by evening. I planned for venturing the area on the pretext of doing a recce on area familiarisation. I projected the same to my company commander on the pretext of updating the map of this unexplored area and got a go ahead. “A good initiative and thought,” he replied and I got the plans ready for the move on the next day. The very next day I started off after having breakfast and completing some training in the theory classes carrying an area map of the location, a compass and a binocular with two men in addition to driver and myself. We carried our packed lunch along with the water bottles as were expected to return late but before dusk. The driver started the new jeep and with a low noise we quietly left the location out of our unit. After covering about two kms I asked the driver to sit on the co driver’s seat as I was more interested to drive the new jeep. We exchanged the seats and I took on the steering. I followed the river bank road running parallel to the river which dipped up and down and the new jeep springs kept the ride smooth as a sail till some potholes made me feel that if I do not slow down it would topple the jeep as we rocked from one side to another. Initially it appeared fun but after some time it became tiresome for the back so I had to slow down. Soon we entered into the forest which had rivulets flowing at many places in it. The area started to become darker as the sunlight was blocked by the canopy of huge trees and also the ground started to be slushy requiring the use of 4×4 gears the use of which also I learnt it then as a part of my driving lesson. I carried on moving steering the jeep in the direction the track took us as a railway track takes the engine of the train leaving no choice for turning elsewhere. I carried on following that track without bothering for the direction as there was no other track visible after we entered the forest area. After sometime even the kutcha track would disappear at times and would soon appear after covering few metres of travel. There were stretches when we would come out under the open sky in the gaps between the trees and would again enter the forest covered with the canopies of the trees. This carried on no of times. After some time the main river which we were following and taking as a reference to our move by keeping our direction of move parallel to it suddenly disappeared as it meandered to other side and we were now in the rivulets zone where several of them emanated from a single point. I stopped for a while to have rest since we had travelled continuously for two hours although at a very slow speed but our backs demanded some rest. We halted for a break under a tree. I asked for the map from the person sitting behind me and tried to locate the own position to know where exactly we were. For finding the own position two reference points on the ground as well as on the map should be identifiable. The bearing of the points on ground is taken and the lines are drawn on the map from the same points on the map which intersect at a point to give the own position as per the traditional map reading taught to us in the academy. There were no GPS‘s then. To our dismay we were not able to find two prominent landmarks as there was no permanent structure available there and all the trees looked alike hence no survey tree also could be traced out. I asked others for help but they were also equally lost and dumb. We were lost. The weather was also cloudy so there was no sun visible which could indicate us which direction we were proceeding to. The rivulets had created all the confusion. I thought it prudent to return back before it gets too late so I turned the jeep at 180 degrees and started to follow the route by following the tracks of our own jeep tyres wherever they were visible. We followed it for some time but later I could not locate it as it was all washed away with the flowing water. It was after noon by now and about 1 pm. So I decided to halt for lunch and asked everyone to finish off their meals fast meanwhile I was deep into the thoughts to decide which direction we should follow now. Whenever we go out in a team it is the senior most person who is the most tense as everyone looks upon him irrespective of the fact even if the juniors are more intelligent; a fact which is well experienced by all those in uniform. So everyone had their lunch like they were on a picnic without any tension of getting lost keeping my mind on the run all the time. This was making it difficult for me to swallow the grub since immediately after lunch we were to proceed further and the time was running out. What a shameful thing it would be if I had to tell them that we were lost. They all had faith in me by default of the system. Using my wisdom and after consulting them I decided on a particular direction and we proceeded ahead. There were no tracks of the jeep tyres visible. The track just went up and down, approaching dark and light patches of wet ground while I steered the jeep to the left and right, drove it slow and fast in open patches only to encounter more rivulets as we proceeded ahead which further diversified into smaller sub branches. It carried on like this for the next one hour but still no headway could be achieved. At last I saw an open patch in which there appeared to be a part of a small hamlet with few thatched roofed huts. It appeared to be a tea shop with some living area around it as there were few houses adjacent to it. We thought it would be better to ask the way out from the inhabitants of that place to reach back home they being the locals of that area. As I approached the shop and stopped the jeep near it, karnail singh sitting at the back of the jeep beckoned a person sitting in the shop for asking him about the name of the place. A tall and lean elderly man with a weak eyesight who was in white clothes with a covered head wearing a traditional village dress approached us. I asked him, “Which place is this?” “Dhander Kalan” he said the name which I heard it for the first time as it was not there on the map in the coloured zone which depicted Indian side. Moreover everything was written in Urdu on the shop board which was hung inclined tilting to one side with a post which could be hardly read as nobody amongst us knew urdu, the local language used in that area. The elderly man spoke very respectfully with us and asked, “Sahib aap logo ko kidhar janaa hai?”(Sir where do you want to go?). I replied, ”Akhnur” “Arey aap log to bahut galat aa gaye hai yeh ilaka to Pakistan mein aata hai?(You people have come on the wrong way. This area falls under Pakistan” he said in a normal way with no tension as if it was a routine affair for him. In my mind I murmured,” PPP——Pakistan! Oh gosh we are trapped now and would soon land up in Lahore jail” But he continued pointing to the track, ”Chalo koi baat nahin Galati ho jaati hai. Aap aisey karo yahaan se woh track pakaro aur bari nadi ke saath chaltey rehna usko hamesha bayi taraf hi rakhna vapis pahunch jaaogay. Raastey mein choti nadi aaney par bhi murhna nahin veh paar ho jayegi”(It doesn’t matter one does commit mistakes. You do one thing, catch that track and keep following the big river keeping it to your left all the time and you’ll return back. On the way do not turn even if small rivulets come your way as they are crossable) My heart beat had already doubled while I listened to him and so I expected the same must have been the state of others sitting in my rear. I was tense because we did not have any weapons with us in case the emergency arose as we were generally discouraged for carrying the same due to the fear of losing its parts and facing unnecessary inquiries later on; The zero error syndrome followed all over. As soon as he finished explaining the route to us I pressed the accelerator and zipped off from there in the desired direction as told by him to get out of that zone before we get into some other trouble. After travelling about a km, Karnail Singh further increased my heartbeat by giving a suggestion that since we are in the enemy area and the person who guided us on this route was also not an Indian so he might have guided us wrongly to lead us into an enemy trap. I immediately applied brakes taking my jeep under the cover of a tree and asked him and others to quickly do the map reading for finding own position as we were just a km away from the built up huts (Teashop) in the open ground patch The Chenab river ran parallel to us so the difficulty of locating these landmarks on the map was less. All the eight eyes were on the map totally focussed and fully concentrated reading it atom by atom as it was do or die attempt for us now. There was fear of getting caught in the enemy hands on everyone’s face but no one revealed it out to any of us, rather Karnail Singh was saying time and again not to worry it being a minor issue. He also convinced us that even if someone detects us we can overpower them as are four in strength. While we were looking at the map we saw dust emanating from a point on the other side of the river bank where we could make out that it was some military vehicle in Khakhi colour. “It definitely is not our vehicle as all the Indian Military vehicles were olive green in colour. Oh my God ! It could be Rangers. Everybody take cover and no movement”, I told them all. We all took cover; some ducked low in the jeep while the driver and Ramesh covered their view behind the wheels so as not to be visible from the track and other side of the river. The big jeep, probably like a jonga went past on the other side of the river which we all saw with our hidden eyes. Nobody of us noticed any weapons with them; probably they also worked on the similar principles as we did since once upon a time both the nations were together under the British rule. Everyone took a sigh of relief after it went far off till it disappeared in the dust. “We must hurry up now as we will not get the same chance time and again”, said our driver Atma Ram. Probably he was right. Meanwhile we decided that the direction in which we were proceeding was correct as we had found our own position on the map by now and the enemy jeep went in the direction opposite to the border. The third point which flashed in my mind confirming me finally was that since there were no major turns in the Chenab river which could confuse the direction and that the water travelled towards the enemy side confirmed that we were proceeding in the right direction. So travelling to the upstream side would definitely take us home. I zoomed off at the maximum speed possible. The sun God soon appeared at last which made everything clear about the direction to everyone sitting at the back as they relied more on it than the compass. It was about 4 pm now and as per the map we still had to cover about 8 km which meant another one hour as the track did not allow a speed more than 7 kmph on an average. Our stomachs shaked and heads rolled over the vertebrae with each crater we crossed while we inhaled dust at dry places. The tyres of the jeep were stressed and would enter the slush and dust time and again resulting into us praying that it does not get stuck anywhere and we worshipped God for the good health of tyres as there was no help available to take us out in case of eventuality. We carried on like this till after travelling about 3 kms we saw a very colourful truck with designs on it approaching us head on from the opposite side. I had never seen such a designer truck as the trucks plying on the Akhnur road were generally brown in colour and of a single colour of TATA make but this was neither TATA nor a plain coloured truck. It appeared that some child had painted that truck. “Sahib ji ai tey Pakistani truck hai”(Sir this is a Pakistani truck”) said Karnail singh in Punjabi. Ganesh, sitting at the rear suggested that we overpower them as there were only two of them sitting in front who were visible from our jeep of which one was the driver. I immediately told them that no offensive action to be taken till such time I give a go and everyone will keep quiet till then. The truck halted right in front of our jeep face to face as there was very less space to cross it. I asked Karnail to call the driver. He went near his door and the driver came along with him. I asked him how he is moving his truck in this area “Janaab hum to ret lene aatey hain”(Sir we come to collect the sand). While I was speaking to him Ganesh went behind the truck to check if anyone else was also there and indicated with his hand to me that they were only two of them. “You do not know this area is out of bounds for you” I said in a raised voice. “But no one has objected to it till date sir” “Kindly make sure next time you do not come till this point otherwise we will arrest you “ I said in a sober voice. “Thhek hai janaab hamarey thekedaar ko bataa dena” (OK Sir but please tell our contractor) replied the driver. “You will tell them not we” said Karnail to him while I raised my hand to tell him to keep quiet. “Do you know how far is the border from here?” I asked him in a way to make him feel that I am asking to test his knowledge of the area. “There is no demarcation but we do not go beyond a km from here”, replied the driver Then you will send your representative to show us that point and now tell him to sit in our jeep. Also please show your license. The driver went to his truck to call his understudy who was still sitting in the co driver’s seat. I was only fearing that he does not take out any weapon from his truck although the chances of which were remote so I told Ganesh and Karnail to follow him to his truck and bring him with his license and the second person. They all returned and when I saw the license it confirmed that they were from Pakistan as the stamp of the RTO had bilingual language, Urdu and English written on it as ‘Licensing authority Lahore’. I did not waste any further time and asked him to hop in so that he could show us the way. He hesitated to sit inside. So I forced him by gesturing Ganesh and Karnail who took no time to push him on to the jeep. You wait for him till he comes back” I told the truck driver so that he does not go into his territory and reports the matter. We zipped off from there bye passing the truck from the side with great difficulty as the restricted space was just wide enough to pass. After travelling about half a km the person tried to jump off from the jeep but was held tightly so could not escape. I asked them to tie him with rope but since we did not have the rope Karnail immediately took off his turban and they both tied his hands at the back. I increased the speed of the jeep. The person started to cry. So we told him that we will leave him at the border provided he guides us the correct route otherwise we carry him to our territory. He started behaving and guided at each and every turning which was well recorded in his head due to his daily commutation to collect sand. We soon crossed the unmarked border and were inside our territory where the known tracks and some Indian trucks could be seen loading sand. I asked Karnail to release him and as soon as we left him he vanished from there into the forests not to be seen again. I only said Thanks to him in my heart while he sprinted. At far off distance on our side of the bank I could see the same jeep which we had noticed on the other side of the bank. Maybe they must have got the clue from the villager at tea shop and had come looking for us but we were out of the danger zone. A wave of relief and happiness could be seen on our faces and it was 6 PM by now .It was already dusk. I told everyone that no one will discuss this matter till the time we are out of the camp for another one week and will discuss the matter as a routine recce carried out or else we may land up in trouble. Karnail said while tying his turban, ”Sir which Recce?” when everyone of us laughed facing him and we all drove back into the unit. We were behind enemy lines and now enemy was behind the non demarcated lines of the border which had shaken us all. Never ever I went for the Recce in that area again and marked the border line on the map clearly with a thick permanent marker in red and blue line so that no youngster enters that area even by mistake in future. The recce was successful and over.

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