War, Peace, and Northeast: How a Soldier Made Us Realize the Price of Freedom

By Hemang Thakker


Facebook Twitter Instagram LinkedIn

I have been to a lot of places which means that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some truly exceptional people. 

It is one of my favorite things about traveling. Because we are a sum of all the people that we have met. We carry a piece of them with us. 

One such person that I came across whom I won’t ever forget is the Subedar I met on the Northeast Expedition with Adventures Overland. 

The day was dedicated to exploring Tawang. Bum La Pass wasn’t even a part of the itinerary. But sometimes you end up at unexpected places because fate has other plans. The invisible string that connects you rests in the hand of fate and it’s not until you have experienced it firsthand that you eventually start to believe it.

Situated at a height of 15,200 feet above sea level, the Bum La Pass is a border pass between China’s Tsona County in Tibet and India’s Tawang district. Here one of the fiercest battles, the Battle of Bum La Pass, took place in the 1962 Sino-Indian War. While India accepts a borderline called the McMahon Line agreed upon by the British and Tibet’s then government in 1914 to be the border, China disputes it, especially in Arunachal Pradesh, most of which it terms as ‘South Tibet’.

Suggested Read: ‘Ziro’ boring days in this village of Northeast India

Being a border-sensitive area, we could not take our vehicles and had to hire local cars and get permits from the army to get there. The scenery around is stunning with craggy mountains draped in snow and ice.

The road is dotted with army camps made of corrugated steel sheets and wood, ammunition dumps, artillery parks, stone bunkers, and memorials to soldiers who fell in the India-China border war of 1962.

Just being there, surrounded by so many army men, watching them tackle the weather and any other hardship that comes their way with a smile on their faces fills with you a profound sense of respect. 

At the top of the pass, you can hear the winds roaring in your eyes. The vast expanse of snow is nothing short of extraordinary. It’s too much to take in and yet you can’t help but stare in awe and memorize all the details you can so that you can relive the memory, over and over.

Suggested Itinerary: Road Trips in India

We were asked to follow the Subedar who was supposed to show us around and share insights on how things work. 

We walked the paths that have been walked by countless soldiers. Some whom we know of, some history has perhaps forgotten. A mere hundred meters later, we reached the Line of Actual Control. You are not allowed to cross it obviously, no one is. But you can see the Chinese soldiers patrolling beyond the border. They are armed and in uniform like our soldiers and it is truly a surreal mirror-image moment except for the fact that the border exists for a reason. These soldiers are here for a reason. 

War. Peace. Freedom. Whatever you believe the reason might be. The reality is that our jawans stand guard against all odds. 

“Soldiers love their country more than their families,” The Subedar said and it was the truth about the dedication of our soldiers. It truly moved me and my fellow travelers to tears. 

We have all been guilty of taking things for granted and here, we met people who are the very embodiment of the word “sacrifice”.

The threat looming in the air, the harsh climate, and solitude are not even the worst of hardships that these men endure. 

Must Read: The Ultimate Road Trip Guide: Everything you need to know

And on top of all that, they can’t always expect compliance or support. “An army man can control one thousand soldiers but cannot control ten civilians,” He added. 

I couldn’t imagine the despair that one must feel when they are paying such a high price of freedom in exchange for, basically nothing.

But that thought belonged to the civilian in me. We lead such transactional lives that the idea of selflessness seems alien to us. When in reality, there are thousands of people, standing on the frontline, fighting the enemy, all so that people like me can sleep peacefully in our beds. 

Let me tell you that despite the temperatures, it wasn’t the cold that made goosebumps arise on my skin, it wasn’t the harsh winds that made my eyes teary. It was the words he spoke next. The words I won’t ever forget. 

“Aap sab apne apne ghar ja kar aaram se so jaiye, hum yaha aapki suraksha ke liye khade hai. Yeh zameen hamari maa hai, ek inch bhi unko lene nahi denge”

At that moment, we truly learned that the cost of freedom and peace can only be paid by those men, and that filled me with a sense of pride for belonging to the same motherland as such men. 

I could still hear the proud chants of “Jai Hind” and “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, long after we had departed for Tawang.

I don’t think I will ever stop hearing the echoes of those words. It was truly a remarkable experience. 

Read the full travelogue of the Northeast Expedition with AO through the pen of Hemang Thakker here.

As told to Adventures Overland by Hemang Thakker

Published On: 22nd March 2024


Facebook Twitter Instagram LinkedIn

Subscribe to Our Monthly Newsletter.