A befitting memorial for Nathula war heroes

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Gangtok, Apr 18: A befitting memorial for about 267 martyrs, who laid down their lives guarding the country along the Indo-China border in the post-independence period, will be inaugurated tomorrow.

The memorial, which has been named ''Watershed'', use to describe the border in military nomenclatures, will be inaugurated at Sherathang, some five km ahead of the Nathula border pass.

Engulfed in a glorious history of its own, the Nathula post reverberates with its own legends and heroic moments as the brave jawans laid down their lives defending the country and the state of Sikkim.

The first Indian Army jawan laid down his life here in 1958 and then followed the 1962 war with China and the 1967 Nathula skirmish.

Countless others have sacrificed their lives while keeping vigil at this brigade.

''Historic moments don't come occasionally and the Black Cat division of the Indian Army based in Sikkim has given a befitting tribute to the brave martyrs by erecting a modest memorial to honour those who died in defence of their motherland at Sherathang,'' General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 17th Mountain Division Major General Kanwar Vijay Singh Lalotra said.

He said the memorial would be inaugurated by Chief Minister Pawan Chamling.

The GOC said the selection of the site was as important as the structure itself and a commanding piece of ground visible from all sides from a long distance was finally chosen.

The memorial is located at the old Army training area and the golf course at Sherathang accessible by a road close to the Sherathang helipad.

One can view the conference house of the Army at the border and also the Chinese post and the Sherathang trade mart. The Chola pass can also be seen which has its own heroic moments.

The memorial is simple in design which truly represents the state and its people and accordingly, it has a canopy roof in Sikkimese design. Black granite and grey kota stones have been used to blend with the surrounding grey and black rugged terrain.

While it has earned the distinction of being one of the highest war memorials located at around 13,000 feet at dizzy heights, it records the true historical perspective of the place. The Army claimed that after the debacle of 1962, nothing could have enhanced the self esteem of the Army more than the mauling it gave to the Chinese army in September 1967.

''The drubbing of the 1962 war was redeemed with the Nathula skirmish of 1967 and the Chinese troops went back learning a lesson,'' Mr Lalotra said.

It was also during this skirmish that Rifleman Debi Prasad killed seven Chinese soldiers with his khukri single-handedly and when the Chinese later returned his body they sent back a message as well mentioning that he had fought like a tiger.

An old Russian 100 mm anti-tank gun has been displayed nearby which, the GOC said, was a gift from the Army to the people of the state.

Mr Lalotra, who conceived the idea and plan of the memorial early last year, said they had started the project in July and many chipped in with help and ideas to build the memorial.

He said a thorough research had been conducted for five months to ascertain the history of the jawans, who had died there and the Black Cat wrote to the various regimental centres. They were later cross-checked with the Centre.

The hero of the 1967 Nathula skirmish Brigadier Rai Singh, who had commanded the Two Grenadiers, as Lieutenant Colonel, would also grace the inauguration ceremony.

The skirmish saw artillery firing with the Chinese suffering more casualties numbering about 400.

The memorial would be open to comrades, family members, friends, and others including tourists to pay their homage to the brave soldiers, belonging to various parts of the country, who died here.

UNI

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