This is the second tale from the series Cheating Death by Lt Col Yogesh Joshi (Retd). He has Served Indian Army for 20 years and has varied experiences in different difficult terrains in "counter insurgency" operations. Post retirement, he is now Chief Of Security, at Infosys Pune.
In today's post he takes us to the high mountains riddled with conflict where he Cheated Death for the second time in his life !
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In my previous blog/post, I had narrated one accident where I should have died at a tender age of 22 years. Today’s tale is of later years, when I should have died, but by only the Grace of Almighty, I am here today- Telling Tales.
The second time I faced death was at the hands of terrorists. I was posted at Doda, J&K as a Post Commander in the interiors. I had just joined the Rashtriya Rifles battalion and had taken over the company of about 130 soldiers to lead into counter terrorism operations. The terrain was difficult, with numerous spurs of the mighty Pir Panjal ranges in my AOR (Area of Responsibility). If one had to move laterally, one had to climb down and up the valleys, or if one had to move horizontally, one had to climb up or down the steep and narrow spurs.
Once, we had a joint operation, in which columns from different companies were involved. After the operation, one of he columns stayed at my post for the night and next day, I volunteered to accompany those troops and their company commander till some distance about two spurs away. We started in the morning and reached the spot on that spur where I was to see off that company troops by late afternoon.
I bid bye to the Company Commander and decided to rest for some time before heading back to my company post. So I asked my troops to rest. Like good soldiers, they went on the sides of the spur and concealed themselves in the foliage for rest. Like a Rambo, I sat on a boulder, with my Radio Operator and Sahayak, right on the spur next to a tree. From there, I could see till quite some distance uphill, since the top portion of the spur was barren. I gratefully accepted a glass of tea from my Sahayak and relaxed. When I looked uphill, I saw hundreds of sheep. It was the season when the Gujjars and the Bakkarwals who had taken their cattle on the higher reaches of the Pir Panjal for grazing were now returning. Fortunately, I was sitting in such a position that I may not have been visible to anyone coming down from top, as also, my troops were concealed on the sides of the spur. When the Gujjars reached near me and saw me, I could see some alarm on their faces. I stopped them, searched them, talked to them for a few minutes and let them pass. They gave me some hardened cottage cheese and Mushrooms (Guchchi in local language) and carried on their way.
After about 15 odd minutes, we could see 2 more persons coming down the spur. My Sahayak, the Radio Operator and me, we were all looking at them. They were some distance away and wrapped in shawls. When they were about 50-60 meters away from me, they both suddenly stopped. The moment they stopped, my Radio Operator – a Khalsa, raised his AK and aimed at them. Seeing this they turned around and started running and my companions opened fire on them. I shouted at both of them to stop firing as they seemed to be civilians who were just scared of the army and were startled to see us and were running away.
Imagine my surprise, when both of them removed their shawls and opened fire at us. The bullets were flying left and right of my head. The tree against which I was siting was riddled with bullets. I just froze on the spot. Next I saw one of those damned #@*%$ lob a grenade at us, so "dive" it was... and we did, hugged mother earth like her long lost children.
Then they ran…. right next to the troops who were concealed and resting and who were totally oblivious to the happenings and were surprised to hear the firing. However, some of them gathered there wits and fired at the fleeing terrorists and managed to kill one and injure the other. We could not retrieve the body of the injured chap, but got intelligence inputs that he did finally succumb to the injuries. Both of them were from Lashkar!
Lucky second time! Will meet with another tale next Sunday. Till then...Jai Hind!