Flights Of Fantasy
[ M Panging Pao ]
Many readers are not aware of fierce battles fought by our brave soldiers during the 1962 Indo-Chinese War. One such unknown saga is the story of Lieutenant Colonel Awasthy and the Battle of Lagyala Gompa.
After the initial setback at Namka Chu, the 4th Rajput Battalion was deployed from Belgaum to NEFA. The battalion reached Missamari on 23 October, 1962 without the commanding officer. The unit were deployed in stages to Bomdila and later positioned at Dirang Dzong.
Lieutenant Colonel Brahmanand Awasthy was charged to take over as the new commanding officer.
After taking command, Lieutenant Colonel Awasthy deployed his troops at vantage points and prepared for combating the enemy troops. Meanwhile, a decision was taken by higher headquarters to withdraw from Sela. With the infantry brigade falling back from Sela, Awasthy decided to defend a key bridge to allow the brigade troops to withdraw. On 18 November then, the 4th Rajput units had fought cohesively to allow the troops north of Sela to fall back holding off Chinese attacks. Finally, Awasthy pulled back via Lubrang to Phudung. Thereafter, the force headed towards an old monastery Lagyala Gompa overlooking the Morshing valley.
Lagyala Gompa, the last monastery was located on a high feature overlooking the Morshing Valley. However, a 500 strong Chinese unit had already moved in behind and one group was waiting in ambush near Lagyala Gompa. As Awasthy and his troops approached the Gompa they came under heavy fire from the Chinese. Awasthy and his men hit back. Although lacking heavy firepower Awasthy launched a two-pronged counter attack.
The battle was fierce and the Chinese, annoyed by the casualties they were taking, tried to isolate Awasthy and cut him off. But Awasthy’s men surrounded their gallant leader and fought to the bitter end. Finally, it came down to hand-to-hand combat and after a few hours, the Chinese prevailed.
The battlefield was a ghastly sight. Over 200 Chinese bodies and 126 Indian bodies littered the area. Every Indian soldier was killed with no survivors. Among them were Awasthy, his officers and men.
A shepherd boy who later became the Head Lama of the monastery was the only witness to this heroic episode. The Chinese dug a mass grave for the Indians and left a flattened ration tin with the names of the officers. After the ceasefire the bodies were retrieved. Awasthy’s body was found with a blood soaked letter to his wife.
Lieutenant Colonel Awasthy and his men did not receive any awards and honours as there were none left to cite their story. There are rare instances wherein the enemy recognises a soldier’s bravery and honours them. Though they were not decorated by the nation, such was the legend of Lieutenant Colonel Awasthy and the 4th Rajput.
Due to the supreme sacrifice wherein every soldier laid down their lives, the Battle of Lagyala Gompa has found its mention in the golden pages of our history.
(The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force)