India would have managed to get even territory from Pakistan during the 1971 war with its neighbour had Colonel Chewang Rinchen not taken a break to celebrate Losar, the Tibetan New Year according to an Army officer I met at the Siachen Glacier.
A hero for all of Ladakh, Col Rinchen has been a recipient of the Mahaveer Chakra, one of the highest honours for bravery in India. Not once, but twice including being the youngest ever recipient of the same at the age of 17. According to Army records:
“During the 1971 war, he led his ‘Dhal’ (shield) Force against the Pakistanis in Baltistan. His unorthodox technique based on guerilla warfare resulted in the recapture of Turtok and the creation of what is the Line of Control (LoC).”
For a 70 kilometer stretch, one still sees Pakistani bunkers all intact abandoned as they retreated according to the officer I met. Suddenly Col Rinchen decided to stop for Losar and lost all the momentum. What he had achieved was still no mean task – this was when he earned his second Mahaveer Chakra.
The records further state: “He earned the first one during the 1947-48 Indo Pak war soon after the two countries gained independence. Along with a band of 28 volunteers, he successfully blocked the advance of Pakistani raiders to Leh for one month and 23 days.
Born on November 11, 1931 is Sumur in Nubra Valley of Ladakh, he joined the Nubra Guards when he was only 17. His brave deeds continued during the 1962 war with China in the Dera Baba Oldie sector; he was awarded the Sena Medal for this. During the 1965 war with Pakistan, he provided vital information regarding the deployment of enemy forces to Col Kapur, Commander of the Nubra sector, and led some very aggressive patrols on the most difficult routes to reach enemy locations and take them by surprise.”
In his memory, the Corps Lecture Hall near the Leh Airport was renamed Rinchen Auditorium in 2008 according to a news report.