Col. Chhewang Rinchen
The Saviour of Ladakh
It was a
touch and go situation in 1947 in Ladakh. The efforts of legendary
Sher Jung Thapa, Col. Prithvi Chand and Col Chhewang Rinchen
possible what looked impossible. Defence of Ladakh looked difficult
only route i.e. Zojila was closed.
Rinchen, then a young boy of seventeen held the fort in Nubra and
instrumental in the defence of Leh. In 1971 he captured for India the
Turtuk-which is the tough underbelly of Siachen Col. Rinchen went
on to win
for his extraordinary valour double Mahavirchakra, the highest
award besides a Sena medal. From a guerrilla warrior in 1947, Col
retired as a full Colonel in 1984. His younger brother, P Namgyal
participated in 1948 campaign represented Ladakh Parliamentary seat
and also served in the central cabinet.
military skills, Col Rinchen has received rare tributes from top
Col Prithvi Chand says, "Rinchen turned out to be an inspiring
was a fearless man and highly patriotic. He volunteered to take
several battles and raids." Lt Gen ML Chibber (Retd.), too had great
Col Rinchenís military skills. He says, "...I noticed the
mountain sense he displayed while moving for an attack on an enemy
had God given instinct to choose the most appropriate, even the
hazardous route, to surprise the very vigilant enemy. I realised his
being a man
who comes into his own in battles". Col Rinchen was the youngest
MVC in the Indian Army or for that matter in nearly two hundred
history of the British Indian Army.
belonged to a celebrated Warrior family of Sumur in Nubra
of his forefathers in eighteenth century had distinguished
against raiders from Turkistan. STAKRE (in Ladakhi ĎLion) title was
him by King of Ladakh for this bravery. The personality of Col.
true to the literal meaning of his name. In Ladakhi Chhewang
and Rinchen full of life. For her compassion, Col Rinchenís
known as the mother of Nubra valley.
received his primary education from Mr Stanzin, a Ladakhi
missionary. His childhood hobbies were to make pistols, guns and
enjoyed playing with improvised weapons. For secondary education
was sent to Leh, where he stayed with the elitist Kalon family.
It was here
that he heard stories about world war I and II accounts of
State Force Army Officers, who often visited Mr Kalonís house.
was the first volunteer to join the National Guards. He was
school boy of eighth class. Rinchen himself says, "I know that the
safety of my
land was more important than my studies". It was April 1948.
period of ten days training he was sent with Subedar Bhim Chand to
local force in the Nubra valley known as Nubra Guards. Within a
one month a company strength was raised and trained. They were
deployed in La Chhurk and Chhangmar area (between present Thoise
invaders had overrun Baltistan (except Skardu) and Biagdango. They
advancing along the Shyok river. Col Rinchenís task was to defend
and the northern bank of Shyok river.
He took 28
boys with him. Over the next few days he crossed rivers and
different peaks to reach the enemy picket at La Chhuruk. Nubra guard
totally surprised the Pakistanis and killed all enemy soldiers holed
up in the
picket. Post was captured along with arms and ammunition left
Of all the
achievements of 17 year old Rinchen, the most decisive was his
stand on the
Skuru Nullah. Pakistani invaders were only ten miles away from
Rinchen failed, Ladakhís fate would have been different. Col
Yusuf Abadi, then Pakistani commander leading Gilgat scouts in his
titled Baltistan Par Ek Nazar recalls, "our intelligence revealed
repeated attacks were foiled by the personal valour of a 17-year
named Chhewang Rinchen had we succeeded at Skuru, there would then
have been no
real obstacle to our capturing Leh." Taru front
was only eight miles from Leh. Since Lt Col Prithvi Chand had no
threat to Leh loomed large, all troops were ordered to rush to
Bhim Chand also left Nubra along with the arms and ammunition
Nubra guards. In Nubra, only the irregulars under the command of
Rinchen were left to guard the Valley. They had just 20 rifles and
50 rounds of
ammunition per rifle.
Pakistanis were unaware of the withdrawal of Indian forces from Nubra
for nearly a
month. Soon they came to know that only locals with matchlock
deployed in Nubra. To give an element of deception to the enemy,
group would come down the hill and fire on Pakistanis from the
would give an impression to the enemy that Indian regulars armed
rifles were in hiding nearby.
of Indian regular troops from Nubra created scare and panic among
began fleeing to Leh. Col Rinchen was caught in a strange predicament. He
himself recalls, "I was a witness to this mass exodus and it became unbearable
for me to witness our land being offered to the enemy without resistance,
virtually as a gift." Chewang
Rinchen was too great a patriot to yield so easily. He prevailed
local resistance leaders in Leh to motivate Nubra youth to return
defence of their motherland. Given the shortage of weapons and
Lt. Col. Prithvi Chand was hesistant to release these to a mere
boy. Rinchen had requested for 100 rifles and some LMGs to
With the intervention of Mr Kalon, Col. Prithvi Chand on the
that no arms and ammunition will be allowed to fall in the hands
finally released 28 rifles, one sten gun and a few boxes of
Nubra, Rinchen began organising the defence of Nubra, the gateway of
recalled all the Nubra Guards for duty and armed them to the extent
many with muzzle loading guns. Rinchenís guards reached the
Skampuk on the banks of Skuru, a deep and fast flowing nullah. As
forces learnt about the Indian withdrawal from Nubra, they began
for crossing Shyok river in local boats, to reach Khardung La.
about this plan, Chewang Rinchen decided to ambush them while they
crossing the river.
Oíclock in the morning, about 12 Pakistanis boarded the boat. When
reached midstream, Rinchenís guerrillas opened fire. All the
were either killed or drowned. The enemy on the opposite bank
fire but were totally outwitted by Nubra Guards resistance.
while, Pakistanis withdrew towards Hundiri village on the northern
some men to guard the crossing point and himself headed towards
He evacuated the civilian population of Skuru village to
enrolled all the young men in his Nubra Guards. Subsequently he
the Skuru nullah bridge to thwart Pakistani plans for crossing the
Meanwhile more reinforcements reached from Leh and Nubra Guards
swelled upto 300 men. The whole of Nubra valley was now galvanised for
The Pakistanis misjudged this force as being the Indian Army
and did not
attack Indian positions for few days.
It was after
eight days of waiting and preparation that Pakistanis launched
mortar-machine gun attack. Rinchenís men inflicted heavy casualties on
this setback, the Pakistanis occupied a defensive position on
bank of Skuru nullah. Through deception, Rinchen wanted to give
impression of inflated strength to the enemy. He carried out raids from
points and directions. After a few days, Pakistanis launched
attack at about midnight using hand grenades. Despite casualties,
held their position and the attack was beaten back. Pakistanis
further reinforcements and also wanted to capture or kill
Rinchen who had become terror for them. Sniping and shooting
between the two sides.
news reached Rinchen. It was August. Col Pritvhi Chand informed
him that he
had brought a platoon of newly raised 7 J&K Militia along with a
2/8 Gorkha Rifles under the command of Major RC Mathur. He
Rinchen to take them to Skkuru defences and apprise them about
position. After holding the position for 23 days, Rinchen finally
the post to Subedar Ishar Singh of 7 J&K Militia. Gorkhas were
deployed. A few days later Pakistanis launched a major attack and
Skuru post. They also captured a section post of 2/8 Gorkha
Indian troops fell back to Skampuk village.
On 25 August
1948, Lt Col Prithvi Chand appointed Rinchen as a Naib-Subedar
in 7 J&K
Militia. He became the youngest ever JCO in the Army. For the first
time he wore
the Army uniform now. Rinchen was assigned the task to once
a full company of Nubra Guards and select 50 men to operate as
These specially selected men were given training in the use of
mortar and all types of grenades. On completion of their
Rinchen was asked to take over command and undertake a number of
of this group, the first task Rinchen was given was to capture
House. The route to it lay through very hard terrain. Rinchenís
eliminated the major portion of the enemy platoon (25 in number) and
away in their under-clothes. Among the dead was their platoon
Sargeant Major Mota Hassan of Gilgat Scouts. Rinchen had killed
him in hand
to hand fighting with a bayonet and captured his sten gun. This
sten gun was
later presented to the Hall of Fame at Leh and lies there. When
reached Pak headquarters in Lama House, they found it deserted.
Skuru position had fallen to Pakistanis but the troops of Indian
that Pakistanis made no further progress.
Armyís next attack on Pakistan position at Tarche did not succeed.
view of his great military feats, was specially ordered to bring
Pakistani medium machine gun, which was firing at Indiaís recently
post in the Lama House. Rinchen nearly succeeded in this task.
the Nubra Guards while advancing methodically on both banks of
occupied Chhangmar La, Chhurk and Baigdangdo. Pakistanis had
Black Rock picket and Takkar Hill. While Gorkhas wrested back
position Rinchen captured Takkar Hill with the Nubra Guard
men inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy and Pakistanis fell
now dug in the Tebe Hill area on the South of the River Shyok.
position dominated the whole Nubra valley and the Indian advance was
December Chewang Rinchen was ordered to capture Tebe Hill position
and to reach
Tebe nullah. This was Rinchenís last battle and the most
one in 1948 Ladakh campaign. Speaking about this, Rinchen
had been a long, exhausting and hazardous operation lasting for
six days, of
which nights and days were in contact". This battle was fought
in snow at
the mountain top, with an altitude of 21,000 feel.
Pakistani Post, a section strength was on duty. Rinchen took
by surprise. With his first LMG shot, Rinchen killed 6 or 7
and the remaining ran into bunkers. He then shifted to 2-inch
the enemy started running. After the enemy was fully pounded,
ordered a bayonet charge and set out in pursuit of the enemy. Many
died in the assault and some wounded soldiers were captured.
next destination was Tebe Nullah, the Pakistani company
At midnight, when Rinchenís force reached the company
headquarters, they found it deserted. On January 1, 1949 cease-fire was
India lost the opportunity to recover Baltistan. At a time,
defence of Ladakh-our northern frontier, has been threatened, it is
time to pay
homage to those heroes who fought for Ladakh and saved it.
COL. CHHEWANG RINCHEN,
DOUBLE MVC, SM, AND NUBRA VALLEY
1948 the enemy had thrown all his reserves to capture the Nubra
Subedar Chhewang Rinchen with only 28 untrained National Guards
enemy at Skuru nullah for 23 days.
September, he was detailed to capture the enemy position at Lama House;
this was an
extremely difficult task and entailed four days of march through
country, including crossing a mountain feature over 1700 feet.
in capturing the objective with heavy casualties to the enemy
capture of 13 rifles and one sten gun.
December, 1948, when ordered to capture a hill feature near Biagdangdo
through snow for three days and succeeded in forcing the enemy to
Again on 22
December, 1948, he was detailed to attack the enemyís last
Leh Tehsil area. It took him six days to reach his objective. He
had to go
over a mountain feature 21000 ft and though his platoon suffered
casualties from frost-bite, he kept his men going through his
and exemplary leadership. He attacked the two enemy posts and
them; the enemy suffered heavy casaulties.
This JCO displayed exemplary courage, inspiring leadership, initiative and the
ability to plan and carry out his schemes successfully under most adverse
of Maha Vir Chakra