Monday, 27 June 2011


Hi folks,

Today, I am going to tell you a story which has always been very close to my heart. The year was 1963-64 and the Indo-China war had just ended.  The Government of India, at long last, had realised its folly of neglecting the defence forces since independence. So the process of correcting  past mistakes began on war footing, resulting in raising of new battalions and regiments, procurement of better and more modern fire arms, guns and other equipments etc. Many border areas where army had no earlier presence due to paucity of manpower quickly fell under the ambit of defence forces.

Keeping in line with this, a new Army Division was also raised to cover the Central Sector and units were soon ordered to move to the assigned operational areas under the newly formed brigades.  My Battery, the 2nd (Derajat) Mountain Battery Frontier Force,  which had returned to a peace station just a few months ago after taking part in the 1962 Indo-China war in NEFA area, was ordered to move to join the new mountain brigade at a place called Joshimath.

As the first artillery unit to move to that sector, we were put on a special train, lock stock & barrel, with all our horses, mules, guns etc., reaching Rishikesh the next day, at the Himalayan foothills. There, the Battery rapidly organised itself for a long march up the mountain. Guns were dismantled and loaded on respective mules as were other equipments.  Officers and men carried their own weapons and belongings in backpacks.  It was a long march of about 270 kilometres up the mountain which we covered in a record time of 12 days.

The march used to be mostly undertaken during the early morning hours between 2 am to 7 am, thus avoiding any traffic or people. Fortunately, there was also no sickness or injuries to any men or animal and the Battery reached Joshimath 100% fit. 

Picture below shows cleaning & massaging of animals: This was carried out daily after completion of  a march. The animals are also checked for any injuries, checking of hooves,  shoeing, etc if needed 

At the assigned area allotted to us, the guns were quickly deployed and process of settlement commenced. Simultaneously, reconnaissance (recce) up to various passes at the border to select suitable gun positions and Observation Posts (OPs) was also undertaken regularly.  

The battery had just three officers: all captains with just six months difference in their seniority. Thus, the senior most amongst us held the charge of the officiating Battery Commander, the second one as OP officer, while I, being the junior most, served as the Gun Position Officer (GPO).

Within a month or so of our arrival, winter set in with occasional but heavy snowfall.  It was then decided that a final long range recce be carried out before the area became inaccessible for winter as well as to construct an underground shelter at the forward most location of the OP to cover any eventuality.  

I, along with a team of 12 gunners with 4 mules, undertook the exercise and was able to recce the area up to the border.  We were able to construct a temporary shelter for the forward most OP. After completing  tasks in 7 days, we started our return journey on the eighth morning, and by evening had reached below the snowline. We decided to camp for the night under a huge projecting rock.
Picture below is of self, en-route to the border area on the long range reconnaissance. Heavy snowfall had already commenced 

Picture below is of Local villagers en-route

                                               Some of the members of the recce team

It was then that we heard some sound of an animal behind the rock. Cautiously, we approached the site with loaded rifles and found something quite unbelievable. There was a young bear cub sitting next to its mother and crying. The mother was dead, probably killed a few days ago. We could not determine the reason.  

I slowly approached the cub, talking softly. To my utter surprise, I found him not aggressive at all.  In the meanwhile, one of our men had opened a small can of Milk Maid sweet condensed milk, poured a small amount on a leaf, and put it near the cub. The cub quickly licked up the milk.  We now knew the cub was hungry, so the process was repeated and soon it became a source of entertainment.

After another 2 days of descent, we reached the road head, and on the third day, to our unit, with the cub carried along on our shoulders all the way.

Every one in the Battery was thrilled to find one more addition to the pets in the unit.  The Battery was already in possession of 6 horses, 80 mules, both provided by the government, one ram, (the Battery Mascot), my one personal tomcat and two local dogs. The bear cub accordingly, was attached to the officers’ mess where it started living in my room. My batman, who had been looking after my tomcat and the three dogs (and me) was very enthusiastic. He quickly got a small bed made by the unit carpenter from empty wooden rum cartons and a blanket issued from the Quarter Master’s store for the cub.

The cub, in turn, grew friendly with everyone and an instant hit amongst animals of the unit. Gradually I started teaching him some tricks as well and officers of other near by units started visiting us to watch the fun.  Some mischievous colleagues even started serving him rum which the cub enjoyed immensely. Sitting on the table with us at the lunch and dinner for his meal along with us became a routine for the cub, one we all enjoyed.

The Battery, being far way from the Regimental Headquarters, had no immediate supervision of any senior officer and was thus practically independent. The three of us, all young captains, were in-charge of running the Battery and everyone had their own bright ideas of improving the efficiency of the unit.

The red tape and over-emphasis on discipline was cut out. Leave was granted to the troops to be more liberal.  Being the only artillery unit in the brigade, we also became favourites of the Brigade Commander and other senior officers there.  

By the end of the year, when Brigade celebrated its raising day, our Battery won the Inter-Unit championship trophies in hockey and basketball.  It also came first in fancy dress competition and variety entertainment programmes. Every one was happy and many of us did not even feel the necessity to avail our annual leave to go home.

The news of our popularity soon reached our Regimental Headquarters which was still located at the peace station at Bareilly. That is when the catastrophe struck.

A Bhangra dance presentation by the Battery during the Brigade Raising day function

Picture below of the Fancy Dress team. The Battery Ram (mascot) is third from right and one of my dogs is on front left. The two persons dressed in ladies' Shalwar/ Kameez are  men

Picture below is of the two teams preparing for pillow fight on mules: a competition between two sections of the Battery which was a source of good entertainment

A signal arrived from the Headquarters announcing a visit of our Commanding Officer (CO) for a thorough inspection of the Battery.  The preparations for his visit began: a detailed programme for his two-day stay at the station was drawn up, ensuring that he spent most of his time meeting and dining with other senior officers of the brigade and as little time as possible with the Battery. A dinner, however, was fixed in our mess on the last day where, Brigade Commander and other Commanding Officers of the Battalions, were invited.

The Officers’ Mess was accordingly cleaned and done up. More knowledgeable cooks from other Officers’ messes were requisitioned. Additional crockery, cutlery, linen etc. were begged and borrowed. A brass band of the nearby Kumaon battalion was requisitioned. Our horses, and few mules with riders in ceremonial dress complete with unit flags and lances, were lined up all along the route from the entrance of the Battery to the Officers’ Mess with tall torches pitched at regular intervals.

Self with my dog -a Bhotia mountain breed. Its huge is size,love snow and high altitude A wonderful companion & watch dog
The batmen for us three officers had been instructed to take away the tomcat and the three dogs to the unit line and hide them along with the horses/mules. The bear cub, who preferred the company of officers, was also fed early and put to bed and the room bolted from outside.  The dinner went very well and every one thanked us for making such a wonderful arrangements. 

My other two dogs: out side my temporary tin shed accommodation
Our CO too, seemed happy and winked at us, probably saying “Well Done Boys”. Finally, around 2230 hours everyone had left and we three sigh a sense of relief. The visit had been a success and we were on cloud nine.  As is customary on such occasions, few crates of rum bottles were brought out from the Mess store and handed over to the Band Master, the cooks, horse holders, waiters etc. as reward for their great performance.

It was then that my batman came running in to announce the disaster created by the bear cub. We all ran around to my room and found the cub sitting in a corner and crying profusely.

He has torn all my clothes, the sleeping bag, pillows and all books and papers. Since all the three of us were occupying one temporary shed and only had temporary partitions between our rooms, the cub had also jumped over to the other rooms and damaged belongings of the other two officers as well. 

Our first reaction was to kick the cub out. But then good sense prevailed. We tried to pacify him by petting and talking but all in vain. A peg of rum with some left over food from the party was too brought, but he refused it.  Finally, after much coaxing, he was brought to the dining table, made to sit on his usual chair while we sat down. Then he ate, finished his drink, and became normal.

Soon we realised that he was growing up fast and it was increasingly difficult to cope with his tantrums. Accordingly the nearest Zoo, which was in Delhi, was contacted and the cub eventually handed over to them.

It was a sad parting for all of us but we had no other alternative. We all cherished the sweet memories of those days though, and made a point to go see him as and when anyone from the unit happened to pass through Delhi.

Note: It is unfortunate that the picture of the bear cub, the main hero of the story, has been misplaced/lost.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Indian Spotted Owlet: Rescue Mission

16 June, 2011

Folks, the owlet has been discharged today evening at 1745 hrs and it has flown happily to join its flock. The parents of the chick, along with other relatives, were already in the vicinity after sunset and were waiting.

It has been an experience of its own kind which taught us many new things.

To start with, this was the first time that we opened Google to know more about Indian owls. We learnt that this chick was an Indian Spotted owlet.

We also learnt that owlets are fed only on non-veg food items. No fruits, grains or bird feed. So we had to draw up the menu accordingly and fed the bird with minced meat mixed with a little water, made into a slurry, every 4 hours.  Both chicken n & lamb meat were served alternately which the owlet enjoyed.

Thirdly, it was a pleasant surprise to learn that the whole owl family was living in a tree trunk just behind our house. So, some more company of good creatures on this earth.

A happy ending at last & relief for both me & my wife as it had added quite a lot of extra work for both of us. The dogs are happy too, since second floor of the house has been re-opened for them now; it had been temporarily maintained for the Owlet for the past three days.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Bird in ICU

Hi Folks,

I have so far been telling stories of my past experiences on the blog. But today’s story is the latest adventure, just for a change.

For the past two days, we have been hearing the crying sound of some bird from a nearby mango tree. The sound was more prominent during night, indicating some distress call from a bird.

This morning we located the bird. It was a big owl sitting on a low branch and its chick was lying on the ground, alive but apparently with some injuries. The flock of other varieties of birds (which we have many in our house garden), were hovering around as usual, feeding on the grain provided every morning by us.  But the chirping was unusually louder & more shrill today.

While my wife and I were discussing what should be done to save this chick, suddenly the chick flew up & sat on the railing of our boundary wall, very close to where we were standing. Meanwhile, our house-help had brought back our two dogs after their morning walk.  The chick got frightened by the barking dogs and fell over on the other side of the wall.

My wife quickly went to the other side with a small towel, wrapped the chick & brought it into the house. The chick was injured and bleeding from one of its wings and also had some bruises on the body.

                                              (Below is a photo of the Patient)

Our family Vet happened to be out of town but told us what to do on the phone. Accordingly, as advised, the wounds were cleaned with antiseptic solution, betadine ointment applied and powder from the terramycine capsule diluted and given to the chick with a dropper - just 6 drops, no more and no less, at an interval of exactly 4 hours...

Its 14 hours now and the chick is recovering fast. Hopefully, it will be discharged from our care tomorrow evening.

                                         The patient in the caring hands of Usha Singh (my wife)

Below-Me & Patient

A word about the birds in our garden. As I said they are of various species and we don’t know their names. But does that really matter?  We believe what Richard Feynman has said:-

“You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the birds......So let’s look at the bird and see what its doing- that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of some thing and knowing some thing”

My house in Dehradun, India is adjacent to a huge forest. It is protected forest and managed by the Forest Institute, one of the oldest and the largest institute in Asia. It is also therefore the home of many Himalayan birds, who also spill over to our house.  Lastly, I am told, this chick falls under the category of “endangered species."                                                       

Below is a photo of the Forest belonging to the Forest Research Institute of India located                              just behind my house

(My house, garden & trees)

Monday, 13 June 2011

Grand trunk road kabul to Bengal,Mughals, Sher Shah Sur, Chandragupta Maurya

The Grand Trunk Road:

The picture below was taken in 1984 during my visit to Taxila in Pakistan. It shows part of Grand trunk Road, which is one of South Asia’s longest and oldest roads stretching between Kabul in the west and Bengal in the east. The Information board near the road describes that the road was built by the Mughal kings- though there is no evidence or account given by any historian to this effect. However, given that Pakistan’s history has been systematically and deliberately re-written over the last 30 or so years to meet very particular religious and political ends, it is perhaps not surprising that the road’s history was fabricated on this official board as well.

Not withstanding the false information provided here, it did amuse my 3 year old son (standing near the board) to no end that “from” was incorrectly spelt as “form”. We had to make him quiet by saying that “the Mother tongue in Pakistan is Urdu & not English”.

In India, we were taught in history classes that this road was built by an Afghan king, Sher Shah Sur, who ruled India in 1500 A.D. I am, however, not fully convinced with this claim either.

First, let us take the evidence supplied by numerous  Indian historians who have given accounts of the advent of  Sher Shah Sur rule in India according to which, Sur, also known as Suri or Sher Khan, was an Afghan noble who annexed Southern Bihar & Bengal from Humayun (son of first Mughal king Babur) in 1539. By 1540, he had defeated the opium addicted Mughal king who had  run away to Lahore and then to Kabul, finally taking refuse with Shah Tahmasp, the Safavid ruler  in Iran. Humayun remained in exile for 15 years

However, Sher Shah Suri alias Sher Khan ruled Northern India only for 5 years from 1540 to 1545. On his death, the throne at Delhi passed to his son Islam Shah Sur, who in the course of 8 years reign was not able to consolidate his centralised rule. On the death of Islam Shah  in 1553, the Sur domains were divided by treaty into the Punjab, Agra & Delhi, Bihar with some Eastern Region & Bengal. Each domain was ruled by a son or relative of Sher Shah Sur. The decline soon started & thus, Humayun who had reorganised his army by then was able to regain the lost territory by mid 1555.

Thus, given the extraordinarily short period of his reign, the theory that this grand length of road was built by Sher Shah Sur, seems fairly unlikely and does not really hold ground.

 So who actually built this road?

Those of us who have read the history of Ancient India will remember that the Maurian dynasty started by Chandragupta Maurya in 321 B.C., had acquired and united most of the sub- continent under a single empire, and after the defeat of  the Greek Seleucus Nikator, even the trans- Indus provinces (which today would cover part of Afghanistan) formed part of its vast territories.

Chandragupta Maurya’s son, Bindusar and his grand son, Ashoka further expended the empire. In 260 B.C. Ashoka managed to defeat the most powerful king of Kalinga, after which all other kings of South India also accepted his authority. Ashoka’s son Mahindra in his turn extended the mauryan influence all the way up to Ceylon

Historians also confirm that Ashoka maintained friendly relations with his contemporaries in the Hellenic world with whom he exchanged diplomatic and trade relations. The most prominent amongst them were Antiochus II Theos of Syria (260-246 B.C.), the grandson of Seleucus Nikatoe, Ptolemy III Philadelphus of Egypt (285-247 B.C.); Antigonus Gonatus of Macedonia (276-239B.C.), Megas of Cyrene, and Alexander of Epirus. Communications with the outside world were by now well developed. As a result, there was regular movement of people from Bengal to North West provinces and further towards West Asia for trade, pilgrimage, education etc. The Chief Advisor of Chandragupta Maurya, Kautalya (also known as Chanakya) himself was from Taxila University who regularly travelled between Taxila & Magadh.

Therefore, one can conclude beyond doubt that there had existed some sort of an artery between what is now eastern Bengal & western Kabul even in ancient times. This suggests that rather than necessarily building the road medieval and modern kings probably just repaired and/or realigned portions of it.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Oldest Indian Mountain Batteries (Frontier Force) and Evolution of Mountain Guns


This Battery too, like the 1st to 3rd, was raised from the disbanded artillerymen of Sikh Army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The Battery was raised at Haripur in 1851 and trained by Major Abbot to help the British Army defend the Hazara district of the North West Frontier. More details of this Battery can be found in my earlier posts. 


Raised in 1827 as Bombay Foot Artillery, the 5th is the oldest Indian Mountain Battery. Ironically, the battery was used by the British against the forces of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the Second Sikh War at the siege of Multan in 1849. The Battery was the first to serve outside India when it took part in Abyssinia Expedition in 1867-68.

It did not play a role in the Second Afghan War but took part in the war with Burma from 1885-87.

In the year 1896, the Battery was back in Africa and deployed in Sudan. In 1897 it came back to the Frontier and served in the Second Division of the Tirah Field Force. During the First World War, the 5th served on the Frontier, the Persian Seiten Cordon in 1917 and during the last mopping up operations in Mesopotamia in 1917-1918.

Later, the Battery saw action in the war against the Fakir of Ipi in Waziristan in late 1930’s. It is worth pointing out, that unlike the 1st to 4th Mountain Batteries which were raised out of the disbanded Artillerymen of the Sikh Forces, the 5th never been part of Punjab Frontier Force.

Picture below is of 3.7 Inch Howitzer Mountain Gun deployed in a snow bound operational location
                               ( Me, the then Gun Position Officer (GPO) standing in the center)


Before I conclude my article on the Indian Mountain Batteries, a few lines about the need of maintaining Mountain artillery & also the gradual developments of its guns, seem imperative to visualise their importance in battles.

The guns with the Mountain Batteries used to be light in calibre & designed in such a way that they could be dismantled into eight parts, carried on well trained mules to difficult mountain terrains, and deployed at designated gun positions after quick assembling.

The record time for dismantling or re-assembling a gun used to be between 45 to 50 seconds. The mules used to be known as “Mules MA” i.e. Mules Mountain Artillery, well built and much taller in comparison to "Mules GS" (General Service).

Each mule was designated to carry a particular part of the gun and accordingly, numbered as No1, 2, 3, & so on. The saddle for each mule was specially designed to enable the animal to trot, canter or gallop without dropping or damaging the load.

Like soldiers, the mules also had to under go vigorous training and therefore, their discipline and devotion to duty used to be unerring & beyond doubt; they were ready to serve, always and every where. The mules of each gun detachment would follow the lead mule (Mule No.1), maintaining their positions in sequence and once unloaded & the gun brought in action, they would remain completely still and silent. 

The picture below shows my 2nd (Derajat) Mountain Battery (FF) moving to operational area in 1963

The earliest guns were the tiny 3 Pounder SBML (Smooth Bore Muzzle Loading) and 4.2/5 Inch SBML Howitzer of 1850 vintage. These were replaced in 1865 by the 7 Pounder RML (Rifle Muzzle Loading). In 1879, this too was replaced by the significantly improved and heavier 2.5 Inch RML – also known as Kipling’s Screw Gun. The advantage of this gun ( and all later versions) was that its barrel could be split in two for easier transportation.

During the Great War (First World War), all the Mountain Batteries were equipped with 10 Pounder BL or 2.75 Inch RML guns. It was only  in the last year of the war that the next model, the 3.7 Inch Howitzer, was introduced in East Africa, and proved to be far superior to the previous models. This continued as standard mountain gun during the inter-war years and throughout World War-II, and later on until 1965-66.

Below picture is of my OP (Observation Post) team at forward location. Me in the centre with my two TAs                      (Technical assistants)

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Indian Mountain Artillery, Peshawar Battery

Hi Folks,
Here is a brief history of the 3rd Indian Mountain Battery.


This Battery too, was raised out of the disbanded artillerymen of the  Maharaja Ranjit Singh, at Peshawar in 1853. Soon thereafter, it took part in numerous Frontier campaigns including  the most brutal Ambala campaign in 1863.

From 1871 to February 1872, the Battery took part in Looshai campaign, far across on the other side of India. During the Second Afghan War, the 3rd saw action  at Kandhar in 1878.

During the First World War,  this was one of the two original Mountain Batteries to land in Mesopotamia in late 1914, where it remained till 1917 and then returned to India to take part in the Third Afghan War, in the   Waziristan campaigns in 1929 and 1930.

After India’s partition in 1947, when the process of the division of assets of the defence forces took place, this Battery was handed over to the  Pakistan Army.

Below is a picture taken in 1883, where an Indian Mountain Battery is ready to move for action

Another photograph (below) is of an old 2.75 inch Mountain Gun

Friday, 3 June 2011

Indian Mountain Artillery: the Kohat & Derajat Batteries

Brief History of the first Five Indian Mountain Batteries


This premier Indian mountain battery was raised at Bannu in 1851 from the Sikh artillerymen following the second Sikh War of 1849. The Battery saw action in the Frontier area during the first war of Independence  in 1847. (Sadly many Indian historians still call it Indian Mutiny) and in subsequent battles through out the 19th century.

During the Second Afghan War of 1878-80, it was deployed at Peiwar Kotal and saw heavy action at Kabul.
In the early stages of the First World War, the Battery helped defend Egypt from Turkish aggression and soon thereafter, landed at Gallipoli where it supported the Australians and New Zealanders in the fighting and the subsequent pull out. Later the Battery was sent to Mesopotamia & Persia till the war ended.

During the inter-war years, it was deployed in Waziristan in early 1920’s and again in late 30’s. After India’s independence & partition of the country, the Battery was transferred to Pakistan.


This Battery, like the 1st kohat, was also raised from the disbanded Sikh artillerymen. However, it was raised two years earlier, in 1849 at Dera Ghazi Khan. During the 1857 Rebellion, its one detachment was deployed at Oudh and Bundelkhand

During the Second Afghan war of 1878-80, it remained deployed at Peirwar Kotal and Charasia to defend Kabul and then moved to the south of Kandhar, undertaking that most famous march. Later, in 1895, the Battery took part in battles at Chitral and participated in operations of the Tirah Field Force.

During the First World War, in 1916,  the 2D (its nick-name) joined campaign against Colonel Von-Lettow-Vorbeck in German East Africa until the armistice.

Later on, the Battery took part in the Third Afghan War in 1919, the Mohmand Campaigns of 1933 and 1935, and operations in Wazirstan against the Fakir of Ipi from 1936 on.

This was the Battery where I had the proud privilege to serve in early 1960’s. With the modernisation of the Indian Army and its guns; the 2-D is no more a Mountain Battery but has become a Field Battery.

Before Second World War, the Mountain Batteries were equipped with various kinds of guns.The picture above shows a Mountain Battery in action with six of its 7 Pounder guns in ready position.