The Mushkoh Valley is a valley in Ladakh, India. Considered to be glaciated and unsuitable for human habitation, it came into prominence in 1999 during the Kargil conflict when Pakistan infiltrated troops across the Line of Control. The Mushkoh valley is the limit of at the western extremity of Ladakh, west of which lies the northern reaches of the Kashmir valley.
Hours after the legendary Captain Vikram Batra of 13 JAK RIF and his men crushed the enemy at a height of 16,087 feet to capture Point 4875 Mushkoh Valley, a team of paratroopers based in Agra was airlifted to Ladakh. Led by a Major from Agra, the men were ordered to capture Point 4700.
On July 7 afternoon, the team was asked to prepare for the battle.
The commander of the para company was initially instructed to create a base camp near Bakarwal (grazing area) of Mushkoh valley until his remaining men joined him. However, his mission soon changed to capturing Point 4700, which was nearly 5km away.
Unaware of the towering height, the Major made a bold decision to take only 30 men, who were of non-combat ground such as cook, laundrymen, clerk and even unfit men to conduct a recce and understand the terrain and help the assault team to preserve their energy for quick and decisive assault.
“Since the Point 4700 and the terrain towards it were unknown to them, the officer was ready to sacrifice himself and non-combat men in order to gather vital information of ground zero situation and enemy setup, which could have given advantage to the assault team,” said an officer.
“It was July 8 evening, when the team left for the mission. It was pitch dark night with bone-chilling cold, shivering and challenging steep climbing. They walked for the entire night and covered the majority of distance. In the day time, the team hid to avoid getting spotted by enemy troops and rested behind huge stones and ice walls. However, seeing his men exhausted, the team leader decided to continue the recce mission along with his shadow ‘buddy’ and asked the remaining team to stay put and guide the assault team towards Point 4700. The second night was unforgiving for the duo. To keep themselves warm and avoid becoming a victim of hypothermia, the leader and his buddy slept in one sleeping-bag after reaching as close as up to 800 metres away from Point 4700,” he says.
Hailing from an Agra village, the officer is the second generation of his family to join the Indian Army. His father retired as a subedar.
“Extremely exhausted, the para assault team reached the duo. Taking them further to capture the height at night could have turned fatal. Each man was carrying 30-40 kg of load with himself, that too on steep climbing. Such physical challenge is unbearable at times. Therefore, they rested in the night with a resolve to launch assault in the early hours of morning. With energy gained, they started to advance towards the height.
The Major was leading from front with a radio operator behind him and a paratrooper, Gopal Singh (23), but terrain was such that their hands were not on their weapons and suddenly the enemy started firing at them. The bullets passed left and right of them. In the encounter, the Major along with the radio operator lost their balance and skied into a gorge but were saved by a boulder.
However, Gopal engaged himself in retaliating fire, but he was later found with a bullet in his chest with a gun nozzle towards the enemy. In the meanwhile the company senior JCO (junior commissioning officer) presumed the team leader and radio operator dead and informed the same to HQ over the radio. However, the Major who heard the message on his radio, called HQ and informed about his status,” said a paratrooper officer.
“The situation turned more complicated for the radio man and Major, while they were attempting to climb back, as scree kept forcing them down. Moments later, they both lost each other in pitch darkness of the terrain and confusion caused by physical exhaustion. Their men were shouting to guide them, but due to echo in the valley Major was not able to locate them. Unknowingly, he started walking towards the enemy side, but uncertain about to whom he was approaching, he decided to stand where he was. Meanwhile, the radio man somehow managed to join the team back, where he was given immediate medical aid, while three men led by second in command (2IC), also a Major rank officer — armed with only grenades and three ropes of 300 feet length each came down, and hours later located him.”
Narrating further, the officer said, “Team leader was taken back to HQ. After debriefing by his seniors, he was given another team to lead and was asked to capture the height with assault from two sides, as the first team was already near point 4700. On July 11, at around 10 pm, the two teams led by the Major advanced towards the peak 4700. After heavy fire exchange, at around 2:30am on July 12 morning, the guns of enemy troops suddenly stopped. By 4am, the para team informed the HQ of capturing the peak. On reaching the site, they saw a large number of war like stores, gas masks, blood-stained clothes, and a huge cache of ammunition.”
“The 2IC was given a chief of Army staff commendation letter for his voluntary act of saving his leader and recovering the body of Gopal.” Gopal was given sena medal posthumously.