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A Visit To The Old Baba Mandir: Goosebumps Guaranteed

BY SOMREETA MUKHERJEE

While it is but obvious to see young and energetic men of the Indian Army doing their duty at the remotest corners of the country, how many of you have actually heard of a real soldier, carrying out his responsibilities, even after his death about 50 years back? Of course, the very thought of it gives you goose-bumps! But trust me, such a soldier exists not in the imagination but in the hearts of thousands and thousands of Indians; he is still there, doing his duties at an altitude of about 13000 feet, close to the Indo-China border in the Eastern part of Sikkim.

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Major ‘Baba’ Harbhajan Singh was born on 3rd August, 1941, in Punjab into a Sikh family. A soldier of the 23rd Punjab Regiment, Baba Harbhajan Singh laid down his life in the honour of his country on 11th September, 1967, during the 1965 Sino-Indian war of 1965 when there were skirmishes between the Chinese army and Indian army.

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The legend says that Harbhajan Singh drowned in a glacier and his remains were found after 3 days when he was cremeated with full military honors. A shrine has been built at the Old Baba Mandir in the memory of this young soldier. Baba is revered and worshipped by the soldiers of the Indian army.

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It is believed that Baba still warns the soldiers of any impending attack, at least 3 days in advance. During flag meetings, a chair would be set aside for him; it is believed that his presence ought to be felt throughout. Every year, his personal belongings are put inside a jeep, which then departs for the NJP station and then, are sent to his house. A special reservation is still made, well in advance and other soldiers accompany the Baba, till ‘he’ reaches his home in Punjab, ‘safely’. He is entitled to his monthly salary like every other Indian soldier. He is entitled to promotions too! Soldiers have often discovered him visiting their camps at night and also having used his boots and bedsheets in his room at his bunker.

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My visit to the Old Baba Mandir during my Silk Route Sikkim tour has been quite memorable. Not even once did I feel that I was paying a visit to the bunker (room) of a soldier who is no more. His bed, his table and chair, his notepad and pens galore, his uniform, boots and bedsheets are in perfect order. It isn’t a museum of any sort. It is a room which seems to have been used even on the night before. It is as if he is there. It is as if he has slept on the bed the previous night, has sat at the table doing his work in the morning, has used his boots and jackets only a while ago.

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It gave me goosebumps as I entered his room at Old Baba Mandir in the remotest corner of the earth, located at a height of about 14000 feet in East Sikkim. A soldier who was martyred remains a soldier doing his duty, 50 years after his death!

 

 

Photographs by Siddhartha Mukherjee

P.S. The room and the belongings could not be photographed on account of restrictions imposed

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3 Responses

  1. Sanchita mahalanobis. says:

    Very well written!! Enlivened the memory of our visit to the shrine.Salute to the brave sons of the motherland… It’s true that a soldier is never off duty, even after death..

  1. June 11, 2016

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