It was a lovely sunny morning in the hills. We set off our journey to the further most east of India, into the battlefield of 1962 Indo-China war, Walong. The journey continued to fascinate us by the scenic beauty of river Lohit. Every now and then we were stopping for capturing the unmatched beauty of eastern Himalayas.
Walong was not far from the place of our stay night before, Hayuliang. It was only at a distance of 96 km, but we took almost 3 and ½ hours to reach Walong because, first we were moving at gentle speed and secondly, our continuous break for photography.
At Walong you have a little choice for accommodation and the only place to stay is the Government Inspection Bungalow. We arrived at the Inspection Bungalow with no prior booking; in fact one can’t book in advance for lack of communication. So it all depends upon your luck to get an accommodation here after arrival, and in our case, the luck was in our favour.
As you enter the town, the first thing that will attract your attention is the Walong army airstrip, an advance landing ground, by the bank of river Lohit. A small mud-paved landing ground was created here by the British during the world war-II for their Burma and east India operation which is now fully upgraded, paved and network connected with an eye on China.
We arrived at the battlefield of Walong!
In Autumn of 1962 (October, 22nd to November, 16th) this place was the scene of the Battle of Walong when the Indian Army battled the Chinese advances. In this extremity of India, the poorly equipped Indian soldiers with a basic weapon single shot .303 rifles fought hard with minimum or no artillery support, held the ground and fought it out to the last bullet, till all of their ammunitions were exhausted. Then they engaged in a hand- to-hand combat and fought to the last man. And when they had to withdraw, they did so in reasonable ground. But in that treacherous terrain, many soldiers were left behind unnoticed, who never received any order to get back and were left to fight till their last breath.
Walong fell in the hand of Chinese on 16th November, 1962. Indians were defeated decisively in that battle of Walong by the Chinese and it was only Mao Zedong’s decision to withdraw the PLA (Chinese Army) allowed the Indians to re-take Walong.
Time magazine of US in its November 30, 1962 edition had paid homage to the martyrs of Walong in a befitting manner: “At Walong, Indian troops lacked everything. The only thing they did not lack was guts”.
Today, a memorial – “Hut of Remembrance” stands at Walong which preserves and commemorates the sacrifices of all those brave soldiers who laid down their lives in the battle for Walong.
The visit to the battlefield of Walong is not completed without visiting another war spot known as Helmet Top. A zigzag climb of around 18 Kms from Walong will take you to this peak where stands a memorial in memory of the unknown soldiers who were left here unnoticed to die. At that treacherous ground, Indian soldiers fought courageously a lost battle but held the ground firm for 22 days. Many of those killed were never identified.
During the war of 1962, at this hill position, some soldiers were left unnoticed who made supreme sacrifices fighting the enemy shoulder to shoulder, till the last bullet and last breath.
After the war, what found on this hill position were the helmets of those unknown soldiers and other military gears that were strewn all over. Today, a memorial in the memory of those unknown soldiers stands here which enshrines their helmets, empty case of machine gun magazines, fired mortar shells and other gears.
Walong is not only the battle ground of 1962 Indo-China War; it also serves as the base for hiking to the Dong plateau where first rays of sun fall in India. How could we let go such a wonderful experience once in this lifetime! We had no hesitation to go for it although it required hiking steep hills in the darkness of night to reach the top of Dong Plateau at dawn.
In the darkness of that night, we were traversing through the dense forest. Though we had torch lights but they were only helpful to watch our footsteps and not the surroundings. We were hiking with one guide in the front and the other following us. I asked one of them, “What if a bear comes out now?”
More on that is coming soon. Stay tuned to read about our Journey to catch the first rays of sun in the post to follow.