Lieut Gen Baljit Singh (retd)
It was customary in those days that the newly inducted soldiers in Sikkim would be sent on terrain familiarisation missions, within and on the flanks of their assigned segments. They were expected to attain proficiency to reach a given landmark blind-folded, so to say. As it happens at times, SOPs get ignored and in one case a group of soldiers lost orientation and could not be traced despite extensive, weeklong ground and aerial searches. Ultimately, word came from the PLA that they had foiled an attempted "intrusion" by Indian soldiers but would gladly hand them over. As may be imagined, not only did that create a diplomatic embarrassment but also severely dented the pride of the particular outfit.
The story which unfolded before a Court of Inquiry was that 20 soldiers led by a smart Captain had set out on a routine four-day patrol. As briefed, on the first day they went due North, keeping a thousand metres from the International border along the Chumbi-Sikkim crest. However, the weather changed and mist soon turned into fog so dense that no soldier in the lead was discernable to his comrade ten paces behind. By the afternoon, they had expected to reach a rock cliff-face at about 15,000 ft ASL (and indeed they did get to one) from where they were to go due West for an hour, before bedding for the night. The Captain had accordingly locked his prismatic compass pointing West but unfortunately he stumbled, had a fall and unbeknown to him, the compass got damaged.
There was no fog the next morning, so their spirits buoyed and they soon hit the track which by about 3 PM would take them to a tributary of the Teesta river. Once there, they would turn left and in an hour hit the bridge on the Teesta near a township. But, in reality, all this while they were walking due East because the locked compass was pointing West! Shortly they even hit a tributary as they had expected, so turned left and soon heard cheering and laughter. Surely, that was the Border Roads detachment at the Teesta bridge making merry? Yes, they were having a volleyball match and the patrol marched past them smartly, heading for rendezvous with vehicles to return to the base.
As the last Indian soldier went past, the referee gathered his wits, blew the whistle and gesticulating excitedly terminated the game. The volleyball ground was in fact the PLA helipad at Yatung in the Chumbi Valley. And the India troops were marching nonchalantly on the road to Lhasa!