Nestled between the Betar Nala to the west and Poonch river to the south, Poonch is a historical town along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. It’s a place that occupies an important place in our military history and also one that has produced some legendary characters, including two unforgettable members of the Indian Army, who were in their own way the Rajas of Poonch.
Our logistics base for 4 Sikh in Poonch was near the old palace of its former King that was designed like a European castle. Our Officers’ Mess was called Joginder Mahal and was located in the house of a formerjagirdar. Outside Joginder Mahal, under a Chinar tree, were the quarters of Havaldar Raja Singh, the unit mascot of 4 Sikh – a six-foot tall (when standing), 250 kg Himalayan black bear!
Raja’s original home was in the forested Loran Valley at the base of the Pir Panjals, where one of our long-range patrols rescued him from a pack of jackals. He was just two or three months old then and apparently had been separated from his mother. Raja was brought back to the unit and enrolled as the unit mascot. As per military tradition, he was given a regimental number and also authorised rations, uniform and veterinary services. Kalu Ram, our barman, was made his keeper and instructor.
Raja was a fast learner and was soon learning a new trick every fortnight. He also grew up fast and in two and half years, he was a fully-grown, handsome animal. His rations increased to be equivalent to that of five soldiers and rules had to be bent to feed him.