Mountains all the way for Capt Premjit SC – From start to...

Mountains all the way for Capt Premjit SC – From start to finish

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Mountains all the way for Capt Premjit SC – From start to finish

By Jaishree Laxmikant

Mountains all the way for Capt Premjit SC – From start to finish

In my endeavour to write about our bravehearts and bring more stories of unknown heroes to the fore, I write about one more hero, in this piece.

Our National War Memorial in New Delhi has more than 26000 granite tablets, dedicated to the bravehearts who have laid down their lives for our Nation, since independence. While we may be very well informed about many of these brave men, there are many who are still unknown.

This piece is dedicated to one such officer from the Parachute Regiment of our Indian Army.

Premjit Rockpa, was born on 18th April, 1951 to Late Shri Chhering Tandup and Late Smt Gurudassi, in a remote village of Ghoshal, on the banks of river Chandrabhaga, in the beautiful Lahaul & Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh. They were seven siblings and Premjit was the third born. He had one brother and five sisters.

Childhood and Education

He did his schooling from the primary school in his village. In those days, there were no benches nor any other facility in the school. They would carry sacks from their home and sit on them, while studying. Although Premjit was quite mischievous, he was also very intelligent. He could listen to his teacher once and read the lesson once and be able to memorise everything easily.

Later, from 6th std onwards, he started studying in the Higher Secondary School in Keylong. Keylong was about 10 kms away from his village. His younger sister (8 years younger) recalls that they had to stay in the quarters there and they would come to their village just once a week, during summers and in winters, their visits would depend on the weather. (Although, by the time his sister had started going to Keylong, there were buses that had started plying). She adds that during summer, it would take about an hour to walk from Keylong to Ghoshal. In winter, there would be very heavy snowfall and they had to take each step carefully, so it would take around two and half to three hours. Apart from this, they had to do all their work on their own, in their quarters in Keylong. Needless to say, that in those days, they would use the tandoor or cook on firewood.

Dream to join Indian Army

By the time, Premjit was in Higher secondary, he had started harbouring the desire to join the Indian Army. He completed his education in a good way till 10th grade. He excelled not only in studies but also in sports and in cultural activities. But, as he moved on to 11th std, his interest in studies started decreasing and he became more stubborn in his will to join the Army. However, his mother was not in favour of him joining the Army as her younger brother, who was in the Army, had been killed in action, at a very young age. Owing to these uncertainties, Premjith failed in 11th std in 1968. The next year, in 1969, he was admitted in 11th std. again.

The journey to becoming an officer of the Indian Army

It was the same year that he appeared for the selections for Indian Army, without the permission from his parents, along with two of his friends Lalchand and Wangiyal. He got selected to finally join the Indian Army.

After being selected, he went home to tell his mother about the same. She was in tears upon hearing this and tried her best to stop him. But nothing deterred him and he left in pursuit of his dream.

While training in the Army, he simultaneously completed his studies i.e. 11th and he also appeared for his Prep exams, privately. Not only this, he also started preparing for SSB. During the day, he would be busy in his duty and during the nights, he would be studying. Despite the difficulties, he never quit and kept at it. His sister mentions that in order to keep sleep at bay, there would be times when he would not eat dinner and at other times, he would do ‘Shirsaasan’ and keep studying at night.

Finally, on 4th October 1972, he went to Allahabad to appear for his SSB interview and tests. While he cleared all the tests, he was declared temporary unfit due to bit of an excess weight. When so many tough things didn’t stop Premjit, how could the extra weight have?
One month later, on 16th November 1972, when he appeared for his medical test again, he was cleared to join Army Cadet College. On 5th December, 1972, he joined the Army Cadet College.

Subsequently, after the successful completion of all requisite trainings, on 5th December, 1976, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Indian Army.

Tenure in 9 Para

A year later, he became a part of the elite 9 Para. Some of the comrades in the battalion recall that he was an excellent boxer and cross country runner. They remember him as an ever smiling tough but simple guy. His toughness can be known from the fact that he would tell his team mates to step on his shoulder, while climbing down a difficult mountain.

An avid mountaineer, Capt. Premjit was a part of the 1981 Siachen expedition. Col D K Duarah, who had led the expedition writes that during the expedition, Capt. Premjit was like his right hand and was always smiling and in high spirits. He was tough like a rock and would always be positive even in the toughest and most adverse kind of situation. It would be worthy to note, that this was a tactical reconnaissance expedition, following which it was decided that India should occupy the posts at Siachen. Thus, ensuring that Siachen remains a part of India, always.

Final mission

No matter how tough one is, one cannot always fight destiny and be victorious. Premjit was born in the mountains, spent his life in the mountains and it is the mountains where it all ended for him.

Later that year in 1981, Capt. Premjit was called to be a part of the All Paratroopers Expedition to Twin Peaks of Nanda Devi. On 4th October 1981, Capt. Premjit and his team mate Phu Dorji were last seen, moving towards the summit. Their bodies are believed to have been spotted, using binoculars, but they could never be recovered. They were believed to have fallen in an area that was inaccessible and was also prone to avalanche as well as frequent rock fall.

Capt. Premjit Rockpa was conferred with a Shaurya Chakra, posthumously in January 1983. His citation reads ‘ voluntarily chose to take on the technically difficult task of surmounting the first and the most formidable obstacle of near vertical rock and ice wall, leading to the proposed site of patrol base/camp’

Further it reads ‘ His work during the preparatory phase of the assault which comprised the establishment of base camps and opening up of routes along long and treacherous stretches through South Ridge at Nanda Devi, as also his manning of the signal communications, was in the best traditions of the mountaineers and the Parachute Regiment. After a gruelling climb, Captain Premjit and his companions succeeded in scaling the summit of Nanda Devi East successfully. However, during the descent, he slipped over the Verglas (a thin film of ice over the rocks) and died of a fatal fall.’

Capt. Premjit was just 30, with eleven years of service.

An inspirational Hero

Those associated with him, remember Premjit as a very helpful and jovial person. He could become the life of every celebration or function, that he would a part of. But as I always say, God too wants His best back, at the earliest.

While narrating this story of Capt Premjit, my mind goes back to the time when I travelled to Ghoshal. Despite the developed infrastructure and modern means of transport, it did seem like an effort for me to travel to this remote part of the country. I travelled just once! Capt Premjit left the safe confines of his home and village, to join the Indian Army. One can only imagine the hardships that he faced, whether it was to complete his studies or to travel for his SSB or even further training. His motivation to join the Indian Army is awe inspiring indeed!

Every hero may not be able to find a place for himself in a book shelf or be able to get a movie dedicated to him. He remains a hero, nevertheless. A hero, whose story inspires many more youngsters to achieve their dreams and serve the Nation, till their last breath.

Capt Premjit is just one among the many unknown heroes and his tale is just one of the many untold ones. May we never forget these real heroes and may we make an attempt to know about as many of them as possible. Who knows maybe another Prem, from some other remote village in the mountains may get inspired reading the story of Capt Premjit Rockpa and few others.

Jai Hind!