Close to the Clouds

ITBP jawans endure harsh weather and modest facilities to guard our borders in the mountains

Dilip Kumar Mekala

Mana Valley, Uttarakhand: The harsh early morning sunlight had left a prominent sunburn on his face. It was within the contour of his cheeks that a patch of deep red dis-colouration was distinctly visible, indicating the maximum exposure. Fortunately, the goggles saved his eyes from falling to the same fate. The burns often get aggravated when the cool breeze from the snow-capped mountains blow across his face, sometimes peeling off the thin outer layer of the skin. But for the Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force (ITBP) jawan deployed at high altitudes all-round the year, those were regular occurrences, almost inconsequential, so much so that he even failed to register those changes until someone pointed them out.

ITBP personnel during SRP at an altitude of 15,300 feet
ITBP personnel during SRP at an altitude of 15,300 feet

Undeterred, he carried on with his short range patrol (SRP) mission. Dressed smartly in his uniform - a light camouflage full sleeved shirt neatly tucked into his trousers and fastened by a belt, boots with thick soles that would help him walk in snowy areas as well as the rocky hills - he set out on a mission that could typically last for four to seven days. He kept his head and ears covered at all times with a woollen cap. His mission was to do the patrol duty entirely by foot. While there were a few motorable roads open in summer, the preparation was mainly for winter when the roads get cut off due to heavy snowfall.

With a heavy rucksack on his back, a sleeping bag firmly tied to it, and a loaded INSAS rifle in his hand, he set out on the mission. He was carrying all the essentials he needed when staying away from his company post for a week - canned food, medicines, oxygen cylinder and warm clothes. Occasional rain would be a matter of concern for him in the months of July-August, but that was not the greatest of his challenges. Winter was the one season he dreaded the most. In mid-July, only the evenings got chilly but he could manage with just a jacket and a woollen cap.

This was at an altitude of 15,300 feet above sea level, when FORCE team visited one of the ITBP posts in Mana valley in mid-July.

The SRP team consisted of 10-15 troopers with ranks ranging from inspector and sub-inspector all the way down to the lowest rank - jawans. It was a balanced mix between the young soldiers and the experienced. The young, in their early 20s were just out of the basic training courses before they got posted in that company; and the experienced, in their 50s, had over 30 years of experience. They were also assisted by a paramedic, who was trained to provide the basic medical care - most common problems being respiratory issues because of the thin air, dizziness, fatigue, and headaches. In case of bigger medical emergencies, the paramedic would contact the doctor posted in the battalion headquarters in Dehradun, and follow his instructions. ITBP carries out regular joint patrol operations with the Indian Army in the border areas.

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