“This is a book that should be prescribed reading for all school kids to know the real heroes of Kargil and for defence writers to know how a war story ought to be written”
MASHKOH; KARGIL AS I SAW IT by Brigadier Umesh Singh Bawa, Vir Chakra, Sena Medal published by Notion Press
This is a book written by my senior in school; that could make me biased
Brigadier Umesh Bawa’s heartfelt stirring account of Kargil should be standard and compulsory reading for not only all military historians, servicemen but also every student girl and boy in schools everywhere
First things first
Where is the Mashkoh Valley (or Mushkoh)
The Mushkoh Valley is a valley situated in Dras. Also known as valley of wild tulips, Mushkoh Valley is situated at the westernmost extremity of Ladakh, to the west of which lies the northern reaches of the Kashmir Valley, located in what is now the union territory (earlier State) of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Mushkoh Valley is situated at an elevation of around 3,400 metres (11,000 ft), and is located just eight kilometres away from the main market in Dras.
It has a population settled in a highland village surrounded by the mountains and meadows on all sides. The village itself has a breathtaking landscape as the Dras River also flows through it.
From Mushkoh, one can also trek to Tilail in Gurez (Bandipore) in a few days which passes through meadows dotted with different varieties of flowers. The mountain slopes in the Mushkoh Valley are filled with flowers giving the village a breathtaking beauty
(That’s the description of Mashkoh from Wikipedia)
I must have read God alone knows how many books on Kargil but this one is incomparable; combining a personal history of what took place with all the first obtech aspects, crises in command, intelligence failures and a straight no nonsense description of the unbelievable bravery of men in the face of almost impossible odds Bawa’s book finally does justice to the men who fought, died and conquered at Kargil 1999
It’s a straight and honest account of himself as participant and observer; and Bawa’s honesty oozes out of every word, sentence and paragraph!
There are no clever turns of phrase here
No florid passages to impress you with
It’s a straight from the shoulder “this is what happened” narrative of a war that ought never to have happened in the first place
I really and truly wish all journalists would read Brigadier Umesh Bawa’s Mashkoh Valley to know how a war story ought to be written
It’s Brilliant! Bloody Brilliant!
For instance Captain Anuj Nayyar; During the initial phase of the assault on Pimple II, Capt Anuj Nayyar’s company commander was injured, and command devolved upon him.
As the unit advanced under heavy enemy artillery and mortar fire, the lead section reported the location of 3-4 enemy bunkers. Nayyar moved forward and destroyed the first bunker with a rocket launcher and grenades. Still under heavy fire, he then proceeded with the lead section, which consisted of 7 personnel, and destroyed two more bunkers.
During the battle, Nayyar killed 9 Pakistani soldiers and destroyed three medium machine gun bunkers.
The company then began its assault on the last remaining bunker, but while clearing it, an enemy RPG directly hit Nayyar, killing him instantly.
During the entire battle for Pimple Complex, 46 regular members of the Pakistan Army, an unknown number of Pakistani paramilitary troopers and militants, and 11 Indian Army troops, including Capt. Nayyar, were killed. The securing of Pimple Complex paved the way for the recapture of Tiger Hill which finally forced Pakistan to retreat back across the Line of Control…now that’s the official version…but read what Brigadier Bawa has to say
It’s a straight from the heart description of the young man he was so fond of and had given a field commission promoting Nayyar from Lieutenant to Captain …
You can know at once Bawa never really recovered from the trauma of bringing back Captain Anuj Nayyar (Mahavir Chakra, Post) in a body bag
It cuts through the bone to let you know War is a filthy business but the Indian Army stands tall and will fight and fight till the enemy is destroyed
I have never said this before about any book I have reviewed, but this is one book I am proud to have read!
Brigadier Umesh Singh Bawa saheb JAI HIND!
The Mashkoh Valley was a strategic point during the Kargil War of 1999, Brig Umesh Singh Bawa, who was then commanding 17 Jat that was instrumental in the capture of Pimple Complex, part of point 4875 in the valley,
As Brig Bawa (retd) himself says that the focus of the book is on identifying the mistakes committed during the 1999 war.
The book is a first-hand authentic account of war stories of the ‘Mashkoh Warriors’.
Brig Bawa said the main aim of writing the book was sharing lessons of war for future generations.
Such crucial lessons will not have to be relearned and rewritten in more blood,” he said.
The book showcases the mistakes we made during the Kargil War so that they should not be repeated. It is a way of telling the world about the sacrifices and bravery of the soldiers of 17 Jat.”
He said the book was written during coronavirus lockdown.
Maj General Amarjit Singh says that the book by Brig Bawa, who remained on the battlefield despite braving bullets during the Kargil War, was a firsthand account of what actually happened.
He said sometimes people, who write military history, have not been in the war in person and is merely a secondhand account.
“But this book gives a firsthand account of what actually happened in the strategically located Mashkoh Valley,”
Brig Bawa said a lot of media was covering some other areas during the Kargil War, but Mashkoh Valley was in the interiors and was strategically located.
“The reason for our success in the Mashkoh Valley was because my troops were already acclimatized as we were already deputed in a high-altitude area somewhere else. So that way, my troops had an edge over others and fought bravely,” he said.
He said the enemy was surrounded from three directions and his troops had established a firm base with multiple options from different directions.
“The Western side was used to deceive the enemy, whereas the troops had actually decided to launch the assault from south and southeastern direction. It was due to this deception plan that the enemy could not know from where the attack is coming and it helped us,”
He also shared that surveillance “is the most important in any war and over the years, our capabilities have improved and lots of equipment has been purchased”.
Bawa says a country with better surveillance will always have an edge over their opponent.
“The media and the army should always join hands for raising morale of troops and civilians. Wrong things should be reported after the war is over and not during the war.
The book captures the tales of bravery, humour, emotions, tragic losses and hard-won victories in extremely challenging high-altitude terrain of Kargil, where many believed the mission was impossible.
The one major takeaway from this absolutely awesome account of The Kargil War by Brigadier Umesh Singh Bawa (retd) is the sheer absence of bitterness or vitriol even against the dunderheads who collected intelligence that was by no means intelligent, against COs who had never seen action themselves but styled themselves after Rommel and Patton, against those that tried to spread vicious gossip trying to undermine the unbelieveable achievement and incomparable sacrifice of 17, Jat
There is not a word of personal recrimination
There is frustration, yes
But frustration at the fact that perhaps we have not learnt the lessons of Kargil
That we are not spending enough on Intelligence gathering, surveillance and early warning systems
That we are still not modernising at the speed required so the logistics problems encountered by The Mashkoh Warriors should never have to be faced by any other armed forces unit
That an Integrated Battle plan and strategic combination of all assets ground, air and ancillaries is perhaps still not what it ought to be
And yes, concern at “will we have to relearn the same lessons in the next conflict by making the same mistakes again?”
Brigadier Bawa’s book needs to be prescribed reading in every school to give kids an idea of what really happened at Kargil from a man who was there in the thick of the fighting
And I hope to God that the Brass in South Block have learnt their lessons and are implementing what they ought to have done two decades ago!