FOOD AT FAR-FLUNG FRONTIERS: Episode-3

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Era, Early Seventies; Location, Post Black Rock One, Eastern Ladakh, Kiari Sector, at the watershed of Khatpo Thampo Phu and Tsokar Lake. Height, 18,999 feet.

Jokingly called “Khade Khade 19K”!

From the base at Kiari, a rigorous and steep trek of five hours on a mule track in the high altitude desert desolation took you there, where I was the company commander of Alpha Company Group, entrusted with the vigil with nothing ahead till the Chinese border. With many transits by air, road and mule back , through many BBPs ( Bulk Breaking Points) to suit the mode, the rations especially, the Fresh (sic), was never ever fresh, if not rotten altogether. The boys were losing weight due to lack of appetite and aversion to the predictable monotony of vittles. We were preparing bunkers with pioneer rock drills and explosives like PEK and cordite detonators in ice covered rocky terrain – a very tiring and risky enterprise.

Once again, some out of the box thinking was the need of the hour. We had observed that the only wildlife around were the Snow Rabbits. They were quite white and huge looking but only for the protective fur. The rabbit meat is a delicacy anywhere, and even more inviting for our deprived men. But the challenge was, how to hunt them? The only weapons we had were the service rifles and a hit from it would shatter the delicate rabbit to smithereens with nothing to collect. They were too fast to catch by other means and never ventured near the post for snaring.

“Thinking Cap On”, my salvation came in the guise of Havildar Pandurang Gujjar! He was a sniper of the Battalion, a sharp shooter. Usually, he would be tasked to hit the Bull’s Eye, meaning a kill. That would just not do under the circumstances, since nothing would be left of the target even for DNA!! Therefore, he was briefed by me at length, much to the bruise of his ego, that he should miss the nose of the rabbit by a foot! This, when experimented, stunned the rabbit and immobilized it for a while, giving sufficient time for my tracker team to catch and gunny-bag it.

Thus, we had a few rabbits dressed and hanging from a line at the cookhouse, preserved in the freezing subzero temperature. Whenever a group was coming to our post , a carcass or two were transferred to the cooking pot.

Having solved the protein part, we got to wondering, how these rabbits survived in the high altitude desert? A study revealed that the grass preserved under the ice was its main staple. So, we earmarked the green patches, where we found some fresh but frozen grass after removing the ice. What was good for the rabbit should be good for us too, and it added some green salad to our menu! Sharing the Secret Recipes of our good health with you all. More in my next.

Maj Gen R Karthikeyan
Maj Gen R Karthikeyan is an infantry officer and a battle-hardened veteran, who had had an illustrious career spanning nearly four decades, participating in every war India fought from the Sino-Indian confrontation of 1962 to the Kargil conflict of 1999. He lives in Chennai and can be reached at: karthikala@yahoo.com
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