Monday, August 13, 2007

Wular Lake and its मगरमछ

वुल्लर, Wular Lake, lying between Sopore and Bandipore, is the largest lake in India(some claim it to be the largest in Asia. However, I have my doubts. There just seem to be a lot of lakes staking claim to that title!!!). Surrounded by towering mountains, the lake measures 16kms long and 10kms wide. The size of the lake varies depending upon the season. Fed by the river Jhelum, it acts as a natural flood reservoir. The jade green water of the lake is not stagnant, but flows at a sleepy pace as the Jhelum enters the lake from Srinagar and flows out towards Pakistan.

This river link proved to be a convenient waterway for insurgents making a beeline to Srinagar. They would enter from the Pakistan side and merge with the populace in the villages dotting the banks of the lake, or sneak onward to Srinagar piggybacking on the Jhelum. As a result, the lake and the surrounding mountains became a hotbed for militant activity.

The presence of such a large lake warranted the need to bring in the Navy to help patrol the waters and curb the militant traffic. The call was answered by the Indian Navy's Marine Commandos, Marcos as they are better known. Also known as the Frogmen(no doubt because of their mascot) in the Indian Navy, these very, very, very young officers and sailors were tasked with the tough job of clearing out the lake and the surrounding mountains of terrorists.

The Frogmen have not only secured the lake, but also the villages on the banks of the lake. The lake, and the river are no longer used as a terrorist's waterway. In fact, they are so good at it, they have begun branching out into the mountains, patrolling and scouring for militant hideouts(out of sheer boredom I guess...the militants have a real tough time with these guys around). Their performance has warranted a much more sinister name(by the media...and I guess by the militants themselves). The Crocs of Wular Lake. They cannot be differentiated from the locals(I would say one or two looked like militants themselves!!!) if not for their uniforms. We had trouble recognizing them as Naval officers. We had to be told that they were officers of the same Navy that our dads belong to.

Meenakshi and Ameeta aunty, giving the militants a run for their money? ;)

We Come Unseen, the very fitting motto of the Crocs of Wular Lake.

And did I mention that they are young? Very young??. So young that they were embarrassed when we referred to them as "uncle", or even "भैया "! It was humbling to actually see these guys(of our age group by the way) to be putting their lives on the firing line, man their posts, guard the front and sleep on hard beds of rock and soil just so we can sleep easy on our comfortable beds(with air-conditioning, I might add). And when on patrol, they survive on a ration of three-bars-of-chocolate-a-day. I did know this...but it is a shocker when seen in the context of the threats they face every day.

Allow me ask you you think you can eat three chocolates a day and guard this land against an almost invisible enemy in some of the most difficult terrain on the planet for a salary of Rs. 25,000?! I think not!! These guys are not in it for the money...there's something to these guys that sets them apart from the rest of us...

Did not intend to take you on a guilt-trip(hell, that's the last thing you want on a vacation)! It's just humbling to know this first hand. Makes you...want to think know...stuff(Wow...that is very clear!)

Unknown soldier, We salute Ye!

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