Twelve years later, in the summer of 1961, Rinchen was given another `impossible` task: to set up a post in Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO), near the Karakoram pass.
The need arose after another terrible blunder by Nehru`s government - the closure of the Indian Consulate in Kashgar that had facilitated the trade between the sub-continent and Central Asia. The severing of the thousand-year-old cultural and trade link provided the People`s Liberation Army (Chinese Army) with an opportunity to build a road on Indian territory with impunity.
Realising its mistake, Delhi decided to set up a permanent presence near the base of the Karakoram Pass. This was the job Chewang Rinchen had been entrusted with.
It entailed a trek through 120 km of the most dangerous tracks on the planet beginning from the Nubra valley.
There were two routes. The winter path was the easiest, crossing the Shyok river frozen for several months of the year, while the other went through the Saser pass (5326 m). Both routes converged at Murgo, not far from DBO.
The area between Murgo and DBO, which Rinchen and his men had to cover from there on, was what you could term a plain at an altitude of 5000 m. It was called the `The Gateway to Hell` for its notoriously deceitful weather, its freezing temperature and deadly snow blizzards. Lucky were the caravans that went through unscathed.
In August 1961, Rinchen and his Nunnus set off on their trek towards DBO.
Rinchen`s biographer recalls: `As the winter had set in, the march proved to be extremely difficult. When the party reached Saser La [pass], it took rest at the base for two days before crossing the Saser La. However, Rinchen, along with [two of his men] climbed a virgin peak close by, at a height of approx 6,000 metres, without any equipment and oxygen cylinders. They reached the peak by noon and planted a Buddhist flag, `Tarchok` with the prayer `Om mane padme hum`.` This was typical of the Nunnus, simultaneously Buddhist to the core, and fearless and daring.
After crossing the pass, they proceeded towards DBO. Along the way, they came across skeletons of human beings and animals lying scattered all along the track. This was a normal sight on this route.
On September 3, 1961, the party reached the Chip Chap river, not far from DBO. The next morning, when he woke up, Rinchen noticed the hoof marks of camels and horses as well as tyre marks left by a three-ton vehicle.
He began to suspect that the Chinese were already occupying the Indian territory and decided to locate the Chinese post.
After crawling through difficult terrain and a high pass, he reached a water point. The enemy wasn`t far away.
He climbed a small plateau, and with the help of his binoculars saw that hardly 500 metres away `the Chinese had established their headquarters in a double-storied fort, having two doors and many loop holes. About 300 Chinese were busy making bricks and loading and unloading three three-tonners.`
He immediately informed the Army Headquarters who relayed his discovery to Delhi. As usual, the bosses in Delhi could not believe that the Chinese could have penetrated this deep into the area.
Fortunately, the presence of the fort was confirmed by two surveillance planes which took pictures. Delhi had to accept the hard facts and accept the importance of having the permanent post in DBO.
Picture courtesy: Chewang Rinchen`s family (Any unauthorised reproduction is prohibited)