It was our last day in Jaisalmer and I had already started missing it, there were few more places that I wanted to visit but the shortage of time meant that I had to go to my next destination and perhaps one day come back again. My visit to Jaisalmer was part of my grand Rajasthan tour covering Jaipur -> Ajmer – Pushkar -> Jaisalmer -> Jodhpur.
My train to Jodhpur was scheduled in the late evening and I had a good time from morning to evening. Initially, I wanted to visit Desert National Park and was discussing the travel arrangements with the hotel owner and suddenly he popped up the idea of visiting Longewala.
It was as if someone had pressed the pause button on the DVD player and I immediately scrapped the plan of Desert National Park and changed to Longewala. The trip would first take me to Tanot where there is a famous temple dedicated to Tanot Mata and from there to Longewala.
For those of you who do not know Longewala was the battlefront during 1971 was with Pakistan. This was in the western theatre whereas the battle on the eastern front was going on in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). When I was in junior school my father had told me many stories about the Battle of Longewala and the heroes of the 23rd Battalion of the Punjab Regiment who managed to hold off the approaching enemies with very limited manpower and almost negligible ammunitions.
With the car driver briefed by the hotel owner, we set off to Tanot first. It was around nine in the morning and the weather was beautiful with bright blue skies. Driving towards Tanot meant that we were actually driving towards the India – Pakistan border. Slowly the population started dwindling and within no time what I could see were only sand dunes and a small road that cut through it.
I wanted to call my dad and inform that I was visiting Longewala but it’s then I realised that my phone had no signal. The driver smirked and informed that the place where we were at the moment are border areas and here there are no cell phone towers of any private operators. Only BSNL mobile works that too in some restricted pockets.
We finally reached Tanot and there was a huge temple dedicated to Tanot Mata. There is a belief that the reason the enemies were restricted from crossing over was due to the presence of this temple and the blessings of Tanot Mata. The Indian soldiers during the war swore to protect the defensive line and not let the enemy capture the holy grounds of Tanot Mata Temple.
Until this day, the battalions posted in this region pray and maintain this temple as a testimony of their belief. There is also a Tanot Vijay Stambh (Tanot Victory Pillar) dedicated to the famous battle of Longewala.
If you have the necessary military permit then they allow you to go near the border fence but even after begging and pleading with the local authorities we were not given the permit to go near the main border as some restrictions had been placed from their headquarters.
However the disappointment was soon to go, the local army personnel asked me to go towards the main battlefield of Longewala as that place was still accessible with Indians have valid ID proof. At once without wasting any time we set off to the Longewala Battleground.
Within minutes of driving, I could spot watchtowers signally that we were quite close to the border and finally we reached a check post where we spotted some BSF (Border Security Force) personnel. On enquiring they confirmed that this was the last post and the car would have to stop here. After entering our names in the register the BSF personnel were very courteous and offered us cold water which was really refreshing in the desert heat.
Not witnessing many tourists they were quite surprised to know that we have come all the way from Kolkata. We were given guidelines as where to go since the next part of the journey had to be done on foot as vehicles beyond this point were restricted. I was also told not to photographs the columns of T90 tanks that were positioned there and were in their practising rounds. It is then I realised that the ground that we were standing were full of tank track marks.
Within hundred meters from this spot we spotted the first badge of honour from the Battle of Longewala a Tank that belonging to the enemy kept at the same spot where it was hit. The story goes like this that even with limited ammunition and weaponry the Indian Army were able to stall the advancing enemy.
The battlefield looked like a scene from a world war movie with rusting vehicles laying all over the place. My only wish at this moment was if I could bring my dad over here we would relive all those childhood memories of the rounds of storytelling under the blanket on winter nights.
We suddenly heard the sound of engines chugging our way, we were told that the tank columns were returning from practise rounds and it would be appropriate for us to clear the way.
On returning to the check post I enquired if the fence at a distance was the actual International Border, to my surprise I was told that it was not and the actual International Border was five kilometres away. The first fence is just a buffer zone or no man’s land between the main International Border.
Bidding adieu to the BSF gentlemen we proceeded for our long return journey back to Jaisalmer. On our way back we saw large wind farms and near Ramgarh, we spotted the third largest television tower in the country. One reason for such a high tower is due to its strategic location close to the International Border enabling them to broadcast television signals across the border.
By the time we reach Jaisalmer it was late afternoon and after having a round of Rajasthani thali we packed our bags for Jodhpur, the next and the last destination for this tour of Rajasthan. Hope you have enjoyed the blog do keep visiting my blog for more exciting stories.