Every army person posted in the north-eastern sector of the country has heard of the legend of “Harbhajan Baba.” Those serving in and around Nathu La pass and the Sino-Indian border between the state of Sikkim and Chinese occupied Tibet, have the firm conviction that his spirit protects every Indian soldier in the inhospitable high altitude terrain of the Eastern Himalayas. In Sikkim and Bengal he is revered as a saint who grants the wishes of those who worship him. A visit to Baba-Mandir is listed among the top tourist attractions even on the official site of Sikkim-tourism. The first time i had heard of the story was from officers of my husband’s unit who had gone to recce the area around Nathu La pass. The paranormal tales of all the miracles attributed to the spirit of a dead soldier seemed quite far-fetched to me at the time. It was only a decade later when we went visiting Gangtok and Nathu La that i experienced first hand the devout faith of not just the local populace but even the army soldiers, in the miraculous existence of this supposedly immortal soldier.
We were actually on our way to visit the army post at Nathu La pass a couple of years back. The pass is a strategically important location for the Indian Army and one of the four agreed upon Border Personnel Meeting points (BPMs as they call them) for regular interactions between the Indian and Chinese armies. During the course of the arduous drive up the Himalayas ( it is located at over 1400 feet) the person deputed on behalf of the army to do all the liaison for my husband’s visit seemed more keen to talk about Baba’s shrine than the border-post! It soon became apparent that it had been taken for granted that we would also visit the shrine, even though we had not expressed any explicit desire to go there (i came to know later that for an army person going to Nathu La, not paying obeisance there is considered to bring bad luck). The shrine itself is a detour from the main road and is set amidst the high mountains in a lunar-like landscape dotted with some typical high altitude vegetation. But before we talk of the quaint shrine complex, one has to understand the legend and make some sense of the many stories people shared with us.
(The story and more coming up tomorrow~~)