Wine & Sunset at Santorini


While at Megalochori, we visited Katsoyannopoulos Vineyard for wine tasting.  The vineyards of Santorini date back almost 5000 years and are believed to be the oldest in Europe.  Volcanic eruptions left behind a mixture of volcanic ash, pumice stone and pieces of solidified lava and sand, which together make up the soil of Santorini.   This soil, rich in essential minerals, result in wines with low pH level or high acidity.


About 1400 hectares is under vineyard cultivation in Santorini.


Lack of rain coupled with constantly blowing sea-winds has resulted in vines being grown in the “koulara” method, that is, they are woven into continuous circles to form a basket.  This protects the vines ion from the strong winds and the harsh summer sun.


After viewing the vines, we visited the Wine Museum showcasing history of wine and the life of vine-growers in Santorini from 1660 to 1970.  It was followed by wine tasting where we tasted four vines – two red and two white.  The white wines from Santorini are bone-dry with a distinct aroma of citrus combined with hints of smoke and minerals from the volcanic soil.   The dessert wines are sweet with aromas of crème, chocolate and dried apricots.


From Megalochori, we drove to the northern tip of Santorini and reached the village of Oia (pronounced ia).  It is considered to be the best sunset viewing location on the entire island. Oia is one of the most beautiful and picturesque villages of Santorini, situated atop an impressive cliff.  It offers a spectacular view over the volcanoes of Palia and Nea Kameni and the island of Thirassia.


Like the other Greek villages and cities, cobblestone paved lanes led us through the village to its Western end.  Both sides of the lanes are lined with shops selling jewellery, paintings, gifts, etc.  There are many taverns, cafes, and restaurants too.

We visited the Church of Our Panagia Platsanis located in the village centre.  It was originally constructed inside the walls of the Castle of Oia. The church was rebuilt in the village center, on higher and more stable ground following the earthquake of 1956.


As the sun was setting, the area was getting crowded.  Every parking space was occupied and also all the seats in the cafes and restaurants were taken by tourists – all awaiting the sunset.


We too took up a vantage position at a cafe to enjoy every single moment of that spectacular natural phenomenon.


As minutes clicked past, the sky appeared to have been painted with various colors like yellow and orange in striking contrast to the blue dome of the church.


The sun then turned to myriad shades of pink and purple as it went down into the Aegean Sea. Sunset over water is often both spectacular and sublime. It’s just that we often wait until we reach Greece or some such similar destination to realize how incredibly beautiful it is. After watching the sunset and dinner, we retired to our beds after a tiring day of walking in the hot sun.

Are You Prepared to Meet an Emergency for 72 Hours?

Introduction

State of Kerala, India, was battered by the rains, causing havoc, displacing humans, and above all causing irreparable damage to the environment.  Having been involved with rescue missions in such natural disaster while serving with the Indian Army for over two decades and also with the experience gained in Canada for the past 15 years, I thought it appropriate to work out a survival plan for all.  If you are adequately prepared to face a range of emergencies, anytime, anywhere; you have a great chance of survival, God and nature willing.

Aim

The aim of this paper is to lay down a few steps that will help you take care of yourself and your loved ones during an emergency.

Know Where You Live

A country like India, where the terrain, climate, culture and social conditions differ drastically every square kilometer, knowing the risks in your region can help you better prepare.  It may be heavy rains and floods in Kerala; ; in the East; water logging in Mumbai, blizzards and avalanches in J&K and Sikkim; tsunamis and cyclones in coastal regions; earthquakes in the Himalayan regions – the list is endless.  Along with natural disasters, there are other types of risks, such as long power outages and industrial or transportation accidents, etc.   It could even be spread of a life threatening epidemic raging like the Nipah Virus epidemic which Kerala recently witnessed.

Plan for an Emergency

Every household needs an emergency plan to suit their location and area.  It will surely help you and your family know what to do in case of an emergency. It is surely worth the effort.   The plan once made must be discussed with every family member and clear instructions as what each member is expected to execute must be clearly defined.

Keep this document in an easy-to-find, easy-to-remember place (with your emergency kit).  Photocopy this plan and keep it in your car and/or at work, and a copy close to your phone.  If you completed your plan online, keep an electronic version on your computer and also store it in a cloud and must also be saved on everyone’s cell-phones.

Love Thy Neighbours

Please take your neighbours also into consideration while working out your emergency plan – they are always your first responders in case of any emergency and you are also expected to reciprocate.

Neighbourhood Safety Plan

Work with your neighbours or the Resident Welfare Associations (RWA)  to identify people who may need extra help during an emergency.  Like in the Army, you may also assign ‘buddies’.  Assets like doctors and health professionals, military veterans, retired police and administrative officials, and above all the youth group – they are all assets of your neighbourhood.  Ensure that you include them in your neighbourhood plan and allocate duties and responsibilities to them.

Revisiting the Plan

Please revisit your plan and also your neighbourhood plan at least once a year.  That should be the time you must restock your kit(, change the batteries, food and bottled water.  Any breaks like Onam holidays, Pooja holidays or any weekend is the most suitable time when most members are available.  Write yourself a reminder to update your emergency plan one year from now.

Household Plan

  • Emergency Exits. Draw up a floor plan of your home that shows all possible exits from each room.  Plan a main exit route and an alternate exit route from each room.  If you live in an apartment, plan to use the stairs instead of the elevators.  Identify an evacuation route from your neighbourhood in case you need to leave in a hurry and always plan for more than one option.
  • Meeting PlacesRandevu (RV). Identify safe places where everyone should meet if you cannot go home or you need to evacuate. Specify a meeting place near home or outside immediate neighbourhood.

Make Copies of Important Documents.

Make copies of birth and marriage certificates, passports, licences, wills, land deeds and insurance. Take photos of family members in case a lost persons record is created. Keep them in a safe place, both inside and outside your home. You might want to put them in a safety deposit box or give them to friends and family who live out of town.

Workplace

Learn about the emergency evacuation plans in place and what you will need to do. You may want to have some basic supplies at work, such as water and food that do not  spoil, in case you need to stay put for a while.   Check  with your employer about workplace emergency plans, including fire alarms, emergency exits, meeting points, and designated safety personnel or floor wardens.

Children

Ask your children’s school or daycare about their emergency policies. Find out how they will contact families during an emergency.  Find out what type of authorisation the school or daycare requires to release your children to a designated person if you can’t pick them up.   Make sure the school or daycare has updated contact information for parents, caregivers and designated persons.

Plan for pets

In case of an evacuation, remember that pets are not allowed in some public shelters or hotels. In case of an evacuation, prepare to take your pets with you to the home of a relative or friend, or take steps to identify pet-friendly hotels or pet boarding facilities in your area and further away from home.

Special Health Needs

  • Support Network. Establish a personal support network of friends, relatives, health-care providers, co-workers and neighbours who understand your special needs and also of your family members’.
  • Prepare a Health List. Make a list of all your health/ medical needs.  Keep a copy of this information in your emergency kit, and give a copy to your personal support network.   The list must include:-
    • Accommodation needs
    • Insurance information
    • Allergies
    • Medical conditions
    • Emergency contacts
    • Medication
    • Family medical history
    • Recent vaccinations
    • Health screenings
    • Surgeries
  • Grab&Go Medical Bag. Talk to your doctor about preparing a grab-and-go bag, if possible, with a two-week supply of medication and medical supplies. Include prescriptions and medical documents. Remember that pharmacies may be closed for some time, even after an emergency is over.

Out-of-Town Contact

Choose an out-of-town contact who lives far enough away that he or she is unlikely to be affected by the same event. If you have recently moved to a new area, make arrangements through friends, cultural associations or community organisations.  Arrange for each family member to call, e-mail or text the same out-of-town contact person in case of an emergency.

Home Safety

  • Make sure you have a working carbon monoxide detector, smoke alarm, fire extinguisher and well-stocked first aid kit. If you live in an apartment, or if you are staying in a hotel, know where the fire alarms and at least two emergency exits are located.
  • Make sure you have a fire extinguisher on every level of your home, including one in your kitchen. Everyone in your home should know where to find the fire extinguishers. All capable adults and older children should know how to use it. See manufacturer’s instructions regarding the lifetime of your fire extinguisher.
  • Older children and adults should know how to turn off your home’s water, electricity and gas. Make large, easy-to-see signs for water and gas shut-offs as well as for the electrical panel.
  • Teach children how and when to dial emergency numbers as well as how to call the designated out-of-town contact.
  • Limit phone calls to urgent messages only. Keep calls short to free up the lines for others.
  • When notifying emergency services of your location, provide the exact street or civic address and nearest intersection.

When an Emergency Strikes

  • Follow your emergency plan.
  • Get your emergency kit.
  • Make sure you are safe before assisting others.
  • Listen to the radio or television for information from authorities. Local officials may advise you to stay where you are. Follow their instructions.
  • Stay put until all is safe or until you are ordered to evacuate.

Evacuation Orders

  • Authorities will not ask you to leave your home unless they have reason to believe that you may be in danger.
  • If you are ordered to evacuate, take your emergency kit, your wallet, personal identification for each family member and copies of essential family documents with you. Bring a cellular phone and spare battery or a power bank or charger with you, if you have one. Use travel routes specified by local authorities.
  • If you have time, call or e-mail your out-of-town contact. Tell them where you are going and when you expect to arrive. Once you are safe, let them know. Tell them if any family members have become separated.
  • If possible, leave a note telling others when you left and where you are. Shut off water and electricity if officials tell you to do so.
  • Take pets with you.
  • Lock your home.
  • If you go to an evacuation centre, register your personal information at the registration desk. Do not return home until authorities advise that it is safe to do so.

Preparing an Emergency Kit

  • In an emergency, you will need some basic supplies. You may need to get by without power or tap water. Be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours.
  • You may have some of the items already, such as food, water and a battery-operated or crank flashlight. The key is to make sure they are organised and easy to find.
  • Make sure your kit is easy to carry and everyone in the household knows where it is.
  • Keep it in a backpack, duffle bag or suitcase with wheels, in an easy-to-reach, accessible place, such as your front-hall closet.
  • If you have many people in your household, your emergency kit could get heavy. It’s a good idea to separate some of these supplies in backpacks. That way, your kit will be more portable and each person can personalise his or her own grab-and-go emergency kit.

Basic Emergency Kit

  • Water – at least two litres of water per person per day; include small bottles that can be carried easily in case of an evacuation order
  • Food that won’t spoil, such as canned food, energy bars and dried foods (replace food and water once a year)
  • Manual can-opener
  • Crank or battery-powered flashlight (and extra batteries). Replace batteries once a year.
  • Crank, battery-powered radio (and extra batteries).
  • Granb&Go medical bag.
  • First aid kit
  • Extra keys to your car and house
  • Some cash in smaller currencies. Automated bank machines and their networks may not work during an emergency. You may have difficulty using debit or credit cards.
  • A copy of your emergency plan and contact information
  • Recommended additional items
    • Two additional litres of water per person per day for cooking and cleaning
    • Candles and matches or lighter
    • Change of clothing and footwear for each household member
    • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each household member
    • Toiletries
    • Utensils
    • Garbage bags
    • Water purifying tablets
    • Basic tools (hammer, pliers, wrench, screwdrivers, work gloves, dust mask, pocket knife)
    • A whistle (to draw prompt attention)
    • If you think your water is contaminated, check with your municipality or local authorities for details. When in doubt, do not drink water you suspect may be contaminated.

Emergency Vehicle Kit

Prepare a small kit and keep it in your vehicle to include:

  • Blanket
  • Candle in a deep can and matches
  • Extra clothing and shoes
  • First aid kit with seat-belt cutter
  • Flashlight (crank or battery-powered). Replace batteries once a year.
  • Food that won’t spoil (such as energy bars)
  • List of contact numbers
  • Radio (crank or battery-powered). Replace batteries once a year.
  • Small shovel
  • Warning light or road flares
  • Water
  • Whistle

Conclusion

An emergency may occur at any time and human being over centuries have faced many such ones.  In case you are adequately prepared, you are in a better position to face it and also help others to go through the ordeal.  Always remember “Preparedness is the calm before, during and after any storm.”

(Based on Government of Canada Emergency Preparedness Guide)

‘Kerala Model’ Disaster Management


Disaster struck Kerala in August 2018 in the form of  heavy rains, which created floods and landslides causing  unprecedented damage to the people, property and ecology.  The tragedy struck Kerala just prior to Onam festival to welcome the mythological  king of Kerala – Mahabali.  I am reminded of the Onam song ‘മാവേലി നാട് വാണീടും കാലം, മനുഷ്യരെല്ലാരും ഒന്നു പോലെ’ (When Mahabali ruled, the people where all together).  When the tragedy struck causing havoc to human life, the people of Kerala, irrespective of their faith or religion came together to save fellow humans.

What are the lessons to be learnt from the way this tragedy was handles at all levels – from federal  government to the local village administration to the last man standing.


Youth Power
.     The youth of Kerala were the first to emerge and organise themselves into small groups and bring succour to those affected.  They forgot their well known political rivalries and united to show that they can surmount any tragedies.  Girls and boys – all put their hands on deck, working day and night – to organise rescue and relief.

Political Strength.            The ruling coalition and the opposition – all came together to work with a single aim to bring succour to the flood affected people of Kerala.  The strength of the grass-root organs of all political parties showed their mettle in bringing relief to the people.    Only one political party and its various outfits did not play their part and they have been ‘trolled out’ in the social media.

Religious Organisation.  Various religious organisations and institutions opened their gates to accommodate all those displaced by the tragedy.  Muslims were reported to be cleaning Hindu temples and Christians taking shelter in temples and mosques – the list is endless.  In effect – Gods (with their Godmen) were submerged – Humanity emerged.


Supermen Fishermen
.      The role played by the fishermen of Kerala in rescuing the people – especially in the hilly areas where they would have never dreamt of taking their boats – would be etched in gold in Kerala’s history.  They were poor fishermen, who left their families near the seashore and ventured inland to save their brethren without caring for their personal safety and without even asking for any compensation for their loss of livelihood and damage to their boats.


State Machinery
.             Unlike what was seen in other Indian states, the state machinery from Members of Parliament, Members of Legislative Assembly, District Collectors – all were out in full force to help the victims.  Some of them were seen physically handling rescued persons and rescue materials.  The role played by two women District Collectors – Ms TV Anupama, in-charge of Thrissur, and Ms K Vasuki, in-charge of Thiruvananthapuram – needs a special mention.  The leadership of the Chief Minister Mr Pinarayi Vijayan proved that he is a man with a vision and a good leader by  maintaining a cool head and providing necessary instructions in ensuring that no stone was left unturned in providing relief to the flood affected.  It is no wonder that he is nicknamed ഇരട്ട-ചങ്കൻ (Iratta-Chankan) meaning man with double hearts.

Local Government.         Kerala state has a well established local government at City/ Town/ Village levels.    They were the first to organise rescue efforts without awaiting any orders from the top.  They worked in tandem with the Armed Forces, National Disaster Management Force (NDRF). Kerala Police, Fire Force and various other agencies.   They provided helpful terrain and water-flow information to the rescue teams, provided guides and all other possible assistance.


Role of Media
.   The Malyalam media played their part well in informing people about the floods, passing information about people stranded at various places and rescue efforts in progress.  National English and Hindi media might not have had adequate interest in Kerala, but after a few days they also pitched in.  It is pertinent to mention here that in the early days of the flood, various international media houses gave more airtime to cover floods in Kerala than the Indian English and Hindi channels.

Social Media.     The social media had a very positive impact on the rescue missions being undertaken.  Victims could communicate with the rescue teams and people outside and was of immense help.  The social media ensured connectivity with the world community, especially with many Keralites working or settled abroad, wishing to know the status of their near and dear ones.  There were a few cases of rumour mongering reported and the state police has already registered cases to deal with them.

Federal Government.     The role played by the Central Government calls for some retrospection.  When monetary and material aid started flowing from many countries with sizeable Keralite work force, the Central Government refused to accept it.  The Central Government initially granted 100 Crore which was later revised to 500 Crore – a tiny portion of the money needed for rehabilitation of the flood affected.  The Union Food Minister wanted the state to pay for the food grains released, but later, succumbing to the pressures of Kerala’s political leadership, the decision was reversed.  It might be the first time in Indian history that various persons and business houses and many state governments and organisations have donated much more than the money given by the Central Government for disaster rehabilitation.     Is it all because the ruling party has hardly any presence in the state?


That was the Kerala model of disaster management.  There is a need to iron out many folds and deficiencies, but the common folks in Kerala have risen up to the occasion.  An Indian Army officer undertaking rescue operations said “I did not see any victims; all I saw were Heroes.”

The HEROES are the people of Kerala.

 

 

Santorini -An Island on a Volcano


On June 13, after breakfast, we sailed from Mykonos to Santorini Island in a high-speed ferry.  The voyage lasted over two hours.  The ferry offered comfortable seating and a few restaurants, but the menu was expensive as seen in all ferries in Greece.


Crescent-shaped Santorini or Thíra in the Aegean Sea, is a group of islands consisting of Santorni, Therasia, Aspronísi, Palea and Nea Kaméni.  Santorini, the youngest volcanic land in the Eastern Mediterranean, is still an active volcano and probably the only volcano in the world whose crater is in the sea.  The islands that form Santorini came into existence as a result of intensive volcanic activity.  12 huge eruptions occurred, one every 20,000 years approximately, and each violent eruption caused the collapse of the volcano’s central part creating a large crater (Caldera). The volcano, however, managed to recreate itself over and over again.

The last big eruption occurred 3,600 years ago during the Minoan Age, when ash, pumice and lava stones covered the islands.  The eruption destroyed the thriving local prehistoric civilization, evidence of which was found during the excavations. The solid material and gases emerging from the volcano’s interior created a huge vacuum underneath, causing the collapse of the central part and the creation of today’s Caldera– with a size of 8×4 km and a depth of up to 400m below sea level.


Eruption of the submarine volcano Kolúmbo, located 6.5 km North-East of Santorini, on 27 September 1650, was actually the largest recorded volcanic eruption in Eastern Mediterranean during the past millennium.   The most recent volcanic activity on the island occurred in 1950.  The whole island is actually a huge natural geological/volcanological museum where you can observe a wide range of geological structures and forms.

Caldera is a lagoon of sea water surrounded on three sides by the steep cliffs of Santorini and on the fourth side by the island of Thirassia, which was part of Santorini before the eruption. The currently active volcano on the island of Nea Kameni sits in the middle of the Caldera.  It is active but presently not at risk of erupting.


As our ferry pulled closer to Santorini Island, we could see the steep escarpment of Santorini Island formed due to volcanic activity.


The colours of different layers of rocks up the escarpment is due to lava deposited during various volcanic eruptions.  The upper crust is mostly pumice and below it is red and black granite.


We  checked into our hotel and post lunch set out to explore Santorini.  Our first halt was Pyrgos, a medieval settlement that is nestled at the highest spot of the island. We drove up to the entrance of the settlement by taxi.  As the village lanes are narrow and cobblestoned, we had to walk up to the castle and churches atop the hill.  On to the left of the image above is the castle, which is well-preserved despite the serious damage caused by the earthquake of 1956.  It was built to protect the people from marauding pirates.


Pyrgos is said to be the first capital of Santorini, before the onset of the 19th century. It is built on top of a hill overlooking the Aegean Sea, which makes it an exceptional observatory.


As we walked up the track, close to its entrance to the castle lies the church of Agia (Saint ) Theodosia.  This church was built in 1639 and renovated in 1857, but it collapsed in the earthquake of 1956. In its place, the present church was built in 1965.


Further uphill we walked and came to  the church of Christos.  The bell tower of the church is visible from a distance. This is the only church on the island with an octagonal cupola while the rest have a round cupola on top.  The bell tower and the yellow flag of Greek Orthodox Church resembles that of old Syrian Orthodox churches of Kerala.


We walked downhill and drove to the village of Megalochori.  Here we all for the first time saw a Pistachio tree with fruit.  The debate that erupted amongst us was as to whether Pistachio is a nut or not.  Pistachio, though known as a nut, the fruit of the Pistachio is botanically a drupe, a type of fleshy fruit (like a coconut), the edible portion of which is the seed.


Megalochori  offers a nice mix of white Cycladic (Cyclades –a civilisation that existed in the Bronze Age)  houses, several churches and narrow alleys.  A prominent feature of the historical homes and mansions are the high walls, inner courtyards and solid wooden door entrances, built for privacy and for safety against pirates.


In the center of the village, stood a wonderful traditional square with taverns, restaurants with bougainvillea-covered patios and trees providing shade for a quick cup of coffee. The square is the heart and soul of Megalochori, a gathering place for the locals to play a game of cards


Megalochori has two well-known bell towers spanning the street. This one is part of the Panagia church and is characterised by the clock on top.

Megalochori is famous for its winery and wines and we went ahead to visit a winery, covered in the next part.

 

Colonel KPR Hari, Vir Chakra

‘The battle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton’ is a famous British Army quote after they trounced a much stronger French army.  After the battle of Kargil, especially with Major KPR Hari’s action, leading his company of 1 Bihar Regiment to capture Jubar Top, and also gallantry actions of many young officers of Indian Army during the battle of Kargil, I was tempted to rewrite the quote as “The battle of Kargil was won on the fields of Khadakwasla.”

When we moved in to the National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakwasla, in our second semester, Hari was there to welcome us to the E Squadron (61st Course) in June 1979.  In those days, E Squadron believed more in moulding youngsters into ‘men of steel.’  That obviously meant rigorous Physical Training (PT) by day and by night, and practising heavily for cross-country, boxing and sports competions – football, hockey and basketball.  Our Squadron earned the nickname of ‘PT Squadron.’

In all the events that E Squadron excelled in, Cadet Hari was the champion.  His agility and skill was proven beyond doubt and we ended winning the Commandant’s Banner as Champion Squadron in 1979.

Hari always sported his bright smile – characterised by a broken incisor – a loss he suffered during a boxing bout.  We used to undertake cycling tours around Khadakwasla (obviously the unofficial ones) to Sinhagarh Fort, Munshi Dam and Panshet Dam.

Nothing could deter Hari during our NDA days, whatever difficulty he faced, he always took it with a smile.  It appeared that neither success nor failure had any impact on him – he kept going ahead, without ever looking behind.  The very same quality he carried with him during his service as an officer.

Hari was commissioned in to Bihar Regiment – Infantry – and I to the Regiment of Artillery.  We never served together during our Army days, but did meet many times, especially while travelling to our hometowns in Kerala from Delhi.

While I was posted at the Military Intelligence Directorate during the Kargil war of 1999, situation (sitrep) of 06 July caught my eye.  It described action of Major KPR Hari and 1 Bihar in capturing Jubar Top.  I was not surprised – Hari had it in him and he would have done it that way only.

The sitrep said that Hari, disregarding his own personal safety crawled through the boulders over a stiff cliff and destroyed the enemy Heavy Machine Gun bunker and killed two enemy personnel.  I knew his gallant act would be recognised and glorified.

Major KPR Hari was awarded Vir Chakra – a well deserved honour – for his gallant action.  His citation read:-

“On 06 July 1999, Major KPR Hari attacked Jubar Top, an enemy stronghold at a height of 16,800 feet Batalik Sector of Jammu and Kashmir.

Major KPR Hari launched a two pronged attack under heavy enemy artillery and small arm fire.  He crawled through the boulders over a teep cliff leading towards Jubar Top avoiding enemy fire.  He reached 50 meters short of the enemy bunker and in a swift and bold manoeuvre closed in with the enemy bunker along with six soldiers continously firing and lobbing grenades.

Major KPR Hari with utter disregard for personal safety destroyed the enemy Heavy Machine Gun bunker and killed two enemy personnel who were engaging the advancing troops.  The enemy sensing immediate capture withdrew leaving huge quantity of arms, ammunition and equipment.  The post was captured at 0500 hours without any casualty.  Major KPR Hari then along with another officer kept the momentum of attack and captured Jubar Top by 1800 hours.

Major KPR Hari displayed initiative, bold action, indomitable courage, strong determination and exceptional leadership in the face of extreme danger from the enemy.”

After I bid goodbye to Indian Army and moved to Canada, I met Hari only once.  That was during our course-mate Commander Vinod Kumar’s (Indian Navy) daughter’s wedding in December 2015.  He was as cheerful and smiling as he always was.

Last year I heard the sad news that Hari was battling pancreatic cancer.  I thought that he will beat this ordeal too.  He fought like a good boxer of E Squadron, but breathed his last on 17 August 2018.  I am sure he will now be smiling and thanking his Creator for a great meaningful life that the God had bestowed on him.

“Soldier, rest! thy warfare o’er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking;
Dream of battled fields no more,
Days of danger, nights of waking.”    Sir Walter Scott, Scottish author and playwright

 

The Gorkha Brave-Heart Who Killed Death

A heart rendering article on Captain Manoj Kumar Pandey, Param Vir Chakra, (25 June 1975 – 3 July 1999) of 1/11 Gorkha Rifles (GR), beautifully penned by Major General Raj Mehta, Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Vishisht Seva Medal, my Guru and mentor from my early military days at the National Defence Academy.


Capt Manoj Pandey, PVC (Posthumous), 1/11 GR, challenged death at alpine heights during the Kargil War – and won

When brave-hearts are martyred in India, we invariably compensate for the loss by naming residential colonies, roads, airports, auditoriums, tournaments after them. We rarely reflect over the intent that drove them to martyrdom. We do not understand why, when living was an option, they chose to die, fiercely upholding the timeless  ethic of Naam, Namak, Nishan  (नाम, नमक, निशान) [Honour, Integrity, Flag]  that has been in the Indian soldiers DNA since the ancient killing battlefields of Kurukshetra (कुरुक्षेत्र).

Capt Manoj Pandey, PVC (P), 1/11 GR was one such driven officer who died at Bunkers Area en route to Khalubar Top at 5287m (17346ft)  sacrificing his life for sustaining the Idea of India. This story is about his selfless sacrifice on night 2/3 July 1999, his bloodied Khukri (खुकुरी) [inwardly curved traditional knife of a Gorkha soldier] flashing as he exhorted his charged Gorkhas with Naa Chhodnu!” (I will not spare you) as he fell. They did, several of them dying with him but neutralizing the entrenched Pakistanis with bullets, khukris, grenades – and grit.

The story of Manoj’s heroism is available on the internet in narrative and video formats. A mainstream Hindi film covers his martyrdom. Nothing could, however, be better than hearing about him first hand from his then Commanding Officer, Colonel Lalit Rai, Vir Chakra. I was privileged to do just that because Lalit is a colleague of old; a bold, brave and courageous third generation 11 Gorkha Regiment officer of pedigree and conviction. A Bishops Cotton, Bangalore product, his grandfather and father preceded him in the Regiment. Commissioned in 7/11 GR, he was commanding newly raised 17 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) (Maratha) in Doda, J&K, in 1997 when I came across him as the Deputy Commander of the RR Sector Headquarters which operationally controlled his Unit. He led from the front in an intense Counter-Insurgency deployment grid where I was as much in operations as our Units; the Deputy’s being a command not staff assignment when deployed on the Counter Insurgency grid. This is where I saw Lalit repeatedly leading his command in encounter situations.

In June 1999, when the Kargil War had commenced, he was offered a chance to command 1/11 GR by his Colonel of the Regiment. This Battalion had decades earlier been commanded by his Father and urgently needed a replacement Commanding Officer (CO). Lalit accepted the challenge despite not having served in 1/11 GR. He was landed by helicopter 48 hours later, when the Unit, looking forward to some respite after a tough Siachen tenure, was pitch-forked instead into alpine war.

A crisis was unfolding in the strategic but primitively developed Yaldor Sub-Sector. Ordered to retake Khalubar Top from infiltrating Pakistani Pathan troops and with non-existent road communications, his immediate task was to lead a 14 hour forced march into war with all equipment/ammunition carried back-pack  with whatever troops he could muster even as his Second-in-Command (2IC) marshaled the balance men.    This was on 2 July 1999 and this is where young Manoj enters the narrative. A word about him is necessary before the daunting terrain where his bravery – and Lalit’s – manifested, becomes our point of focus.

IC-56959-W Capt Manoj Pandey was born on 25 June 1975 in Rudha, Sitapur District, Uttar Pradesh, to Gopichand and Mohini Pandey. Gopichand was a man of very modest means, but Manoj, the family elder, never put a financial burden on his parents as he blazed through Sainik School and Laxmi Bai Secondary School, both in Lucknow with a brilliant all-round performance in academics, National Cadet Corps and sports.  Asked during his Services Selection Board interview on why he wanted to become an officer, his convincing “To win the PVC” response saw him selected for the National Defence Academy (NDA). Commissioned into 1/11 GR, a famous Battalion raised in 1918 in Mesopotamia, Manoj served in the Kashmir valley and Siachen before Kargil happened.

In the remote, near inaccessible Batalik sector, the infiltrators had occupied a number of ridges whose recapture was a must as these dominated the Batalik-Leh route. It took some time before the ingress routes to the four roughly parallel ridges were blocked by India. General VP Malik, then Army Chief in his book, From Surprise to Victory, recalls that a direct note to him by then 2IC Lieutenant Colonel Asthana brought out to him the importance of retaking Khalubar Ridge on priority. It had a Pakistani helicopter- supplied dump behind and clearly had to be recaptured and it was the Gorkhas led by Colonel Rai and, on his vulnerable flank, Manoj, who did it.


Lalit recalls that it was night 2 July that he chose to head for Khalubar Top with 40 odd men. Directly under observation of the entrenched Northern Light Infantry (NLI) Pakistani troops (Pathans among them), very effective fire was being brought on his column from Khalubar Top and flanks, causing severe casualties. To prevent getting day-lighted before he reached his objective and getting decimated, he ordered Capt Manoj Pandey to take his 5 Platoon, Bravo Company to neutralize “Pehalwan Chowki”, later named as “Bunkers Area”.  The CO had by now sustained a bullet wound in his leg and splinter wounds in his calf but slogged on.


Capt Manoj Pandey, with experience of the successful, gut-wrenching attack on Jubar Top behind him, rushed to carry out his CO’s directive. Ordering Havaldar Bhim Bahadur Diwan to encircle the Bunkers Area with his section from the right, Manoj took on the main bunkers from the left with  the battle-cry “Jai Mahakali, Aayo Gorkhali”  on his lips. He cleared the first two enemy bunkers with dispatch. While clearing the third, he was hit on his shoulders and legs but continued to lead the assault on the fourth bunker, neutralizing it with a grenade. “Naa Chhodnu” he commanded his men, but, at that instant, got hit in the forehead by an MG bullet. His furious Gorkhas captured all six bunkers, killing 11 Pakistanis but sustaining serious losses in the brutal close-quarter combat.  Several Gorkhas were found dead with frozen fingers on rifle triggers, all weapons pointed towards the enemy bunkers with bloodied Khukris nearby and several decapitated Pakistani soldiers heads lying around. The brave young officer had led his men from the front. A compulsive diarist, he had lived up to his own hand-written prophecy that he would “kill death” before death overtook him. He was just 24 and had fully lived up to the timeless ethic of Naam, Namak, Nishan.


Doodle of Capt Pandey’s PVC act created after interaction with Col Lalit Rai, VrC. Made by Chief Designer, Ravi Ranjan. The doodle can be seen in Gallery 8 of the Punjab State War Heroes Memorial and Museum, Amritsar, curated by the author and his 10 researchers, then working under Department of Soldier Welfare, Government of Punjab.

The narrative does not of course, end here. Colonel Rai, with his right flank secured by Manoj, went up the 80 degree gradient, still under withering enemy fire. He was wounded but soldiered on despite losing men all around him, besides the grievous loss of young Manoj and many of his men. Nearing the top, he knew that his ammunition was about to finish and after that it would just be Gorkha grit and Khukris…nothing more. He personally knew he had two rounds left…One for the enemy who confronted him and one for himself. He was able to contact his Forward Observation Officer (FOO) who was on Kukarthang Ridge and asked him if he was indeed headed on Khalubar Top. On confirmation of the same, he asked the FOO to bring own Artillery fire on his position as only a few yards now separated him and the enemy. The stratagem of Defensive Fire Save Our Souls (DFSOS) literally means just that…The last recourse of a courageous soldier to break enemy cohesion. It was a desperate gamble that paid off. The marauding Pakistani Pathans suddenly received a barrage of deathly accurate Bofors 155mm High Explosive shells on them and were decapitated. When the Gorkhas took out their khukris in the brutal hand-to-hand combat that followed, Pakistani heads rolled and there were many…After capturing what was indeed a near impossible objective to capture, the CO did a head count…He had just 8 of his 40 men left and had lost his bravest-of-brave officer, Capt Manoj Pandey along with over half of No. 5 Platoon…1/11 GR had won yet again but at cost…Col Lalit Rai was awarded a Vir Chakra for his outstanding ‘follow me’ leadership and Capt Manoj Pandey a very richly deserved posthumous PVC.


His PVC citation read:  Lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey took part in a series of boldly led attacks during Operation Vijay, forcing back the intruders with heavy losses in Batalik including the capture of Jubar Top. On the night of 2/3 July 1999 during the advance to Khalubar as his platoon approached its final objective; it came under heavy and intense enemy fire from the surrounding heights. Lieutenant Pandey was tasked to clear the interfering enemy positions to prevent his battalion from getting day lighted, being in a vulnerable position. He quickly moved his platoon to an advantageous position under intense enemy fire, sent one section to clear the enemy positions from the right and himself proceeded to clear the enemy positions from the left. Fearlessly assaulting the first enemy position, he killed two enemy personnel and destroyed the second position by killing two more. He was injured on the shoulder and legs while clearing the third position. Undaunted and without caring for his grievous injuries, he continued to lead the assault on the fourth position urging his men and destroyed the same with a grenade, even as he got a fatal burst on his forehead. This singular daredevil act of Lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey provided the critical firm base for the companies, which finally led to capture of Khalubar. The officer, however, succumbed to his injuries.

Lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey, thus, displayed most conspicuous bravery, indomitable courage, outstanding leadership and devotion to duty and made the supreme sacrifice in the highest traditions of the Indian Army.


The award was received by his Father on the Republic’s 52nd anniversary on 26 Jan, 2000.

As mentioned earlier, Manoj was a compulsive diarist and wrote eloquently about things dear to him. A poem on his Mother states: “She is the star which shines brightly in the darkness, someone who will always give and bless.”  Poignantly, just under this poem, he had written his own epitaph: “If death strikes before I prove my blood, I promise (swear), I will kill death.”

Elsewhere in the diary, he had again reflected:  “Some goals are so worthy, it’s glorious even to fail”.  Such thoughtful statements from a young man deployed in a war zone with death always lurking around go a long way to show that Manoj was a young man of great substance and courage both mental and physical…A young man who had adapted to whatever hand destiny would deal out to him. His writings stated that this officer would contest whatever God had in store for him and put infinite value on his life before fate took over. He was a true, proud Indian and someone who in death has become deathless…


Younger brother Manmohan says on visiting the Dras Kargil Memorial: “I had come here to pray at the place where my brother sacrificed his life in the line of duty. This place is a temple for me”. My father and mother have visited the memorial several times and it was my dream to visit the place,” he said. I am so glad I have been able to visit it and remember my hero, my brother…”

In 2004, Col Lalit Rai had arranged a visit by the parents and siblings of Capt Manoj Kumar to the NDA. It was a dedication ceremony during which a portrait of the brave-heart was presented to Mike Squadron, the squadron where he spent three learning years. Lalit spoke with pride and deep respect for his officer. His father made a brief, poignant address, asking the seated cadets to follow the path of Manoj and, if needed, sacrifice their lives for the Idea of India. The program left the family in tears of pride – and the cadets with an irresistible urge to “do a Manoj” when and if destiny called.


Dedication Ceremony at NDA. Col Lalit Rai, VrC, is on the right of Mr Gopichand Pandey.

The sacrifice of Manoj has impacted on aam aadmi (आम आदमी) [common man] in different but positive ways. One example worth narration concerns a re-employed fellow officer and the father of Manoj.  Col AK Jayachandran, 12 ASSAM, who became a senior Bank Executive post his retirement writes that “In life there are some days when one feels terrible and some days, when one feels really good from within. One such thing happened on a Friday evening at around 7 PM last year in Sep. I was set to go home from the Bank. One clerk and an officer were all who remained. The phone rang. An old man was on the other side. He was irate & quite fed up. To cut a long story short, he’d approached his bank’s branch to settle his dues from his son’s pension, which had not been correctly calculated. They’d kept fobbing him off.

He could rarely get through and couldn’t explain his problem properly either. Finally he got my number from someone and called. I took his details – told my guys to take a look at it and tell me if he was really due. They did that and yes – there were arrears due to him. Looking at the printout, I saw the name, Capt Manoj Pandey …no wife… …pension to parents …date of death- Kargil war days. Speaking to the old man at 7:30 PM, I asked him if he was the father of PVC Capt Manoj Pandey. He confirmed.

I said I would call again. Meanwhile, my staff had closed their systems…both youngsters…ready for a weekend. I sat them down and told them that we had a “PVC”, who hadn’t been paid his dues by the bank. I gave them a short brief on what Kargil was all about; told them that we had to credit the dues tonight.

They quietly went and switched on their system. They worked out his dues and arrears, which was around Rs 8 Lakh. This amount was credited into his father’s account at about 9 PM. I called up the father and told him that his account had been credited…he was very surprised, said it could’ve waited till Monday. I apologized for the banks delay and told him that having come to know, waiting till Monday would have been the biggest disrespect/dishonour to the PVC, so we had to do it tonight. I then asked the father to speak to both my subordinates. They paid their respects to him. The old man thanked us and broke down…he said that this one act had accorded more respect to the memory of his son, than any other civilian award. It was an emotional moment. One of these days, you look in the mirror and like the mug that looks back at you…!

Capt Manoj Pandey, PVC (P), 1/11 GR deserved that kind of rare respect – in life and in death.


Major General Raj Mehta, AVSM, VSM.   The officer is Chief Mentor, Sarthi Museum Consultants, Mohali, Punjab.

Exploring Mykonos Island


June 12, Tuesday, was spent exploring Mykonos Island.  After breakfast, we boarded a bus from Chora to Paradise Beach, a 10 km trip. We walked about a kilometer to reach Paradise Beach.  Here we rented a canopy with sun-beds.  We enjoyed a swim in the cool, crystal-clear, blue green coastal waters. The setting simply forces you to adopt a laid back attitude and let the rhythm slow down under the warm and bright sunlight. A local Greek cocktail played its part too.


The famous Paradise beach is a nice, flat, white-sandy beach of impeccable beauty, dotted with a number of popular bars.  It is a getaway, mainly for the young and also for the not so young.  It is now Greece’s number one open-air seaside clubbing venue.  There is live music playing from all the restaurants.  Sun-beds with grass canopy are available on rent. It has to be seen to believe.  The place comes alive mainly with the hep crowd, young, wild and rich. Glamorous parties and endless entertainment in the infinite sunshine with a picturesque landscape as a backdrop.


After lunch, we returned to Chora.

Located on the island’s Western harbour is Chora.  It is a very beautiful old town, which in the past was visited by merchant fleets from all over. Today it has become a popular tourist destination.  There are whitewashed houses, windmills, a multitude of chapels, busy back streets with balconies full of flowers and multi-coloured fishing boats in the port.  It becomes very crowded after sunset as tourists throng this luxurious marketplace, restaurants, bars and discos.


We got off from the bus and headed towards the windmills on foot.  From as early as the 16th century these windmills have been the classic landmarks of Mykonos. Due to its geographic location, Mykonos being situated on major sea trade-route, traded in grains. The need to grind grain flour and then ship it out to distant lands, must have made Mykonians to set up windmills, as there was plenty of regular wind all the year round.  To facilitate easy access to the harbour, these windmills were positioned in or around the main port.

The windmills of Mykonos must have contributed to the economic prosperity of the island in those days.  In 1700 AD, about 11 windmills were in operation around the port.  With the advent of modern technology, especially after World War I, these windmills ceased their operations as more efficient flour mills were commissioned. Today these well preserved windmills stand as iconic landmarks of a medieval period, sentinels of simplicity to balance the surfeit of all round glamour!

Though the Greek islands have been blessed with strong dry winds that blow from the Aegean Sea all through the year, we did not come across any wind turbines in any of the islands we visited.  There were no solar panels either to be seen.  May be the Greeks did not want to displease Anemoi – the Geek God of wind – and Helios – their Sun God.


From the area of the windmills, narrow and endless cobblestone paved alleys lead us to Little Venice.  It is a charming little area looking into the sea.  Buildings with balconies that overhang the water and the windmills in the background make this area the subject of many paintings and is a photographers dream.


Little Venice is an area that lines the waterfront with rows of Eighteenth century fishing houses with balconies that jut into the sea. These houses originally belonged to shipping merchants which gave them direct access to the sea. Being built right on the water, it resembles Venice of Italy, hence the name ‘Little Venice’.


The old fishing houses have been converted to house cafes, restaurants, bars and shops. Taking advantage of the beautiful view both by day and especially at sunset, restaurants have been set up all along the sea front, to give diners a unique experience.  It is quite peaceful during the morning but afternoon onward, you will be jostling for a seat. This area becomes a beehive of activity at sunset as thousands of people throng here to watch the enchanting sunset

Most of the cafes will start putting out reserved signs on the tables that are right on the edge of the sea as these are the prime tables. You may not find fine dining here but it is all about the experience of sitting beside the seawaters for a special dinner, a once in a life time experience.


Like in Venice, the balconies of houses here are interconnected over the lanes at many places.  It is to facilitate the residents to move around in rains without getting their feet and shoes wet and muddy.


Surrounded by the boutiques and bars in Little Venice stands the flower-bedecked Church of Panagia Paraportiani (Our Lady of the Postern Gate). This church is a cluster of four whitewashed chapels, topped by a further bright white chapel on the upper storey, reached by an external staircase. Built between the Fourteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, the church once guarded the entrance to the town’s castle, long since destroyed.


The multi-layered nature of the church gives it a unique shape, rising from the squared-off white chapels on the ground level to the domed church of the Virgin Mary on the top.  The church has no windows or doors as seen from the sea.  Rather from the seaside, it does not resemble a church.  It was constructed this way not to attract attention of attacking pirates.


From Chora, we took a bus ride of 10 kilometres to Elia Beach.  Elia is the longest sandy beach of Mykonos, offering a wide choice of taverns and bars as well as water sports facilities such as water-skiing, parasailing and windsurfing.   There are comfortable lounge beds and umbrellas lined along the sand.  We enjoyed the views of the Aegean Sea and the nearby island of Naxos on the horizon, obviously with a cocktail in hand.  Elia is one of the most popular nudist and gay beaches in Mykonos.


We returned to Little Venice in the evening, well before sunset to take up our reserved seats at the restaurant at the brim of the sea.  The area was thronging with tourists as everyone comes here in the evening, to watch the magnificent sunset.  As the sun goes down, the sky shows off some brilliant colours of red, orange and pink.  The reflection on the water is awesome. The expression “picture perfect postcard” some how seemed be so very apt. At sunset, we watched a profusion of colours ever so slowly leak out of the Aegean sky, enjoyed a sumptuous Mediterranean dinner, mainly of seafood and Greek salad and then returned to our hotel, quite exhausted and a lot more contended.