LATE SEPOY Harbhajan Singh was enrolled into the Punjab Regiment on February 9, 1966. Born in the village of Browndal in Kapurthala district of Punjab, he enlisted in the army at an early age and found himself posted on the misty heights of the Sino- Indian border near Nathula Pass.
The year 1968 saw heavy rainfall and vicious floods in the region. On 4 October, 1968, while escorting a mule caravan from his battalion headquarters at Tukla to Deng Chukla, he fell into a fast- flowing stream and was washed away. The search for his body continued for a couple of days but was abandoned due to inclement weather.
Legend goes like this that Harbhajan Singh led the Search Party to his body.Soon reports of a man seen patrolling the area began filtering in. Soldiers deployed in the area would talk of a lone uniformed man on horse patrolling the region. Forces on the other side of the border confirmed these reports and claimed that they too had seen the ghost rider. Over the years, soldiers in the area began seeing Harbhajan Singh in their dreams where he instructed them of loopholes and unprotected areas from where the Chinese could attack. His instructions generally proved to be accurate and the legend of Baba Harbhajan Singh grew.
And later, through a dream, instructed one of his colleagues to build and maintain a Temple/Shrine after him. A shrine was built at his Samadhi in the hills. Army folklore holds Baba is a stickler for discipline and is known to admonish those who do not tow this line.
In the camp at Nathula Pass, a camp bed is kept for him and his boots are polished and uniform is kept ready every night. The sheets are reportedly crumpled every morning and boots muddy by evening. The Ghost soldier continues to draw a salary and takes his annual leave also. Legend also has it that in the event of a war between India and China, Baba would warn the Indian soldiers three days in advance.
Chinese do also worship him & during the flag meetings between the two nations at Nathula Post, the Chinese Soldiers have also set a chair aside for the saint. Every year on September 14, a jeep departs with his personal belongings to the nearest railway station, New Jalpaiguri, where it is then sent by train to the village of Kuka, his hometown in Kapurthala district in Punjab.
A small sum is also sent to the mother of this Ghost Soldier each month. Ghost Soldier's name still continues in the army's payrolls, his mother has still been getting his salary cheques and he has also been given all due time bound promotions. Though it may look weird but it is true & Indian Army still honours this soldier like that.
After post death promotions, late soldier is treated as honorary captain. Ghost Soldier gets two months annual leave every year & a First Class berth is booked in the train in his name and his portrait, uniform and other belongings are brought by army officials to his native village Kuka in Kapurthala district for availing of his leave.
This year also under this annual drill, belongings of "Baba" Harbhajan Singh were brought to Jalandhar from New Jalpaigudi by Dibrugarh Express on Thursday night.
A JCO, a Subedar and an Orderly accompanied the belongings. The family of the late soldier received the belongings at the railway station and later proceeded for their native village. On completion of the leave the same team of the army personnel will escort back the belongings to the Nathu La region.
Taxi drivers and soldiers passing through the area generally stop at the Samadhi to pay obeisance to the revered Baba. Not doing so is supposed to bring bad luck.
And as the red flag bespeckled with stars flaps in the icy wind next to the tricolour, a lone figure perhaps stands and watches- ever alert, ever watchful, ever zealous, and ever protective of his country’s honour. A zeal that has lasted beyond death.