1962 India China War

Last Stand at Lagyala Gompa

In January 1989 a jeep carrying a lady was winding its way through Tawang. As it neared a bridge in Dirang the local people gathered around. The lady beckoned to a girl and asked her if she knew a place called Lagyala Gompa. The girl replied " Yes – we go there for our spring festival and worship and there is tiger’s grave to which they offer flowers". The lady asked "Why they worshiped at the grave of a strange soldier". The girl replied "Wah sahib itna bara aadmi , itna bara Sher mara hai wahan, to kya hum puja nahin karein". The tiger was Lt. Col. Brahmanand Avasthy of 4th Rajput and the lady was Mrs Sushila Avasthy. In one of the last battles of the 1962 war, the men of 4th Rajput fought a valiant battle to the last man last bullet. This is their story.


Induction of 4th Rajput

With the setback at Namka Chu, fresh troops were being rushed to NEFA. 4th Rajput which was in Belgaum was asked to move. It was without a commanding officer at this time. It moved via Pune, Barauni and reached New Missamar on 23rd October. Major Trilok Nath who was officiating as CO was told that it was assigned to 65th Brigade under Brigadier G.M.Saeed. The battalion had a strength of 8 officers, 18 JCOs and 575 ORs. The battalion was asked to occupy the left side of Bomdi La with 1 Madras on the right. But even before it could get there it was reassigned to Dirang Dzong. There was utter chaos at New Missamar. There was desperate demands being made for troop labour. 1 Ton trucks were plying and were being grabbed by whoever needed it. While most of the battalion had to foot it to Dirang, Major K P P Nair managed to get 4 vehicles to carry some of the heavy baggage.

The first Company to reach Dirang was D company under Major P.L. Kukrety. He was personaly briefed by Major General A.S. Pathania and asked to occupy the left flank of the Division covering the approach from Orka La-Punsum la. Kukrety moved his men quickly and reached his position in one day instead of the expected three. While the actual distance was 30 kms with ridges and rivers cutting it the Rajputs did it in 28 hours. They quickly dug in positions and sited their MMG section and 3.7 in howitzer. Over the next few days they witnessed the remnants of Brigadier Dalvi’s brigades filterering through along with refugees and a few Chinese prisoners. The Chinese prisoners were debriefed and sent away to Bn Hq. In spite of not getting permission to register his guns Major Kukrety went ahead and ranged them.

Meanwhile C company was hijacked by a staff officer of 4th Infantry division to be used for protecting Divisional headquarters. Finally a permanent CO was assigned. Lt. Col Brahmanand Avasthy was the Adjutant at IMA, Dehradun before being posted as Senior Instructor for the Junior Commander’s course at Infantry School, MHOW. He was to take over 2nd Rajput which was the batalion he was commissioned in. But by the time he could get there 2nd Rajput was decimated at Namka Chu. So he was assigned 4th Rajput and was immensely proud of being the Rajput’s CO. Avasthy was considered one of the finest officers in the army. A thorough professional he quickly got into stride. He sent a long note to Major Kukrety advising him on the siting of guns and MMGs. He gave advice to the quartermasters on the nuances of running the logistics which he considered the most important aspect of keeping a battalion finely tuned.

Further assignments were handed out which continued the piecemeal deployment seen all over NEFA. A section of mountain guns were deployed to assist D company under Captain Ghosal. They were situated 1 km from Dangsikpu. A platoon from C company under Naib Subedar Ranjit Singh was sent with the guns.

A Company led by Major KPP Nair was asked to move along track Nyukmadong, east of Pt 3011- Tangyapand report on Chinese movement and seal the approach and prevent any infiltration attempts to cut of the retreat of 4th Division. The terrain A company had to traverse is mountainous dense forests at 10000 to 14000 feet. The paths were 3 feet wide, visibility about 5 meters due to thick fog. With porters not available for fear of the enemy the troops had to manhandle the equipment themselves slowing them down. Meanwhile 2nd Lt Choudhary of 6 Field Regiment was sent along with an OP party. Choudhary was a greenhorn and showed it. Nair found him nervous and moody and was concerned on his reliability. Still by 12th November Nair reached Pt 3446 near his position. The artillery tried to register the guns but the thick vegetation hide the smoke and the group had to be satisfied with registering the mortars.

Meanwhile a patrol of 1 Sikh had reported enemy activity at Luguthang village. On account of this Nair was asked to send out a patrol under Naib Rai Singh along with an FOO. Nair tried to get Trilok Nath to drop the requirement for the FOO as he felt the greenhorn would only be a problem and with the guns not yet ranged not much use. But he was overruled. As the patrol was returning Choudhary insisted on a break and decided to brew tea. Rai Singh protested but Choudhary refused to listen. Finally Rai Singh left a section to guard the officer and continued on. A short while later a chinese unit attracted by the smoke assaulted and wiped it out. Only one man Sepoy Ganga Din made it back to tell the story.

Ambush of composite patrol

To follow up on the 1 Sikh patrol a strong patrol consisting of a company 2 Sikh LI, 2 platoons of 4 Sikh LI and 1 Sikh LI making a total of 200 men was sent out. THe patrol crossed the Luguthana-Kya La line and headed North East. It planned to climb the highest ridge to get a commanding view of the area to harass and interdict the Chinese. But it was dark as the patrol reached the foot of the ridge. The patrol decided to halt for the night and draw up defenses. But unkown to it the Chinese had their own patrols on the lookout for Indian patrols. A Chinese patrol tracked the Sikhs and as night drew called in reinforcements to surround it. Late at night they attacked. The Sikhs tried to put up a defense but were ineffective. 63 men were killed or wounded and the rest fell back in complete disarray.

The news of the ambush stunned the Brigade HQ. Still aggressive patrolling was maintained. A party of 4th Rajput under Naib Subedar Man Singh encountered the Chinese in the Jalak Pu area. On hearing the news Major Nair rushed in to reinforce with his 2 remaining platoons. The engagement continued for some time before Nair was asked to pull back to his original positions. The Chinese having suffered some casualties retreated to find another way around his point. This was in keeping with their tactic of maintaining their objectives which was to get into positions behind Indian lines to cut of troops retreating from Sela.

While frantic debates were going on at Corps and Division HQ about the fate of Se La, Lt. Col. Avasthy went about deploying his units to be in the best positions. C company less a platoon was pulled back from Lubrang and deployed on Pt 2898. B company under Major Mullay had occupied Gompacher.

Meanwhile the confused decision had been arrived to withdraw from Sela. The analysis of this decision is another chapter by itself. Suffice to say it was characterised by utter confusion. With 62 Infantry Brigade falling back from Sela it looks like Awasthi decided to defend Bridge 1 to allow the brigade and remnants from 4th Division to retreat. At 0730 hrs on 18th morning the HQ 65th Infantry Brigade asked the battalion to withdraw. A little later Battalion HQ asked D company to fall back to Headquarters are near Sapper Camp. By the time the Battalion HQ decided to withdraw they had elements of B company, elements of C company and D company. This group consisted of seven officers. In addition to Lt Col Avasthy it included Major Trilok Nath, Major Y Tandon, Captain Dayal Singh, Captain SK Mitra, Lieutenant DS Drar and Second Lieutenant Chatrapati Singh. 4th Rajput units had fought cohesively to allow the men in the north in Se La to fall back. Avasthy and his men waited for as much time as possible holding of sporadic Chinese attacks. 62nd Brigade never came – its broken elements had already filtered through other routes. Finally Avasthy pulled back to Lubrang destroying any stores that could not be carried back. From there he moved to Phudung joined by various stragglers. The party soon swelled. Many of them wounded had to be carried. Avasthy himself was carrying the medic who was snow blinded. This force reached Priyadung, where they saw that the track bifurcated to Morshing. One side climbed towards an old monastery Lagyala Gompa and the other followed a stream towards Morshing. With stories of local guides misleading units and delivering them to Chinese ambushes fresh in their minds there was some discussion on which route to take. For some reason Avasthy and his Rajputs took the route to Lagyala Gompa.

Last moments of 4th Rajput

Lagyala Gompa, the last monastery is located on a high feature overlooking the Morshing Valley as well as the route Avasthy was taking. There was a plateau just before it made its steep climb to the monastery. It was an ideal killing field. Unfortunately a 500 strong Chinese unit had already moved in behind and one group was waiting in ambush at Lagyala Gompa. As Avasthy and his approached the Gompa they came under heavy fire from the Chinese. Avasthy and his men hit back. They could have probably chosen to fall back and look for another way around but decided to fight the Chinese. Although lacking heavy firepower Avasthy launched a 2 pronged counter attack. The battle was fierce and the Chinese annoyed by the casualties they were taking tried to isolate Avasthy and cut him off. But Avasthy’s men surrounded their gallant leader and fought to the bitter end. Finally it came down to hand to hand combat and after a few hours the Chinese prevailed. The battlefield was a ghastly sight. Over 200 Chinese bodies and 126 Indian bodies littered the area. Every Indian was killed or wounded ie 100 percent casualties. Among them were Avasthy and his fellow officers. A shepherd boy who later became the Head Lama of the monastery is the only witness to this heroic episode. The Chinese dug a mass grave for the Indians and left a flattened ration tin with the names of the officers. After the ceasefire the bodies were retrieved. Avasthy’s body was found with a blood soaked letter to his wife.

A company led by Major KPP Nair lost contact with the Battalion after being told to fall back to the foot hills. After a long trek they reached Sapper camp only to see the Chinese troops milling about. Moving cross country via Sangti they moved towards Tenga valley. Meanwhile their column too swelled with stragglers from various units. Short of Tenga they came across the body of a dead 1 Madras jawan. Cautiously they tried to get a feel of who was in charge of Tenga valleys. While they could see men in olive green move about in the distance they were still unable to confirm that it was Indian troops. An encounter with a Chinese patrol made them back off and take a detour through the jungle eventually reaching Bhalukpang on December 3. This remarkable bunch of men consisting of Rajputs, Sikhs and Dogras still retained their rifles, radios and other stores till the very end. At one point starving they came across a wild pig. One of the soldiers went after it and then came back emptyhanded. When asked what happened he said " Ham usko nahin marenge, woh bachhe wali hai" (I won’t kill it , she is pregnant). The men had not eaten for days living on wild roots and other jungle food.

Meanwhile Kukrety’s column likewise had fallen back after losing contact with Battalion HQ. Reaching Phudung he found the Chinese already there. Trying to avoid Chinese columns they moved towards Jamla. Their party had also swelled with stragglers and was later ambushed by the Chinese. Somehow the group reached Bhutan and eventually reached Bhairabkhund. From there Kukrety was taken to Lt Gen Kaul for debriefing and was treated to tea and sweets by Lt Col Shahbeg Singh. The Corps Commander asked Kukrety if he would go back and see what became of 4th Rajputs HQ party. Kukrety accordingly went and and discovered the ambush site and mass grave and had the unfortunate task of identifying the men.


It is an irony that the war started and ended with Rajput battalions bearing the brunt of Chinese attacks. In Lt Col Bramhanand Avasthy the Regiment and the Indian Army lost one of its finest officers. Considered one of the best COs in the Indian Army he was responsible for many of the drills still followed in the Indian Army. One General remarked that if he had a few more officers like Avasthy the story of 1962 would have been very different. As Lt Gen SK Sinha (Retd) said that if Avasthy had survived he would have certainly risen high in the Indian Army. It is one of the sad ironies of war that men like Avasthy never received any honour because there was no one left to cite them or those who were there are too ashamed to come forward and have their role exposed. There must be many more such heroes whose deeds are known to a few. Other than the Army and their family the rest of the country remains ignorant of their sacrifice. In fact it has been their families who have continued untiring efforts to keep their memory and try and get them the recognition they richly deserve. Lt Col Avasthy left behind a wife and 2 young daughters. His wife Mrs Sushila Avasthy had to pull herself together and bring up 2 daughters all alone. In spite of this she never flagged in her attempt to keep his memory alive. She has written poems, has proof read other books on the war and continues to hope for due recognition for her late husband. The country has not done much for people like her but the least it could do is visit this painful past and right some of its wrongs. This is why it is important to publish the Henderson Brooks report which may contain information on many such unsung heroes.


The author wishes to acknowledge the time and effort Mrs Sushila Avasthy took to answer his emails, locate info on 4th Rajput and locate Lt Col Avasthy’s picture. She truly is a national treasure.

Thanks to D Sandhu for getting him started on this article with information from the references below.


A Soldier Recalls Lt Gen S K Sinha (Retd)

Rivers of Silence Maj Gen Kalyan Verma (retd)

Living up to Heritage – History of Rajput Regiment Lt Col Mustasad Ahmad

When Generals Failed - Brig Darshan Khullar (Retd)

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