This is his story:
The late Harbhajan Singh enrolled in the Punjab Regiment in 1966, joining the army at an early age. He became a Sepoy (a rank in the Indian Army) and found himself posted on the misty heights of the China - Indian border, near Nathula Pass.
Two years later, 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 army searched for his body, but it wasn’t found until he began appearing in the dreams of other Sepoys in his unit. In the dream, he informed his colleagues that he was no longer alive and told them where to find his body. He also told them that he would continue to be a soldier always and not tolerate in lax patrolling of this sensitive border.
When a search party was dispatched to the spot that had been described in the dreams, Sepoy Harbhajan Singh’s body was found. He was cremated with full military honors, and a memorial shrine was made at Chhokya Cho dedicated to his memory. This shrine is a three-room complex where there is a bed laid out for him and his uniform and boots displayed for the visitors. The caretakers swear that each morning the bed sheets are crushed as if someone has slept in the bed the previous night and the carefully polished boots are soiled and covered with mud.
There are also many army reports of a lone man patrolling the area. Soldiers deployed in the area often talk of a lone uniformed man on horseback patrolling the region. Forces on the other side of the border have also confirmed these reports and claim that they too have seen the ghost rider.
Over the years, soldiers here have claimed seeing Harbhajan Singh in their dreams where he instructed them of unprotected areas from where the Chinese could attack. His instructions generally proved accurate and the legend of Baba Harbhajan Singh grew.
There are also stories of battle-weary soldiers who have nodded off during their patrols being woken up with stinging slaps. Obviously, this ghost does not tolerate laxity in duty.
The Indian army continued to promote this Sepoy as if he were still alive. A paycheck would be sent home to Punjab every month and he was given annual leave on September 14 every year, when soldiers would pack his trunk with basic essentials. Two soldiers would accompany the trunk of ‘Capt Harbhajan’ all the way to Punjab by train, and it would be brought back after a month the same way. This tradition continued for years until he was retired a few years back.
When I visited the shrine of Harbhajan Baba on my way to see the Nathula border, I witnessed this incredible scene of a dead man’s belongings being packed in a trunk, and being seen off by his fellow officers for a month’s leave.
At 14000ft, located amidst towering mountains, broken by gushing waterfalls and colorful heather and gorse bushes, this shrine attracts devout believers from all over India. Following the twisting narrow roads at a steep incline, vehicles snake their way to this shrine and all people passing through this area, civilians and soldiers alike, generally stop at the shrine to pay obeisance to the revered Baba. Not doing so is supposed to bring bad luck.
Perhaps the Chinese are just as superstitious as we are because at the monthly flag meetings between the two nations at Nathula, even today the Chinese set a chair aside for the ghost of Harbhajan Baba.
As the Indian flag flutters in the icy winds, it grows misty. Cold fingers of fog creep up to wipe out the sun and it is not difficult to imagine a lonely figure guarding his country’s borders with a zeal that has lasted beyond death.
Believe me, this shrine with its resident ghost sent shivers down my spine when I heard the story of this patriotic ghost soldier while sipping hot tea the caretakers offer to all who come to visit this shrine in the remote border area.