Border soldiers reveal their higher calling

Updated: 2015-09-04 07:10

By Li Yang(China Daily USA)

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 Border soldiers reveal their higher calling

Soldiers from the border post in Tranglung, Gamba county, in the Tibet autonomous region, inspect the terrain during a patrol. These young men, who live 4,500 meters above sea level and battle the harsh climate and poor standard of living, have forged strong bonds of mutual trust and interdependence. Provided to China Daily

 Border soldiers reveal their higher calling

Soldiers from the Tranglung border post on patrol on a glacier. In the 54 years since the establishment of the border guard, 31 soldiers have died at the mountain stations. Provided to China Daily

Life is tough for the men who guard China's mountainous border with India, high on the hinterland of Tibet. Despite the constant dangers posed by the harsh high-altitude conditions, the soldiers' strong sense of camaraderie and the friendship of the local people have led many to regard the barren, windswept landscape as a second home. Li Yang reports from Gamba county in the Tibet autonomous region.

Their lives are even harder than the yaks'," said Chokyi, during her weekly visit to a border post halfway up a mountain 2 kilometers from her home in Tranglung, Gamba county.

A border defense company of the People's Liberation Army has been stationed at the post in the Tibet autonomous region - about 20 kilometers from China's border with India - since 1961.

Chokyi, who like many people from the Tibetan ethnic group has only one name, often brings the soldiers homemade Tibetan butter tea and highland barley flour. "It feels as though I'm calling on my own sons," she said.

The 60-something herdswoman has known almost every soldier in the company since the first day the "young men" came to the barren mountain - Tranglung means "windy place" in Tibetan - where wild winds batter the hillsides more than 200 days a year, carrying sand and small stones that sting the eyes.

Chokyi's life was saved by a medical officer in 1961. After that her mother, Lhakyi, visited the guard post to deliver gifts of homemade food and drinks. When she was asked why she visited the troops regularly for 53 years, right up until the last day of her life, Lhakyi, who died in 2013 at age 83, always said: "It was Chairman Mao who sent the young man to save my daughter. These young men are far from their mothers and they protect our lives with their own."

Chokyi said that when she dies, her daughter will continue the tradition and deliver gifts to the soldiers.

Help in adversity

Some of the village children treated by the company's medical officers share the same name - Sangye Tsering, meaning "Revolutionary longevity" - in appreciation of the army's help.

Apart from providing regular physical checkups and medical services, the army helps the villagers to harvest barley in autumn, search for lost yaks in the winter snow and rain and provides assistance during earth tremors and heavy snowfalls.

The troops teach the children to read, write and do basic arithmetic, and also they demonstrate how to plant vegetables that were unknown to the semi-nomadic herders before 2007, when a soldier first succeeded in growing peppers and eggplants.

The first vegetables were grown in a flowerpot, but later the troops constructed half-submerged greenhouses near their barracks where they cultivate more than 20 types of vegetables, as well as strawberries, cherry tomatoes, watermelons and honeydew melons.

"Vegetables and fruits greatly diversify the sources of nutrition for the Tibetan people, who only ate yak meat and barley before," said Chimed, an official at the county government.

Konchok Lhawang, a Tibetan soldier in his early 20s who has signed on for five years, said: "

Chokyi and Lhakyi's visits really relieved our homesickness. The villagers' hospitality makes us feel as though Trang-lung is our second home."

The strong bond of brotherhood among the young men - most of whom are only children, born in the 1980s and 90s, and from outside Tibet - is a type of magic that makes the guard post more like home.

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