Faith & Belief Travel & Leisure

Baba Mandir | Shrine dedicated to Captain Harbhajan Singh

Located between Nathula and Jelepla pass at an altitude of 13,123 ft and about 52kms from Gangtok, Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple is popularly known as Baba Mandir. There is a touching story associated with this temple. Harbhajan Singh was a Sentry of Punjab Regiment and was posted here as part of border patrol force. The border with China is nearby. In October 1968 he disappeared. It is said that while escorting mules carrying provisions, he fell into a stream and drowned. After a few days he reappeared in the dreams of one of his sentry colleagues and asked him to make a memorial here on his name. The sentries then made a samadhi and later this temple was built.

Baba Mandir is a distinguished sightseeing place of Sikkim. This “mandir” or shrine is dedicated to “Baba” Harbhajan Singh (30 August 1946 – 4 October 1968), who was a soldier of the Indian Army. He died near the Nathula Pass in eastern Sikkim, India. He is revered as the “Hero of Nathula” by soldiers of the Indian army, who built a shrine in his honour. He was accorded the status of saint by believers who refer to him as the “Baba” (saintly father).

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Many of his faithful – chiefly Indian army personnel posted in and around the Nathula Pass and the Sino-Indian border between the state of Sikkim and Tibet (China) – have come to believe his spirit protects every soldier in the inhospitable high-altitude terrain of the Eastern Himalayas. As with most saints, the Baba is believed to grant favours to those who revere and worship him. He is said to be protecting the country even after death. He was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra medal for his bravery and martyrdom on 26 January 1969.

The gateway to Baba Mandir
The gateway to Baba Mandir

According to legend, Singh drowned in a glacier while leading a column of mules carrying supplies to a remote outpost. His remains were found after a three-day search. His body was subsequently cremated with full military honors. The legend further claims that the late Singh who helped the search party find his body. It is believed that Baba Harbhajan Singh guards the international boundary between India and China, over the last three decades and he is accomplishing this task alone. Even the Chinese army also confirms that they have noticed a human figure, guarding the border at night, riding on a horse. It is also said that Baba Harbhajan Singh foretells any dangerous activity on the border through the dreams of the fellow army men and safeguards the force. Some Indian soldiers believe that in the event of a war between India and China, Baba would warn the Indian soldiers of an impending attack at least three days in advance. During flag meetings between the two nations at Nathu La, the Chinese set a chair aside to honor him.

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We visited the shrine as we planned for a trip to Baba Mandir and Tsomgo lake on Monday, 17 March 2014. Hoards of devotees visit the shrine of Harbhajan Singh every year. The shrine features three room structures. There is a large portrait of Baba in the central room, which has been placed with other Sikh Gurus and Hindu deity. At the right of the central room, there is the personal room of Baba.

The room houses all essential household belongings, needed for daily livelihood, starting from clothes, slippers, shoes to a clean sleeping camp bed. Neatly ironed uniform and polished boots are also kept. The bed sheets are reportedly found crumbled each morning and the boots become muddy by evening. There is another small room, which is used as office cum storeroom. The room is filled with unused slippers, water bottles, toothbrushes and other items that are offered to Baba. The salary of Major Harbhajan Singh has not been stopped and he is also granted his annual leave.

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There is a strong belief that water kept in the shrine of Baba gains healing property and turns into sacred water that can cure all possible ailments. This blessed water is needed to be consumed within 21 day and in this period, no family members of the ailing person is supposed to have non-vegetarian food. It is also believed that the slippers kept in the temple, help to cure gout and other foot problems.

Followers, who cannot reach to Baba’s temple, are allowed to send letters to Baba, which are opened by Baba’s associates.

Every year on 11 September, a jeep departs with his personal belongings to the nearest railway station, New Jalpaiguri, from where it is then sent by train to the village of Kuka, in the Kapurthala district of the Indian state of Punjab. While empty berths on any train of the Indian Railways are invariably allocated to any wait-listed passenger or on a first-come-first-served basis by the coach attendants, a special reservation for the Baba is made. Every year a seat is left empty for the journey to his hometown and 3 soldiers chaperone the Baba to his home. A small sum of money is contributed by soldiers posted in Nathula to be sent to his mother each month.

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There is Yak Golf course here, which is acknowledged as the highest golf course in the world by the Guinness World Records.

Yak Golf Course - The highest Golf Course in the world
Yak Golf Course – The highest Golf Course in the world

It’s located at 13,025 ft!

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Because of heavy fog and difficult road terrain, it’s advised by Indian Army to leave the Baba Temple area by 1:30 p.m. so as to reach Gangtok in safety. So, we returned after a while there, after having some cupcakes and hot coffee.

Hot coffee at Baba Mandir
Hot coffee in near zero temperature at 13,000 ft was tasting very delicious.

While returning, we encountered heavy fogs causing poor visibility. It made the driving quite difficult. It was already quite foggy at Baba Mandir area by the time we started leaving.

Huge fog engulfing Baba Mandir
Huge fog engulfing Baba Mandir

After Baba Mandir and Changu Lake we returned to our hotel in Gangtok worshiping at Hanuman Tok and Ganesh Tok temples on our way.

ganesh tok temple
Ganesh Tok temple
cafeteria at Ganesh Tok
We had hot coffee and some local snacks at the cafeteria at Ganesh Tok. It’s really refreshing!

More photos are on Flickr.

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