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Ladakhi mason who led the construction of airfield in 1961

Last Updated on December 4, 2020 at 4:01 pm

It would not be possible to construct THOISE (Transit Halt Of Indian Soldiers Enroute-to Siachen) airbase without the ingenuity of Ghulam Hassan, a mason and casual labourer from Bogdang village in Nubra Valley, Ladakh. THOISE is the airbase from where the Indian armed forces send soldiers and important supplies to the troops posted in Siachen and other important border outposts in the region.

In 1960, KD Menon, the Assistant Commissioner managing the administration of Nubra Valley, called a meeting to discuss the lack of an airfield which could be used to supply material and goods to soldiers posted at the border with Pakistan and China.

They decided to construct an airbase and for the purpose three locations were shortlisted at first–a plot of land near Disket village and another piece of flat land between Skampuk, a flat land called Chilling near Digger village and Terchay village called Mala-ling.

Ghulam Hassan (aka Mistry Hassan) suggested the Indian armed forces to not build airfield near any village. The airfield was built on a flat land called Mala-ling as it wasn’t close to any village, and today that’s where THOISE stands.

Before construction commenced, the local administration supplied hundreds of pickaxes and shovels to a village through air from where these items were loaded onto mules, horses and yaks and sent to the construction site. But another problem was noticed when the construction began.

The soil on the construction site was tough and slippery because of the presence of high clay content in the soil which had solidified and held rocks below the surface tightly. It was nearly impossible for the workers to dig it. Hassan Mistry found another innovative solution for the problem. He suggested that a canal should be digged to connect the Beyaklong stream [a few miles away from the proposed airfield] to the ground. His theory was that the melting snow will brought water to the stream in April and May, and the canal will bring it to the construction site; the wet soil then will make the work of digging and levelling much easier and it worked.

The next problem was to flatten the surface as there were no roller machines then. Mistry went to nearby villages and to find two big apricot trees. He found and chopped these trees and converted them into rollers by inserting iron rods in them. These rollers were then pulled by about 20 men each through ropes tied to the end of the rods. The first plane landed on the airfield on 1 October, 1961.