Chapter 5 Khampa Mountain Range Unfrozen Spring
That spring, China was thrown into a large war. The Soviet Union had set up three armies on the northern border, which totaled over a million troops. Conflicts began to arise between China and its neighbor India. Once the national troops on the island saw the situation, they took the opportunity and began preparing a counterattack. At the same time, America’s Seventh Fleet went into battle mode, and prepared for fighting at any moment.
The higher ups in China’s government were feeling the pressure. They’ve been continuously advancing their battle plans, moving troops and preparing against natural disasters. They’ve dug trenches and amassed provisions. Even the masses have been excitedly practicing the three defenses for nuclear, air, and land strikes.
When I returned to the city to visit my relatives, I received some inside information. My parents questioning would very soon be cleared up, proving that my grandfather didn’t count as a landlord. He was born a farmer and so sooner or later, he was to be released. Since the People’s Liberation Army was heavily recruiting troops, one of my father’s old comrades let me enlist in the “backdoor army”.
My father’s comrade, Uncle Cheng, was the chief of staff in one of the military sub districts. In the past, when the Ninth Army joined the fight, snow blanketed the lands. Tens of thousands of volunteer troops had surrounded the Americans most elite troop of Marines, Division One. The American Air forces were barraging the troops with bullets and napalm, and dyed the night sky red. Against all dangers, the volunteer army charged through the bullet screen like a flood, and launched charges in waves one after another…
In the middle of that bitter battle, my father went out into the forty below zero weather and dug Uncle Cheng out from the pile of dead corpses and carried him home. By the time they had reached the medical camp, the blood between them had frozen together. The nurses had to use a knife to cut them apart. Their friendship isn’t something that can solely be described by “An Acquaintance of Life and Death”. Besides, now that the question of my parents history has been cleared up, something like arranging an old comrade’s son in the army wasn’t a difficult task. In some ways, the Chinese habit of taking the back door had come from the army.
Uncle Cheng asked me what kind of a soldier I wanted to be. I told him I wanted to be in the air force. I had heard that the food they served to the air force was very good. Uncle Cheng laughed and knocked my head, “Fighter jets aren’t that easy to fly. You go and join the field army, toughen up your meat. When you get promoted, I’ll have you transferred to the Military Strategy Unit.” I decided against it. After all, I still wanted to remain in the grass roots troops. I wasn’t quite used to sitting around in an office all day.
I originally wanted to return to the Gang Camp to bid farewell to Fatty and Sparrow, but time did not allow for that. All I could do was write a letter to them. I felt a little apologetic to them. I was going out to join the army while my friends were sent to live in the rural areas. No matter how you put it, there was a sense that I wasn’t going through the same struggles as they were. This feeling quickly went away after three months. It was only then that I realized just how comfortable living in the mountains as an Educated Youth was.
I was placed into a squad that was about to be transformed into a tank unit. Never would I have thought that after just being placed in the training camp for three months, Central sent out the commands for this unit to be moved to the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau Kunlun Mountain 26th platoon. Our entire unit was transformed into an engineering unit.
The way this came about wasn’t actually that strange. At the time, all troops in China were tasked with digging trenches and building defenses. The barracks defended against all types of attacks, air strikes, bullets, bombs, etc. There practically wasn’t a unit that wasn’t digging holes. The only difference was that my unit had to dig holes after hours. We were specially tasked to dig holes, and our mission was a national secret. We had to construct a large underground military facility under Kunlun Mountain. Even though they hadn’t explicitly told the soldiers what the facility was for, anyone with half a brain could figure it out. There was a code of secrecy within the unit stating that nobody was allowed to discuss the topic. There were rumors that once we finished this mission, we’d be transferred to the center of the field army.
The mountain pass to Kunlun Mountain was 4767 meters above sea level. In terms of geology, it was a barren land plagued with permafrost. It was created by strong corrosive factors that resulted from the changing topography of the land. We were to study under a teacher. Besides digging trenches, we had no idea what to do with the wood and land constructions. That’s why central dispatched engineers to guide the work. They put the soldiers through a rigorous five month training course. The unit I was in was chosen to be a small scouting team. We had to pass through the Unfrozen Spring and enter the deepest part of Kunlun Mountain. Our job was to find a suitable location for the hidden military grounds.
The Unfrozen Spring was situated on the northern banks of Kunlun River. It was also known as Kunlun Springs. The springs were locked in by granite walls. Its clear water had continuously bubbled for tens of thousands of years. Even in the coldest winters, it did not freeze. Nobody knew where the underground tunnels of the springs lead to. The superiors gave commands saying that we were forbidden from bathing in the springs because the Tibetans see the unfrozen springs to be holy. Every now and then, they would pray to the springs. In the past, when Tibet was liberated, the Tibetan forces passed by this place. At that time, there weren’t any rules prohibiting bathing in the springs. And so, three soldiers jumped in. They all died of drowning. Rumor has it that the cause of death was the high density of sulfur in the springs. Their graves were all located at an army station not far from here. The last post that our unit passed by was that station.
We had finally entered Kunlun Mountain. Almost everyone was starting to develop symptoms from the high altitude. Everyone’s face was turning purple and their eyes, more muddled. Some people were even starting to see hallucinations. The imposing stone walls of Kunlun looked like enormous silver dragons. Our dozen man team was like tiny ants among the stern mountains.
During the march, I thought of that book that my grandfather had passed down the generations. The book once said that the peaks of Kunlun were the remains of the ancestors of dragons. Who knows how many secrets have been buried among these ranges over history. Among the legends passed down among the Tibetan tribes, one states that the grave of the Heroic King Gesar is hidden among these mountains.