Saturday, October 18, 2008

The AC3PT: A story of the deleted country


To the amateur radio stations in the world he was just “AC3PT”, a name that is today counted as a deleted or a dead country in the pages of Ham Radio. A "Ham" is an Amateur who receives and transmits on short waves, a fascinating hobby followed since late 18th century. An amateur radio enthusiast AC3PT was very well known among the amateur radio communicators across the world. Being in the map of HAM Radio since 1963, AC3PT suddenly came to an abrupt end in April 9, 1975. “…now Indian troops storming my room…” was the last message that radio amateurs across the world last heard of AC3PT. The distress caller was none other than Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal, the last Chogyal of Sikkim State sending his last minute SOS across the world.

When I first read about the AC3PT and the ham radio sometimes back in one of the chapters of a much sough-after merger book on Sikkim “Smash and Grab: Annexation of Sikkim” by Sunanda K Datta-Ray I could hardly materialize what in the world is this ‘ham radio’? A very little is known about amateur radio in Sikkim, so when I first surf around the web pages the very first person I came across was Ulrich Bihlmayer, a wonderful gentle man in his late sixties from Tuebingen, Germany. I am very pleased to say that it was “ Uli“ (as he wanted me to call him) who made me understand the distinct world of Hams. A known name among Ham radio users Uli has his call sign DJ9KR.

To the readers in Sikkim, it is of importance that Uli was one of the few fortunate radio amatuers to had exchange words with the late Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal. In his own words Uli describes- “ He had two radio contacts with AC3PT, in June 1972 and in August 1974, each time on 20 meters SSB. He remembers well that the Chogyal spoke English which was difficult to understand. He had an accent like Chinese people have.” Along with him is a QSL card (a confirmation card radio hams use to confirm a two way radio contact) send by the Chogyal along with a personal letter attached dealing with the events of India’s hold up on his palace, much later after Sikkim State got included into India. I am thankful for Uli when he emailed me scan of the QSL card and the personal letter send by late Chogyal.

In Uli’s word, Amateur Radio is some 100 years old, and the first radio transmitters at that time were working on long waves. They needed very strong transmitters to catch a faraway place. These transmitters were used by Government and by Army/Navy/Air force and by broadcast. People then (100 years ago) thought that the Short Wave spectrum was worth nothing and not to use, they gave this spectrum to the radio amateurs. These amateurs soon found out that on Short Wave one could span large distances with very low power. So, like this, Amateur Radio on Short Waves was "Invented".

All amateurs must pass examination in order to get the license of a radio operator. In India, Ministry of Communication organizes the examination. Amateur radio stations have a range that depends upon the power radiated, frequency used and the modes of operations. Every licensed hams receives a call sign which is their personal form of identification on the authorized radio bands of frequencies allotted for amateur operations by International agreement. The call sign normally consists of five letters. For example AC3PT, i.e. “AC3” stands for Sikkim and “PT” specifies the person; in this case it was Palden Thondup.

The emails and the voice chats through Skype i exchanged with Uli was more than a wonderful experience. The topic i discussed with Uli is less heard in this part of the region even when it is known that it was through this wonderful wireless instrument the entire world came to know about the political unrest of the Sikkim State then. Ever since AC3PT suddenly dissappeared, the name of Sikkim too went off the records of the Ham Radio. Today Sikkim is part of mighty Indian Union but to the world of Hams, AC3PT is a highly recognised name but a deleted country.

I was introduced to Horst Geerken, a German radio amateur who was one of the few to receive the emergency call of the Chogyal on April 9, 1975 equally with his (deceased) friend Hans Mauder, DL6FF, who were then residing in Jakarta. The distress call of the Chogyal was received in various countries at the same time. Geerken along with another Swedish ham listener immediately passed the news to a newspaper agency. So, the next day the "hold up" was in all newspapers of the world. Certainly the Indian troops had forgotten that the Chogyal owned amateur radio equipment. Later the Indian troops confiscated the equipment because the Chogyal did not have an official transmitting license, said Uli recalling those days.

Horst Geerken YB0AAG / DJ2JB, a German Engineer for Telecommunications for many years was in Jakarta, Indonesia, worked as a Director for the German firm "Telefunken" in Jakarta headquarters. Since some years Horst had returned to Germany owning the new call DJ4SM lives in Bonn, in Rhineland, Germany.

Horst calls back the situation in his memory -“I was sitting at my radio station in Jakarta and suddenly heard the distress call of AC3PT. Our QSO with AC3PT took some 8 to 10 minutes and ended abruptly with his shrieky voice “now Indian troops storming my room…”. Our QSO was heard by two Swedish hams, Thomas Schell, SM6AFH, and Stig Pärsson, SM4JPN. They called me on the radio after my radio contact with the Chogyal. We checked name and address of AC3PT, and Thomas informed a Swedish journalist of the hold up. Then I had a QSO with OM Horning, who lives near Hannover, northern Germany. He recorded my report on tape and sent it to Norddeutscher Rundfunk (North-German Broadcasting) and to different news agencies. So the news about the hold up in Sikkim was spread very quickly over the whole world.”

Introduction of Amateur Radio to the furthest regions of Sikkim towards the early 60s was never an easy going. It was a handy hard work of late Gus Browning, W4BPD, amateur radio maniac. To Gus goes the credit of introducing Sikkim to world of Amateur Radio. Gus was interested in activating countries that had never been heard before, in this task he had just arrived from Bhutan when he met the Chogyal in Sikkim and in no time Gus was able to convince the King of Sikkim State. As a result in September 1963 a call sign with AC3PT was made ‘activate’. Since Sikkim then did not had any licence so the Prefix “AC3” that was allocated to USA was used for Palden Thondup. “The Chogyal was so fascinated of the ham radio, that, after Gus had left the kingdom, he ordered a complete Collins-S-Line (Tx 32S-3, Rx 75S-1, LA 30S-1), going on to use the call sign AC3PT.