Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chogyal’s Ham Radio SOS through Gecko

I first heard about Horst Geerken from a gentleman Ulrich Bihlmayer from Tuebingen, Germany when I was researching on my first article on HAM radio of Sikkim couple of years back. I believe the story of Ham Radio is little heard in this part of our land. As far as to my information on the Ham Radio users in Sikkim there were only two foremost users. Prior to becoming a part of mighty Indian Union, Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal, the last King of Sikkim used to have a license of Ham Radio under a call sign AC3PT. The call sign normally consists of five letters. Here in AC3PT, i.e. “AC3” stands for Sikkim and “PT” specify the person; in this case it was Palden Thondup. Chogyal’s Radio equipments were later on held by the Indian Representatives at Sikkim after 1975 agitation. Few years later after Sikkim became part of India, Rajesh Verma operated a Ham station from Gangtok under a call sign VU2RVM; interestingly here “VUR” denotes India.

During my interactions with Horst Geerken during those days I was informed about a compilation of a book about his life in Indonesia along with his Ham records. He also did mention that few pages in his book shall have his proud and emotional experiences talking with AC3PT, the Chogyal of Sikkim to the Ham world. Few month back I received a mail from Geerken informing about the release of his book that had been titled “A Gecko for Luck; 18 years in Indonesia”. I am thankful to Geerken that he did not find it difficult in sending me a copy of his book.

To the readers of this article the distress radio call send by the Chogyal of Sikkim to Horst Geerken shows a true picture of that scenario where the Chogyal tried his best to gather last minute help to save his Kingdom. Geerken in his book dedicates few pages of his experience of that historic radio ham chat with the King on that fateful day. The year was 1975, the 9th of April and it was past 6 in the evening Geerken, a German Engineer for Telecommunications for many years stationed in Jakarta, Indonesia, worked as a Director for the German firm "Telefunken" in Jakarta headquarters while trying to connect to his friend at Lake Constance receives an international distress call. The person opposite on the radio call speaks loud and clear “Mayday! Mayday! Alpha Charlie Three Papa Tango calling Yankee Bravo Zero Alpha Alpha Golf.” – That’s me! - AC3PT from Sikkim!”
For any Radio Ham operator the first letter AC3 makes a clear identity that the caller was a King of Sikkim. Geerken tries his best to find the genuinely of the caller and tries to ask his date of birth and the name of the caller to confirm it. The caller sends his message “... AC3PT, I am the Chogyal of Sikkim, my name is Palden Thondup Namgyal. Please tell the world that my country is being attacked and taken over by Indian troops. There is fighting in my Palace. Some members of my Palace guard have already been killed. All telephone and communication lines have been cut off by the Indians. I have only got my amateur radio equipment to call attention to this. Indian wishes to keep this annexation secret as long as possible and to invent a cover-up story. Please help me by telling the world”.

Suddenly there is some noise on the other side of the caller and the radio call gets silence, writes Geerken recalling his short talk with the Chogyal of Sikkim at his short wave frequency Radio Ham.

A Swedish journalist friend of Horst Geerken was also hearing the conversation between the Chogyal and Geerken; he immediately checked that scenario of Sikkim through his news agencies and in few minutes confirmed that the emergency call from Sikkim was genuine. Press agencies at Sweden, Indonesia and Singapore along with German were informed. Based on the talk of Geerken the annexation of Sikkim found detailed report coverage on the newspapers of Sweden, Germany, Strait Times in Singapore and the Jakarta Times the next day.
Geerken writes the news of annexation of Sikkim spread like wild fire. India after international pressure that had foreign journalists and visitors visiting Sikkim admitted the news after few days. Foreign Journalists were later on prohibited to enter Sikkim. It is more of an interesting irony that even to this day a foreign visitors needs a special permit to visit Sikkim.

Two years later Geerken receives a letter from Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal and thanked him for helping him in his moment of distress call. The King was without his kingdom and he did mention in his letter that he was under house arrest and supposedly not allowed to write to Geerken about his situation. The radio equipment licensed to the King was also taken away. Lastly the King invites Geerken to his Palace at Sikkim if an Indian authority at Sikkim provides the permission.

Thrice Geerken’s permission to enter Sikkim was canceled without any proper explanation. Finally after twenty years of the passing of the last Chogyal of Sikkim in 2002, Geerken gets the permission to visit Sikkim. He did visit places in and around Gangtok but it was that roof of Chogyal’s Palace that once had a radio aerial that connected him during his stay at Indonesia was never to be seen again.