We must travel to Ladakh in search of this fascinating account. If you are an ardent adventurer, chances are you have made the most fascinating trip along the National Highway 1D through the perilous Ladakhi terrains.

The Srinagar-Leh highway serves as a vital route for the Indian military, local buses and lorries, tourists and adventurers, that crosses multiple high-altitude passes in the region.

The HIMANK project was started in 1985 by the Ladakh Border Roads Organization. The project is in charge of building and maintaining motorways in the region, including some of the world’s highest. 

The rugged terrain, coupled with irresponsible and daring driving, has earned the roads the notorious reputation of being among the world’s most perilous. Guess what, humour and a certain wrestler came to a rescue. 

HIMANK placed several unique and amusing road signs along the highway to reduce traffic accidents such as – “After Whiskey, Driving Risky”; “Be Gentle on My Curves” and so on. 

One of those seems tab bit cryptic. “Don’t Be a Gama in the Land of Lama.” The fascinating origin of this rhyming couplet traces its root back to the man of the thread, the Great Gama Pehlwan. 

For the uninitiated, Gama Pehelwan aka Ghulam Mohammad Baksh Butt was India’s greatest wrestler, the undefeated world champion in the early 20th century, who did not lose a single bout in 50 years.

So why does the name of Gama Pehelwan appear on roadside signs in Ladakh to combat accidents? For starters, this is inspired by a local saying which has been part of the Indian Army’s adage for decades. 

There are possibly multiple explanations why his name was used in this puzzling rhyme. The most logical one was to humanize the indisputable power of the great wrestler and leave a stark reminder to the lesser mortals. 

The reality was, even though Gama Pehlwan was the symbol of power and strength in his days and had several folklores written after him, yet he died in poverty as a weak person after a prolonged illness. 

Not to forget, the family of Gama Pehelwan also had Kashmiri origin and since a significant portion of the military and truck drivers on the highway are from Punjab, the usage of his name is not so surprising. 

The adage silently communicates the fact that you may be the world’s greatest symbol of masculinity and strength but in this part of the world, no one is stronger than Mother Nature. If one has to live, one has to follow the rules of the mountains.  

In the Indian Army routine, it is mandatory to follow the diktat “Don’t be a Gama, in the land of Lama” which means the officials must acclimatise themselves properly before engaging in action if one is posted in Ladakh or Himalayas in general. 

Gama Pehlwan is no more and his memories are quickly fading into oblivion but he will be forever remembered in the mountains as means of a priceless life lesson. He was destined to be part of folklore. 

Source: www.lehladakhindia.com, www.awanderingphoto.com, wikibio.in. 18th Seminar of  International Seminar of Ladakh Studies, Bettina Zeisler, Rainer Kimmig/academia.edu.