“A soldier lives by chance, loves by choice and kills by profession.”
We would hear these words often when during our family get-togethers, both my Dad and Uncle would share their army anecdotes. As children, we would listen with rapt attention as Uncle, who had fought the War in 1962, would narrate his near-death experiences and how he managed to survive through it all. Needless to say, being a fauji’s daughter, I have watched closely the life in the Army and grown up listening to stories of valor and patriotism.
Since the war in 1999, it has been my desire to visit Kargil and Dras. The Kargil War, the armed conflict between India and Pakistan, occurred in Kargil, Kashmir and along the Line of Control (LOC). The LOC serves as the de facto border between the two states and the infiltration of Pakistani soldiers into strategic positions on the Indian side of the LOC, was the main reason behind the war. It was a fine example of high altitude warfare where the mountainous terrain poses significant logistic difficulties. Called “Operation Vijay'” the war continued for nearly three months. On July 26, 1999, the Indian Army recaptured all the Indian posts in Kargil that had been occupied by Pakistan’s army. Since then, July 26 has been observed annually as Vijay Diwas to commemorate the sacrifices made by soldiers in this war.
THE KARGIL WAR MEMORIAL
After entering the gate and filling in the visitor’s register, we walked down Vijaypath, a narrow path that leads to the memorial. Indian flags flutter proudly on both sides of the pathway as you step forward. Glancing eyes soak in the strategic points where the war had ensued – Tololing heights, Point 4875 (Batra Top) and Tiger Hill. In big, bold letters “KARGIL VIJAY DIWAS” is etched on the foothill of Tololing. And standing tall in front of the hill flies a huge flag of India on the memorial. Made in pink ‘Chitter Stone”, the memorial is clean and well kept. The lawns are neatly manicured and decorum is maintained. Behind the memorial lies the Roll of Honour; a huge sandstone wall with the names of the soldiers who were killed and injured in the conflict.
All is calm and quiet. Nothing seems out of place. It’s hard to imagine the peace that we take for granted, the army has fought for it and our soldiers have taken the bullets for it. A voice broke my reverie. We were instructed to stand behind a line where an army soldier narrated the sequence of Kargil war and pointed the peaks where the action took place. We may have watched Bollywood’s version of action, but to fathom what had happened in real, got many teary-eyed. For that brief time, every visitor, irrespective of caste, color or religion remembered that above all, we are all one. We are all Indians.
THINGS TO SEE IN THE WAR MEMORIAL
In the memory of all Bravehearts who made their supreme sacrifice in the line of duty, lie 318 Epitaphs placed in a semi-circular manner. Statues of four soldiers stand on a raised height with two soldiers in a firing stance and two in victory, holding the national flag.
Manoj Pandey Gallery:
“ If death strikes before I prove my blood, I promise, I will kill death”’
– excerpt from the diary of late Captain Manoj Kumar Pandey (25 June 1975- 3 July 1999)
These words of Captain Manoj Kumar Pandey, resonate in my mind. And true to his word, the valiant soldier sacrificed himself. Posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra, this gallery is named after this “Hero of Batalik”. Filled with morsels of information, news clippings, models of aircraft and weapons, guns, letters and diaries of soldiers, clothing the gallery is a must visit to gain knowledge about one of the bloodiest battle fought on Indian soil. Weapons, guns, belongings procured from the enemy camp are showcased here.
Kargil was a saga of gallantry and patriotism and the memorial is a testimony to the supreme sacrifice made by more than 500 Indian soldiers. Photographs of the Army officers, JCOs, and Jawans who were awarded fill the walls. As my eyes moved from one picture to another, I stood transfixed at the photograph of Major Vivek Gupta. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I recognized him as one of my school boys. I recalled him sharing that he was getting fitter because he wanted to get through the National Defence Academy after school. That was long back. Today he is no more. The brave soldier and friend gave his life for our country.
The MIG 21, Bofors Gun, Captured Enemy Shelter of Pakistan Army :
Designated pathways lead you to these and information is well provided for to understand how they played a part in the war. The captured enemy shelter and the flags can be seen at the Memorial as well.
Cafe and Souvenir Shop:
Refreshments and snacks can be purchased at “Cafe Rendevouz”. A souvenir shop adjacent to it sells gifts and takeaways like caps, T-shirts, and mementos. The restrooms in the War Memorial are clean and well maintained.
Saare Jahan Se Achcha Hindustan Hamara – Kargil War Memorial
A PARTING REQUEST
As I was leaving from the memorial, I glanced up at the gate. The words that were written appealed to every visitor in a sublime way. It said: When you go home, tell them of us and say, “For your tomorrow, we gave our today.” Before I end the post, it’s my request to each one of you to talk and share about our Army and soldiers with other family members, friends, and children. In a country that’s getting affected by politics and distorted ideologies, let us remember that there are men that guard the borders with the sole aim of protecting us and ensuring that you and I continue to live and sleep peacefully. It’s my hope that more schools across the country bring students to this memorial so they can understand what it takes to keep a nation together. Let every person know why 26th July is a day to be celebrated and what it stands for? Let us do our little bit.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
How To Reach The highway connecting Srinagar and Leh stops at the Kargil War Memorial in Dras. Approximately 150 km from Srinagar and 270 km from Leh, it is accessible both by bus and taxi. The closest railway station is at Jammu, about 135 km away.
The Best Season The months from May to September are ideal to visit Kargil when the temperature is marginally lower. In winters, the mercury levels could plummet below -45 degree Celsius.
Timings 7 AM to 8 PM.
Entry Fees The entry to the War Memorial is Rs.500/-. Visitors need to show their identity proof and register their details at the entrance gate.
Lovely detailing. Felt as if I was there. A very different experience. The army is truly another world. I enjoyed my visit to the Black Cat museum in Gangtok too- never knew we fought so much that side.
Thanks a lot for such a post. Reading through brings an emotional feeling. Me roaming so many places, now sort of feel guilty that I did not visit such wonderful places. Someday I should.