We crossed the Zoji La at 11,575 feet; headed towards Leh and crossed Drass & Kargil. We saw the landscapes of Kashmir and Ladakh changing from green to golden sand and then back to green. Kargil and Drass remind us all of the war we fought to save our motherland and were victorious. The Indian hills were captured by Pakistan army at Drass and Kargil, taking a U turn on a peaceful agreement, and were further in plans to extend their arms to the whole of Ladakh. Our soldiers of Indian army and air force fought continuously for 60 days and many of them sacrificed their lives to sway the Indian flag back there. So, crossing the valley without paying a tribute to these national heroes at Kargil War Memorial, Drass will be a real injustice.
It was around 1:00 pm; a warm day than usual, we were talking, and driving towards Kargil from Drass city thinking to spot the Tiger Hill, Tololing, and the Kargil War Memorial on the way. Just 5 Km ahead from the city, pink walls surrounding the building appeared and it was the Kargil War Memorial.
We stepped out of the car and entered our details in the register. A tall, well build, dark complexioned, sun kissed, perfectly suited Indian army soldier grinned and welcomed us at the Kargil War memorial gate. We walked with him through the pathway (Vijaypath) laden with tri colors to another tall fluttering Indian flag with the Tololing hill as a backdrop.
The loud echoing voice in pride started explaining to us that O P here is Operation Vijay and its rear wall has the names of Martyrs inscribed in gold. While listening to the whole blood shed story of operation Vijay we realized that our smiles were already taken over by solemn. We were already sunken and eyes were struck, thinking how our brave Indian soldiers might have climbed this rugged scalloped Totoling Mountain, and the majestic Tiger Peak with artillery on their back during Kargil War.
In the meanwhile, he broke our silence at Kargil War Memorial and directed us towards the Amar Jawan Jyoti, the eternal lit flame as an homage to the soldiers who lost their lives in the Kargil war. There were some interesting lines in Hindi written on the plinth which he continued explaining. In simple words it meant – A flower says that it doesn’t want to be a part of women’s jewelry or wants to impress anyone, rather throw it on the path where young men have laid their lives for this country (India).
Veer Bhumi houses the memorial stones of martyrs with their names and rankings. From here we moved to the Manoj Pandey gallery at Kargil War Memorial; also known as the Hall of Remembrance which houses the pictures of martyrs and the used artillery during Kargil War. At the entrance, it had a Shradanjali Kalash gifted by an NGO in the memory of soldiers who lost their lives during operation Vijay.
On the other side, he showed us the Vijayant Helipad, named after the captain Vijayant Thapar who lost his life during the Kargil war.
And the captured sentry post and the living bunker of Pakistan during Kargil War.The bunker looked quite small from outside but it was quite spacious inside and 3 persons can easily stay in it.
That was all about the Kargil War Memorial. We thanked him and other soldiers for saving us always and took a leave without talking a word to each other to continue our Leh Ladakh road trip. Physically we ended the tour here but so much was going inside our heart and brain especially after seeing this heavy message at the exit
“When you go home, tell them of us; and say for your tomorrow, we gave our today”
It was quite an amazing hour where we could actually see the life of Indian soldier but we wanted to understand and talk to another soldier to know more. So, we thought to visit another war memorial, helipad and heritage hut at Kargil, on the way to our Leh Ladakh road trip.
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The Heritage Hut at Kargil – Kargil War Memorial
After showing ID cards and making an entry in register he started walking with us. Suddenly, he pointed towards the tall peaks in front, asking us to make out which one is India and Pakistan. We looked at each other, then at him and started questioning, what – are we that close, is someone really watching us from there, have you ever been up there, and so much more like these.
Ques: Can we really see Pakistan from here?
Ans: Yes! That is the peak captured by us and the left one you see there is PoK (Pakistan).
Ques: Is someone always guiding those peaks?
Ans: Yes! Be it winters or summers, someone is always there. If they took the charge of the peak which is at Kargil backdrop, they can target the whole area easily.
Ques: How long have you been here and how is life here?
Ans: It is just 2 years. Life is really tough but I always wanted to be in the army and the dream has come true. We are living for our nation. India is my mother and I will fight for it. (There was a deep passion and pride when he was speaking these words and my gaze was fixed on his expressions).
Ques: Have you ever been on that peak?
Ans: Yes! I was there in the winters for 6 months. I just came back at the base this week as I have to go for a holiday to my village.
Ques: In winters, the whole peak might be covered with snow, so how you manage to survive?
Ans: There is 10- 12 feet of snow. We stay in bunkers and at times our bunker doors get completely hidden under snow. The soldier on duty outside makes sure that it doesn’t get sunken under snow. (He actually showed us his and bunkers video at the top in winters)
Ques: Are Bunkers comfortable and how do you manage your food?
Ans: Bunkers from inside are really cozy and we have enough stocks for the next six months.
Ques: From where do you get access to water in winters?
Ans: We collect and melt the snow to drink it and it really takes hours to get melted.
Ques: Is there any provision for electricity there?
Ans: No, we cook and do our other activities during day time only. We have solar panels for emergency light and recharging our phones. In winters there is no sunlight for days, so we are totally cut off from everyone.
Ques: What do you do while being there at the peak?
Ans: We have six hours of shift duty and we continuously monitor the activities and movement of the enemy.
Ques: How far is Pakistan’s bunker from India’s?
Ans: It is hardly any distance. We talk to each other shouting and quoting “Bhai” (brother) and sometimes even ask what did you had for lunch.
Ques: Are you afraid that anything can happen at any time and you can lose your life?
Ans: Not only we; but our families are also prepared. We are living for our country. If anything happens we will not die but will get SHAHEED (martyr).
Ques: Do you miss your family?
Ans: Yes! A lot but we don’t mention anything to them. Otherwise, they will cry and will be in pain.
Ques: Do you celebrate festivals?
Ans: When we are at peak, we don’t have any idea about the days, months and dates. But if we have a phone connection, then we get to know.
Ques: Is there any risk at the Kargil base?
Ans: Yes! This is a complete war zone, anything can happen anytime. We have to be always prepared.
Ques: How do you carry your luggage and weapons to the peak?
Ans: We carry them with ourselves while trekking and our guns are really heavy. It almost takes us a day to reach this peak. (He was pointing towards the peak at his back as that was his daily routine to trek the peak)
Ques: Will you be going back to the peak top again after coming back from holiday?
Ans: Yes I will! but our chiefs only take the final decision.
The questioning didn’t end here but he took us to the heritage hut to show the pictures of real heroes who sacrificed their lives for the nation and the artillery used during that time. The heritage hut too had pictures of tribes and samples of the traditional stuff of Ladakh. From here, we moved to pay homage at the memorial and see helipad.
The heritage hut too had pictures of tribes and samples of the traditional stuff of Ladakh. From here, we moved to pay homage at the memorial and see helipad.
That was all we learned about the Indian army soldiers and operation from the two brave gentlemen but since that day our heart and brain are on the run. We can feel the big heart those mothers and wives have those who send their children and husbands on the border.
In the end, it was just a memorable day. We can just say heartfelt thanks; to our brave Indian soldiers, who fight all the odds and hardships to secure us day in and out and even gave up their lives to save us and our country. And it is just because of them today we got the chance to do Leh Ladakh road trip, peacefully.
Note: Every year on 26th July, Kargil Vijay Diwas or Kargil Diwas is celebrated as on this day conflict officially came to an end and Indian army announced complete eviction of Pakistani intruders.
A big salute to our Indian Army!!
You can also check the complete itinerary for Leh Ladakh road trip and other series of the valley.