Saluting the Heroes at Kargil War Memorial at Drass

posted in: Asia, Culture, Heritage, India, Jammu & Kashmir | 38

I have been saving this post since my visit to Kargil last year during the Ladakh trip. For one, this has been a highly emotional visit – not just for me but the entire troop. The Kargil War Memorial in Drass gets your emotions into a swirl and leaves you with a huge lump in your throat – one that does not dissolve for a long time. Even today, as I write this post, I can feel that stuck and I know that everytime I read this post on my visit to the Kargil War Memorial – it will be back.

Kargil War Memorial with the Epitaphs
Kargil War Memorial with the Epitaphs

While our nation enjoys the independence that our forefathers fought for, there are heroes who are forever vigilant to guard it against any harm. The Kargil War Memorial is a place that is a reminder of these sacrifices. It is that place that has made these soldiers immortal. A visit to the Kargil War Memorial is a must for only when you have done so, you will truly appreciate the efforts that went behind that Kargil War of 1999

The History of Kargil War of 1999

War Plane used during the Kargil War
War Plane used during the Kargil War

The Kargil war started in May 1999 when Pakistan violated the LOC in India at Kargil and bombed the NH1. India then, went on an offensive to launch a three-pronged attack on these troops to recapture the territory. The entire attack was termed as Operation Vijay which helped secure Tiger Hill and the surrounding areas. The operation ended on 26th July 1999 when all the Pakistani troops were taken out. Since then, this day is celebrated as a “Kargil Vijay Diwas” (Kargil Day of Victory).

Introducing Kargil War Memorial in Drass

A Sculpture showcasing the victory of Operation Vijay at Kargil War Memorial
A Sculpture showcasing the victory of Operation Vijay at Kargil War Memorial against the mountains where the battle was fought

At the backdrop for the three key battle points – Tololing Heights, Tiger Hill and Batra Top, lies a small memorial set up by the Indian Army to honor the ones who had laid down lives for their country. The Kargil War Memorial is at the 2nd coldest inhabited place in the World – Drass on the highway – NH1D that connects Srinagar to Leh. This location in some ways is the point of battle and when I arrived here, I felt more than the chill of the place. I felt those emotions – the angst, the sadness, the focus, the worry, the smiles that turned cold when bodies fell down.

The Vijay Path at Kargil War Memorial

Vijay Path at Kargil War Memorial
Vijay Path at Kargil War Memorial

As I entered the gate, a large pathway lined with the Indian flags led to a final point where there seemed to be a huge memorial. The pathway as I was told is called Vijay Path (Victory road). It’s funny how when I walked that path towards the memorial, I was filled with Pride. There was a spring in my step the first time but when I returned, the same step felt heavy for my heart was in turmoil with pain for those lives lost.

Amar Jawan Jyoti at Kargil War Memorial

Amar Jawan Jyoti at Kargil War Memorial
Amar Jawan Jyoti at Kargil War Memorial

The Vijay Path leads to a pavilion called the Amar Jawan Jyoti. The pedestal has an eternal flame lit in the honor of the Indian Soldiers who died during the Kargil War. A shining wall with the names of all the heroes stands behind the pedestal and this is what is termed as the “Wall of Heroes”. A live briefing is usually done here by some of the army personnel there and when I walked up here, one was in progress. Since it was already halfway done, I decided to come back for mine later.

Veer Bhumi at Kargil War Memorial

Epitaphs at Kargil War Memorial
Epitaphs at Kargil War Memorial

Gazing up at the mountains marked with the names of the points where the battle took place, I turned left on the Vijay Path to come across rows of tombstones or epitaphs of the war heroes of Kargil. This is where my mood completely changed from Pride to Pain. As I walked those rows, reading those names, the reality of the War came crashing down on me. Those people were real, they were selfless and they were brave. So far from their families to never return to them – all for the cause of protecting the independence that we all take for granted.

Veer Bhumi at Kargil War Memorial
Veer Bhumi at Kargil War Memorial

I lost my will to take photographs after this. I only wanted to absorb the tale being told at the Amar Jawan Jyoti. As they explained how the attack took place, the inhuman conditions that they had to fight in for those vantage points were completely inaccessible and the bravery shown in the face of dance, I realized I could no longer look up. For I feared that the gulp I took, would possibly open my tear ducts and I really, did not want to cry.

The Manoj Pandey Gallery

Hut of Remembrance or the Manoj Pandey Gallery at Kargil War Memorial
Hut of Remembrance or the Manoj Pandey Gallery at Kargil War Memorial

A few of my blogger friends shed tears openly as the tale continued. I continued to look down as I approached the Hut of remembrance or the Manoj Pandey Gallery. At the entrance was the revered remains of the dead in something called “Shraddha Suman Kalash“. And gracing the wall behind was a poem from the famous Harivansh Rai Bachchan.

Shraddha Suman Kalash with Harivansh Rai Bachchan's poem in the background
Shraddha Suman Kalash with Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s poem in the background

Post Humous awards, pictures of smiling cadets, uniforms and weapons were all kept here for one to understand the conditions of Kargil war. Looking at them, I could only picture a video that I had seen earlier that year of a daughter saluting her dad who died in the war. To think the families who lost their loved ones – the mothers, daughters, wives, fathers and sons, still bring tears to my eyes and as I share this with you, I admit to a few rolling down my cheeks. No, I don’t think I want to be sad for them. I admire them for their courage and I think that is how they would want it too!

Other sites at Kargil War Memorial

I walked around mindlessly after that taking in a few other sights passively. A helipad is one that I remember and the enemy camp that was captured is the other. I could not focus on anything else. I can only say that I somehow stayed cool and did not succumb to my tears. Not that anyone would have minded there but somehow, it felt right to be brave enough to stop them. I think this must have been the only place in the entire Ladakh trip where I was ready to exit before everyone came. Possibly the only time, I did not talk much for I felt I would open my flood gates. It was just too emotional.

Enemy bunkers kept at Kargil War Memorial
Enemy bunkers kept at Kargil War Memorial

We got back into the car with a silence that was unusual. For the next few minutes, everyone was lost in their thoughts as we drove away to Kargil for our night halt. This was one intense visit for everyone and if a chance is given, I know I will still brave those strong emotions and go there again. I chose to write this now, thinking that I was a lot calmer and over my turmoil. However, I am far from being over it. Those emotions still rage through me and the Pride is ever strong! And I am glad to relive it this Republic Day. Jai Hind!

Kargil War Memorial

Getting Here:

  • Drass is along the Leh-Srinagar Highway and the only way to get here is by road from either of these two destinations.
  • Both Srinagar and Leh have a flight connectivity, albeit limited.

Travel Tips:

  • Kargil War Memorial is open from 10 AM to 12 PM and 2 PM to 5 PM on all days, except Sunday. The entry is free here.
  • Please carry your Govt. ID cards when visiting here.
  • Please be respectful when visiting this memorial. It is only right to respect and honor the men who have made these sacrifices.
  • There are restrooms and cafeteria facilities available here.
  • Photography is allowed on the premises.
  • A small souvenir shop is open within the premises with caps and T-shirts, among the many other things on sale.

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38 Responses

  1. The Krazy Butterfly

    Wow! your post revived a strange feeling of patrionism 🙂 I have been to Wagah border but Kargil near Ladakh has a strong political history and certainly one of the best places to visit if one gets a chance (I bet it requires much courage to travel around this war zone)

    • Ami

      It does and this place is quite intense. I have to yet do Wagah but I know I will feel equally overwhelmed

  2. Mimi & Mitch

    It’s interesting that the enemy bunkers were kept quite intact. The memorial looks very good. It must be so be so emotional indeed to visit the place. Quite intimidating actually. This makes us very much curious and want to know more about it.

  3. Karen Akpan

    I think visiting any war memorial would be very emotional. Especially thinking about what they went through to make sure that things are they way they are now. However it is a beautiful memorial and I am glad that it is so pretty and well kept because they deserve every bit of it.

  4. Ada

    To be honest with you I didn’t know much about Kargil War before so thank you for this post! Its really sad that people keep fighting with each other! The memorial is very nicely made, to remember those who lost their life ! It looks like it was very emotional trip for you!

    • Ami

      Not just me, the entire gang was emotional. Some wept openly while others like me just held on. The place makes you feel that way Ada. Thanks for stopping by

  5. Raghav

    A war that is still fresh in all our minds and it’s nice to see that a memorial exists as a constant reminder of not only the bravery of each and every soldier that fought in it and especially those that lost their lives, but also of the sacrifice that is required to keep a country its citizens safe. Thank you for writing about it.

    • Ami

      Thanks Raghav for sharing the emotion. This visit was special and quite hard hitting in a lot of ways.

  6. Abhinav Singh

    What a poignant post. Reading it on India’s 69th Republic day makes it all the more special. It is at places like these when my tears escape my eyes. Only when we visit such memorials we realize the kind of sacrifice our jawans and their families do every day to protect us. God bless them.

    • Ami

      It was a very intense visit and had you been with me, you would have known how I can keep mum!

  7. saraessop

    I can only imagine how emotional a visit like this would be. Life would be so much better for everyone if there were no wars. The setting of the memorial looks quite beautiful though and I would never have guessed that the second coldest inhabited place in the world would be in India.

    • Ami

      The war does affect many and benefits none. Wish people would realize that. As far as the coldest place bit goes, all I can say, India is full of surprises.

  8. Medha Verma

    Well done, I am glad you visited this memorial and read up more about the heroes who gave up their lives for the sake of their country. Coming from a defense background myself (my dad was in the Indian Armed Forces), these stories hold a very special place in my heart because we have known people who have been part of such operations or posted in areas which are unsafe or under political unrest. It is such an emotional experience whenever you hear about the families of the people who sacrificed their lives on the border or during war.

    • Ami

      Hats off to your family Medha. Any one from the armed forces has earned a lot of respect from me. Kudos to them all.

  9. Yukti

    Perfect timing of this post, as India is celebrating it’s 69th Republic day and you have revived all the sacrifices, glory and pride of defence persons. Paying tribute to them on the war memorial site is always a very emotional thing to do. These people who laid their lives to protect and save life of millions of people deserve a special position in our hearts. Kudos to our Indian soldiers! Thanks to you also for writing such a beautiful post!

    • Ami

      Thank you Yukti. This was a special post that I thought I would keep for a special occasion. Glad I shared it now.

  10. Tom

    I have been to Srinagar in winter just a week after the road to Leh closed. It was a pity as I also wanted to visit the Memorial. Thanks to your post I feel like I have been a little bit at least. Interesting read, good tips!

    • Ami

      Thank you Tom. Pity you missed it but I hope you get back for it soon. It is a place that has to be felt.

  11. Rahul

    A beautiful and touching, patriotic post, Ami! After spending half my life in the uniform, it feels good that writers and travellers like you take pride in the valour of the soldiers who defend us at all times.

    • Ami

      Places like these deserve more than what we can give them. Sharing an experience like this is always so incomplete for there is so much more that one wants to add.

  12. Sandy N Vyjay

    This is indeed a poignant post about something that will bring a tear to the eyes of even the most stout hearted. Looking at the epitaphs, emotions rise unbiddien in a wave as the heart goes out in silent salute to these brave hearts who died so that we can live. Kargil is indeed a tear on the cheeks of India.

  13. Katchutravels (@Katchutravels)

    It feels so numb thinking about the families of these people. How much of longing they would have had, since they are often in no-communication zones and not able to communicate. very scary thinking of the future as there are of lot of anti-india forces like JNU that promote dissent against the country, even as the jawans lay down their lives.

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