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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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