The first sign that I was wrong was that it is located between a transit camp of the 127 KAR rifles regiment of the Indian army and the airforce base of Leh. Also flanking the entrance are two Howitzer cannons, in army livery. The ticket issue clerk was in full army fatigues.
It’s a war memorial.
The entrance is unassuming but one visit to this little building and it will change your life forever. A nominal charge of ten bucks per person gets you in and you see a plaster of paris terrain recreation of the entire trans Himalayan ranges- the lower, zanskar and everything else up to karakoram and then you begin to appreciate the forces of the tectonic plates when they collided and resulted in this crazy landscape. The nubra, zanskar and Indus rivers hop along as rapids and provide life to this otherwise desert surroundings.
I thought this bit of information was out-of-place in a war memorial, but I was wrong yet again. The sheer magnitude of everything- altitude, tempertures, approach roads and borders are what separates this battlefield from anywhere else in the world.
I entered the room dedicated to operation Vijay. Commonly known to us as the Kargil conflict, this room provides all the details of the exercise. The dates, the timings, the regiments involved and the manner in which it was carried out. Essentially, they mention the folks that they were fighting against as just “the enemy” and the “illegal occupiers”.
Some of you might recall the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, where the US soldiers capture beach heads in Normandy, France. Now imagine a much smaller army unit capturing a much higher post in temperatures 30 degrees below freezing and up against much better and accurate artillery fire.
Yes, the Indian army kicked a lot of ass and the stories of those soldiers who were awarded gallantry awards (some posthumously) are displayed in this hall, under the head “lest we forget…” forget? Not in a million years!
We find the stories of ordinary 24 to 27 year old men from all around the country irrespective of state or caste who fought alongside each other to secure the borders. If these stories don’t make you feel worthless, then you’re the most pompous ass to ever breathe god’s good air.
After a while of going through those accounts and imagining the conditions you’re trying very hard not to cry openly but the slogans and the atmosphere they create there gives you a very formidable challenge. Suddenly you glance at a slogan board that reads –
“Quartered in snow, Silent to remain. When the bugle calls, They shall rise and march again…”
But perhaps what is most likely to get that lump in the throat unbearable is this exhibit, which I will reproduce here. Please do be patient and try and understand the feelings of this 22 year old –
THE LAST POST…
Capt VijayantThapar, 22, died trying to evict Pakistani intruders from a ridge in Kargil on 28 June, 1999. This is the letter he wrote to his parents days before he made the ultimate scrifice:
(in a beautiful jointed writing on a blue inland letter)
Dear Papa Mama Budhi and Gummy,
- By the time you get this letter I’ll be observing you all from the sky enjoying the hospitality of Apsaris.
- I have no regrets, in fact, even if I become human again I’ll join the army and fight for my nation.
- If you can, please come and see where the Indian army fought for your tomorrow.
- As far as the unit is concerned, the new chaps should be told about this sacrifice. I hope my photo will be kept in the ‘A’ company mandir with Karni Mata.
- Whatever again can be done should be done.
- Contribute some money to orphanage and keep on giving 50/- Rs to Ruksana per month and meet Yogi Baba.
- Best of luck to Birdie, never forget the sacrifice of these men. Papa you should feel proud. Mama so should you, meet (name deleted) I loved her. Mama ji forgive me for everything wrong I did.
Best of luck to you all,
Live life King size.
The brave way you left this world at the age of 22 is a measure of how you lived your short life and what you valued. In meeting the stark challenges of capturing Knoll against all odds, during the battle of Three Pimples with heroic coolness and single minded devotion to duty, you have achieved immortal honour. In death, you hve epitomized the spirit of national pride- an honor which makes every sacrifice worthwhile. Your actions will forever inspire generations of Indians to come. You have left us with pride for being the parents of a worthy son and a lifetime of pain for having lost a child we love.
Col. V.N. Thapar.
With great difficulty, I managed to wipe my eyes and walked out behind to the little park that has the memorial stone and the Indian tricolor flying proudly over the names of those martyred for the country’s cause. The writing on the foot of the memorial –
ALMIGHTY LORD, IN THY GRACIOUS KEEPING,
LEAVE WE OUR SOLDIERS SLEEPING
Please take some time off and reflect on the amazing feats carried out everyday by these silent sentinels of the borders. I’m a changed person, are you?