Last week, I went for a trip to Srinagar-Leh-Ladakh. Nowadays, it’s a common tourist destination, and many people around us have already made the trip. So there’s nothing new in the description of the inhospitable terrain, winding roads, cold & crisp weather, and man’s constant struggle with nature.
But the experience I am going to share here is very unique and memorable for me personally.
After travelling to Srinagar and staying there for a night, we started towards Kargil. Kargil is a small town which was virtually unknown in India till 1999. It suddenly came in limelight when Pakistani army made a large scale incursion along Dras-Kargil-Batalik Sectors. The tall peaks along these sectors are at a strategic position. They overlook the NH1 from Srinagar right up to Siachen glacier. Pakistani forces captured 450 strategic posts along a distance of 150kms and took up dominating positions over those peaks.
The ensuing battles saw Indian armymen facing not only the enemy at dominating positions hammering them with mortars, heavy machine guns, and artillery, but the Nature too. It was biting cold and due to the height of Kargil from sea level, the oxygen levels are low.
In spite of these odds, Indian army recaptured all dominating peaks and made Pakistanis run back with their tails between their legs. But this Vijay came at the heavy price. 569 soldiers and officers martyred, and more than 1,500 wounded.
A war memorial was erected right at the foot of the hills where the battles took place, in the Dras sector. We visited this memorial on the way to Kargil.
I wanted to present something to these armymen as a token of gratitude, and what better way than a series of paintings on the Kargil war? I had spent a Saturday prior to leaving for the trip making some paintings on the theme of Kargil war, and had taken them with me to the memorial.
When we entered the premises of the memorial, I met some officers / NCOs and presented them the paintings. When they saw the paintings, the look in their eyes confirmed that it was all much more than worth it! I extended my hand to the armyman to shake, but he just came forward and tightly embraced me! That tough-as-nails jawan said to me with tears in his eyes, “आप जैसे लोगोंकी वजहसे हमें ताकत मिलती है इतनी उन्चाईपे सर्व्ह करने की!” (It’s because of people like you that we get the strength to serve in such difficult conditions). It was THE highlight of my trip!
Kargil has extremely hostile weather. In winter, the temperatures drop up to -40 to -50 degree C. Even in summers, we were feeling the biting cold.
The war memorial is located at more than 10,000 feet above sea level. The oxygen levels are lower than what we are used to. In winter, the landscape is covered by up to 10-12 feet of snow. In the words of the jawan there, “you can play cricket using a tomato in winter here!”.
Our soldiers keep a watchful eye on Pakistani army in Dras-Kargil-Batalik sector 24 X 7 X 365 days. The highest points where these soldiers serve are as high as 20,000 feet above sea level. The food and supplies have to be sent on foot, since roads cannot be constructed and maintained in such harsh conditions. The soldiers who carry these supplies do so in addition to the 32 KG battle loads they carry with them… in rarefied atmosphere!
It’s simply unimaginable how much hardships these men endure to keep us safe. Everyone who thinks armymen get anything more than they deserve must visit these places. It’s a very sobering experience.
Last but not the least….
Sketching and painting on Kargil war theme after some research and framing/packaging – few hundred rupees
Travelling to Dras war memorial with those paintings – few thousand rupees
Presenting the paintings to the bravehearts who kicked Pakistani army’s ass and experiencing their joy firsthand – PRICELESS!