Monday, July 27, 2009

Vijay Diwas/ Operation Kargil-26 July

There was a lot of news on Kargil / Dras as I switched on the TV in my hotelroom in Ranchi. I had landed here the previous evening and was still cozy in the bed. The new war memorial was erected in the memory of the martyrs who laid down their lives a decade ago fighting insurgents and Pakistan army, to counter their nefarious designs.There was one more news of even greater significance- the new nuclear submarine INS Arihant was joining the fleet making India the sixth country to join the elite group of nations who possesed the capability to produce their own nuclear submarines.

My thoughts suddenly drifted away, going down to the year 1981-82, when I was still young in the Navy and was chosen for INS Chakra the first nuclear submarine that India had acquired on lease for training and operation.Somehow the medical experts thought otherwise and stopped my entry after I completed the gruelling tests for one week including the pressure chamber test. Many of my colleagues went later to erstwhile Soviet Union in Vladivstok for training to join as the crew of INS Chakra subsequently stationed in Visakhapatnam. Some of them joined the elite ATV project which finally produced INS Arihant, the first indigenously built nuclear submarine almost 30 years later.

The second thought took me back to the year July 1983 when I had just been married and went for honeymoon with Jyoti to the Kashmir valley. We had spent some time in Srinagar which was begining to get in the grip of terrorists and jehadis in the years to follow. One morning as we finished our breakfast in the Transit Mess at Lalbgh, Srinagar, we learnt that a bus was leaving for Leh the next day. It was a on the spur, that we decided to go there to see the place. We embarked on the two day long journey to Leh, the next day.The bus started precisely at 0730 hrs and headed through the winding roads. En route we passed Sonamarg, and Zojilla pass which had a wall of snow on one side of the road.The route to Amarnath cave from Baltal originates from here. As the bus climbed further, the serpentine road looked awesome from height.We kept moving farther from civilization.Occassionally,the heart would skip a beat on looking out of the window. One slip and the bus could go down thousands of feet below into the gorge. The barren snow clad mountains with a few pickets manned by the brave soldiers was the only sight for miles. The stillness and grandeur of the mountains kept us enthralled.A cute Army Major's wife with a huge 'bindi' lay her head on her husband's shoulder and slept on adjacent seat. Around 4 PM we went past Dras which had a small hoarding indicating that this was the second coldest place on the earth. The glaciers were there only a few feet away from the road. By 5 PM we reached Kargil and the bus climbed higher and stopped for the day at the transit mess. The fast current of water and the ferocious wind appeared to be competing with each other to display their might.The cook in the mess obliged us with a steaming cup of coffee and delicious pakoras. We were mesemerized by the barren snow clad mountains and wilderness.We learnt later that the overlooking mountains lay in Pakistan territory.
Next day we continued the onward journey to Leh.

Exactly one decade ago when the war broke out I and Jyoti tried hard to recognize the sights we had seen, which now were engulfed in a bloody war. It was a traumatic time and each day the news of brave men losing lives became a regular news item.
Barkha Dutt of NDTV team who had covered the war from the bunkers was present once again at the same site. A new war memorial was being dedicated to the nation,but unlike one decade back there were no gunfires.

My eyes were moist by the time the ceremony ended bringing back the memories of my uniformed years in the Navy as the sound of brass bands playing Sare Jahan Se Accha...played.The candles lit up to pay homage to the forgotten heroes.

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