India pays homage to Kargil martyrs at Drass
New Delhi: Soldiers and family members on Sunday came together in this border town of Jammu and Kashmir to pay homage to army men killed in the 1999 Kargil war with Pakistan.
It was an emotive gathering as parents and siblings of soldiers visited the peaks of Drass where their loved ones perished while fighting to eject Pakistani raiders and camouflaged regular troops.
"It is an experience no soldier can ever forget," said Lt. Gen. (Retd) Amar Nath Aul, who was a brigadier in 1999 and headed the Mountain Brigade that pushed back the intruders in the Drass sector.
"I salute the untiring commitment of my boys who fought against all odds and did not deter in laying down their lives when it came to protecting the country," he added.
As officers and soldiers as well as families of many of the martyrs placed wreaths at the war memorial early Sunday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saluted those killed in the conflict.
"I join the entire nation in paying homage to the martyrs of the Kargil war. They sacrificed their lives in defence of Indian unity and integrity," the prime minister said at the India Gate War Memorial in the Indian capital.
Like in the better known Tiger Hill and Tololing, heavy fighting took place in 1999 for the hills off Drass, the second coldest inhabited place in the world located about 60 km from Kargil town.
The entire region falls in Kargil district, giving the 1999 military showdown the name of "Kargil war".
Pakistan-backed Islamist insurgents as well as regular soldiers sneaked into Jammu and Kashmir and quietly took control of the hills until they were first detected by nomads.
Their discovery in Indian territory led to full-fledged fighting between Indian forces and the heavily-armed infiltrators, almost triggering the fourth full-scale India-Pakistan war and leading to US intervention.
The battle for Drass was immortalised by the death of Captain Vikram Batra of 13 Jammu and Kashmir Rifles who helped capture two peaks and then died fighting for the control of Point 4875.
He came under attack while trying to rescue an injured officer. His final words, according to his colleagues, were "Jai Mata Di"!
July 26 is annually celebrated as "Kargil Diwas" or Kargil Day. More than 500 Indian soldiers were killed in the Kargil war that lasted two long months.
The intruders, who had come for a long haul, came as close as 300 metres to a key national highway connecting Srinagar with Leh and the border town of Kargil. Drass town suffered heavy damage in the fighting.