Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ekta Yatra 2011, Part 1

I recapitulate the splendid reminiscences of my visit to Jammu and Kashmir in August this year. The experience was exhilarating and memorable. The scenic beauty in the entire valley is awe-inspiring. We covered Ladakh, Kargil, Dras, Srinagar, Katra, Jammu.

We started on July 20, 2011 from Hyderabad to the capital. A warm welcome by Brij Mohan Sethi ji awaited us at Delhi. He is a karyakartha of VHP & Sewa International. We were treated with a delicious dinner that night. Our breakfast for the next morning was also packed and given to us by the hospitable family. We were fourteen. Notwithstanding the large number, we were treated with such care and affection that it speaks volumes of the magnanimity of the big-hearted family. They even took the pains to drop us to the air port the next day. We remember with gratitude the generosity.

Bounded by two of the largest mountain ranges in the world, the Great Himalaya and the Karakoram, Ladakh is a picturesque Indus valley remarkable for its serene mountain beauty. The word ‘Ladakh’ means ‘a land of high passes’. Tibetan culture pervades the mountain valley. Leh covers more than half of J & K in area. Standing at 3000 meters, it is the highest plateau in Kashmir. The great Indus River flows through Ladakh before reaching Pakistan.

Leh experienced one of the worst cloud bursts on August 2010 leaving devastating impact on the inhabitants. Witnesses to the catastrophe say the roads were inundated with four feet water. There were loss of life and vehicles. Sewa Bharathi was the first organization to swing in to action and initiate relief actions; there was a baitak going on in the affected place on the same day. Ladakh Phanday Tsogspa, a project of Sewa Bharathi in Ladakh region is very popular among the locals for its efforts in flood relief operations. The rehabilitation work is still going on with the support of many organizations including the Indian Army.  

We were fortunate enough to meet the man behind this herculean task, Dr Anil ji, the Zilla Pracharak. A very busy man like any other pracharak, Dr. Anil ji, apprised us of the work done by Sangh for the tribal and in the region. Our pracharaks are operating at great natural odds: high altitudes, cold temperatures, tough and highly challenging situations.


There is a museum of the Indian army in Ladakh, that houses captured weapons of enemies, stories of our brave jawans and facts & strategies of wars. I would like to make a special mention of operation Meghdoot . Operation Meghdoot was the name given to the attack launched by the Indian Army to capture the Saichen Glacier in the disputed Kashmir region; Launched on 13 April 1984, this military operation was singular for it was the first assault launched in the world's highest battlefield. Imagine the extreme climatic conditions under which the operation was launched: Altitude of 20,000 ft, temperature hovering at -60 degrees and wind blowing at 300 kmh. The military action eventually resulted in Indian troops managing to gain control of the entire Siachen Glacier. Even today, the occupation of those locations is referred to as Operation Meghdoot. Up to 10 Infantry Battalions are deployed over-see the glacier. The disturbing fact is that 95% of causalities occur purely on account of the vagaries of the weather and not because of a fight with the enemy. The Indian Government spends over 3000 crores every day to sustain the military operations. All because of hostile neighbors that we have! This is the price we have paid for the partition.

On our way to Pangom lake, popularly known as 3 idiots lake (last scene of 3 idiots was shot here) we had to pass Changla Top at 17590 ft. Few of our volunteers fell sick, may be due to the great altitude or low oxygen level or severe cold. It was Indian Army that served these affected tourists at the mountain peak. We were served hot cups of tea; we were given medical aid and oxygen masks. We were also advised to shift from the place as early as possible. Remember, these jawans stay at those horrid weather conditions to protect us and serve us. Let us be proud of them and pay homage to the yeoman service that they render to the country.

This is a succinct account of the first lap of our pravaas to hill state. It was a splendid experience that gave us first hand insight in to the lives, hardships and challenges of our jawans, Sangh Karyakartas and Pracharaks in the most trying terrains of the country.