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One of the most exciting rewards of being a journalist is the ringside view you get of history being made. The year 1999 packed in more than the usual share of history when I found myself on the craggy heights of Kargil, ducking shelling from across the Line of Control following a surprise intrusion by Pakistan.
Fifteen years on, memories of Kargil remain etched in my mind. As our vehicle approached the war zone on the night of May 31, the sound of Pakistani shelling grew louder and louder. “Put the lights out and keep moving,” shouted an army truck driver.
This lesson became our survival drill during numerous shaves with death covering the story for India Today. Initially, access to information was tough as officers were too stunned by the enormity of casualties. I remember a teary-eyed Colonel Khushal Thakur (now a retired Brigadier), commanding 18 Grenadiers, at a bombed-out Drass, grieving the loss of his second-in-command, Lieutenant Colonel R Vishwanathan.
The recapture of Tololing ridge after a series of bloody battles was one of the most stirring moments. Information was scanty and ingenuity was the name of the game. My photographer colleague and I peeled off from an army-conducted trip and landed at the camp of 2 Rajputana Rifles, where we found ourselves with the heroes of Tololing. Huddled inside a wind-swept tent, the groggy-eyed Major P Acharya, Captain Vijayant Thapar and Captain N Kenguruse recounted the battle that changed the course of the war.
Four days later, I pulled out briefly to recover from the war fatigue. The morning paper brought tears to my eyes. All three Tololing armymen were no more. I later wrote about their sacrifices as part of a ‘Lest we forget’ series for India Today magazine.