I saw a beautiful instagram picture posted by a friend. The picture showed a well maintained road with hot air balloons lined on both the sides. The caption said that the picture was of Shauryanjali festival – celebrating the 50th year of Indo-Pak war, held at Rajpath.
The war exhibition initially planned for 6 days, from September 15th, was extended for two more days due to the huge public response. Rajpath, synonymous with the Republic Day parades, wore the look of a small republic day celebration as there was non-stop entertainment provided by the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the CRPF. The Armed Forces Band playing patriotic and film songs at the India Gate lawns attracted huge audience, who cheered the musicians after each performance. There were also martial displays by service contingents, witnessed by hundreds on the pavilion. I realized that the hot air balloons which inspired me to the event was just a small part of the bigger exhibition which we were about to witness.
As if climbing on the top of army aircraft and going inside a bunker were not enough to make a day, an army man asked “did you visit the pavilions, you have lot to see”……… There was no queue but a huge crowd at the gates. “There will surely be a stampede when the gate opens” someone said. “No, I said, not at a military event. Military men work in adverse conditions to save lives during Natural Calamities like flood. They know how to manage crowd”
On entering the Gates there was a briefing about the 1965 war through a documentary. After which began the journey to know more about the war by visiting the 28 pavilions depicting the battles and the contributions made by Army, Navy, Air Force and CRPF.
Important locations of the 1965 war like the Indo-Pak boarder, the battle of Phillora were depicted using sand models. There were pavilions recreating the major battles. On display were some of the weapons and accouterments of the Pakistani Army that are preserved as trophies by the Indian Army – pistols, rifles, and Patton and Sherman tanks. There were busts of valiant lieutenant colonels who lead the war ; pictures of valiant soldiers adorned the walls of the pavilions.
The technical ingenuity of the Army was displayed at its best at the exhibition. They were successful in providing people with an insight of what happened during the war. At the navy pavilion there was a small water tank with a toy ship sailing. At first I thought there was nothing unusual about it; I waited for a few moment, suddenly a submarine emerged from under the water and destroyed the enemy ship. So orginal were the army men in enacting their roles that people were asking if the ‘injured soldier’ lying in the replica of make-shift war hospital was actually hospitalized.
I don’t remember any other event when the army men have come so close to the public. They were readily obliging to take selfies. There were also bunkers and cut-outs were people could take picture posing as Army men. Public was allowed to experience nearly every aspect of army activities – sitting inside tankers and fighter planes, learning about signal operation, going inside a bunker made of sand bags and so on.
I had planned only an hours site seeing at Rajpath but it took nearly three and half hours to visit all the pavilions. I left with a sense that I should have prepared for a whole days outing. And the initial plan of a hot air balloon ride was forgotten………..there will many more opportunities for a hot air balloon ride but experiencing the army life first hand was a once in a life time opportunity.