Known as the second coldest inhabited place on earth and the gateway to the Union Territory of Ladakh, Drass will no longer be a bone-chilling posting for soldiers engaged in protecting the Kargil War Memorial — all thanks to a home-grown construction technology pioneered by educationist Sonam Wangchuk who inspired the movie ‘3 Idiots’.
Wangchuk was commissioned by the Nagpur-based Lokmat media group to build the Kargil War Memorial Home for the jawans posted at the memorial, which is dedicated to the 559 soldiers who died defending the motherland from Pakistani intruders who were driven back by a victorious Indian army in the 1999 war.
The chairman of the editorial board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha Vijay Darda dedicated the facility to the soldiers on ‘Vijay Diwas’ last week in the presence of General Officer Commanding (GOC), Fire and Fury Corps, Lt Gen Anindya Sengupta, and the editor-in-chief of Lokmat Media and former minister, Rajendra Darda.
The memorial is located at an altitude of 10,800 feet where temperatures drop to minus 30 degrees sometimes. However, the temperature in the memorial home housing the soldiers will remain over 15 degrees Celsius, which means the water for daily use will not freeze.
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Designed by Wangchuk, a renowned educationist and founder of the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh (HIAL), the facility has been built using bricks made by mixing crop straw and Ladakh soil.
”For this, the crop straw thrown away by the farmers from Punjab and the soil of Ladakh has been mainly used,” the chief operating officer of HIAL, Tanmay Mukherjee, said.
The single-storey building is in the campus of Kargil War Memorial, located five kilometres from the city centre in the foothills of the Tololing Hill, can house a maximum of 10 soldiers guarding the memorial.
A poem ”Pushp Kii Abhilasha” (Wish of a Flower) by Makhanlal Chaturvedi, a renowned 20th-century Hindi poet, is inscribed on the gateway of the memorial. The names of the soldiers who lost their lives in the war are inscribed on the memorial Wall.
”This was built in a record time of one month and can ensure a temperature of 15 degrees inside the building round the year,” Mukherjee told PTI over phone.
He said the HIAL believes that ”large scale adoption of solar heated buildings by the army will not only help our jawans but also help us speedily achieve our Prime Minister (Narendra Modi’s) vision of carbon neutral Ladakh ”.
Mukherjee said the structure has been designed on Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (AAC) blocks and sawdust for insulation, straw clay bricks in flooring to prevent heat loss, waste plastic bottles with saline water solution as heat sink besides other things.
He said there was a conscious effort to promote these buildings so that the fuel consumption is brought down considerably.
Asked in case of lack of sunlight, Mukherjee said according to the study Ladakh region has the sun shining for 320 days in a year ”which gives us enough solar energy”.
This ”will come as a major relief to the soldiers…the water in this home will not freeze even at sub-zero temperatures,” a spokesperson of Lokmat foundation said.
After the Kargil war, the Lokmat Foundation undertook various social initiatives through its own contributions and funds collected from the members of the public. The Kargil War Memorial Home in Drass, the coldest place in India, was one of them, the spokesperson said.
During the winter, he said it is essential to maintain normal room temperature. ”The temperature in this eco-friendly Kargil War Memorial Home for Jawans will be 15 degrees Celsius.” Rajendra Darda said that after the Kargil war, the Lokmat Media Group, as part of its corporate social responsibility, built hostels at five places in Maharashtra for the children of soldiers in Nagpur, Aurangabad, Solapur, Latur and Nanded.
He said that these social activities are being undertaken with the help of Lokmat Foundation and lakhs of readers of Lokmat.
Lt Gen Sengupta appreciated the initiative of Lokmat Media Group for its contribution through Lokmat Foundation towards the development of Kargil War Memorial Home.
”I am grateful to Lokmat Media Group for expressing its gratitude towards the soldiers through action,” he said, adding that he hopes the initiative will inspire others.
Paying tributes to the army bravehearts who drove out Pakistani intruders from Indian soil, Vijay Darda and Rajendra Darda wrote their feelings in the visitors’ book.
”Here in Kargil, I can feel the heroic saga of the indomitable courage and valour of the Indian Army. I am proud of our defence forces. My dear brothers, we are living in peace because of your constant vigil and alertness,” Vijay Darda wrote.
Lauding the army, he said that beyond the narrow confines of caste, creed, religion, rich and poor, true India resides in the force.
”On behalf of Lokmat Media Group, I assure you that we all stand with you in every moment of life. I am proud to be associated with Kargil. We built boys’ and girls’ hostels in Nagpur, Aurangabad, Solapur and Latur for the children of the soldiers from Maharashtra who were martyred in the Kargil war so that they can get a better education,” he said.
He said, ”We had collected money for the families of the martyrs. We went to the villages of the martyrs, opened separate bank accounts for their families and children and deposited the amount. Today I am satisfied that special houses have been constructed to protect the jawans”.