May 31, 2020
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Frozen Desolation

Our correspondent reports direct from Dras, the ghost town on the frontline of the Indian army's bitter battle with Pakistani infiltrators.

Frozen Desolation
At about 11,000 feet above sea level the town of Dras is billed by j&k Tourism as the  second coldest inhabited place in the world . The town and adjoining villages (total population: 10,000) brave winters where temperatures dip to minus 60 degrees Celsius. It is in Dras that the Indian army is fighting a bitter battle with Pakistani infiltrators.

Since the shelling began early this month, virtually the entire population has fled. As we drive past Dras, policemen at the lone checkpost tell us that there is not a single soul left.  Everyone has run for their lives. There is no one left here. Even the street dogs have disappeared.  The cop advises us to leave.  If they see your car they might start firing,  he says.

We caught up with some residents of Dras in a village outside Kargil. They talked about how the enemy had been merciless in their shelling, even targeting the hospital.  Shells were bursting all around us. We could not have lived there. What frightened us most was the attacks on the army camp,  says Nizamuddin Khan. He and his family fled two days after the shelling began.

The army camp that Khan talks about is a little outside Dras and has borne the brunt of the shelling from the outpost atop the snowbound mountain that overlooks it. The temple in the camp has been completely destroyed; jawans speak of the intense shelling that has been going on for the last two weeks. To counter it, heavy artillery fire is maintained from the Indian side.

When the firing stops, one looks at Dras. In better times, it would have been a chai-and-cigarette stopover en route to Leh.

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