42-year-old Vikas Manhas travels 11 months a year to visit families of martyred soldiers. He has been doing these travels from the last 20 years.
An incident from 1994 has deeply influenced him to travel to martyred soldiers’ families ranging from cities to remote rural villages. During his summer holidays, he went to his hometown of Bhadarwah, Jammu & Kashmir, to attend a family wedding. One night, a group of soldiers mistakenly thought him to be a terrorist and chased him to his house.
Next day, he got to know that eight jawans had been attacked by terrorists in the night. Seven of them couldn’t survive, and the only soldier left spent the entire night fighting the terrorists to prevent the picket from being looted.
In Kargil war in 1999, the media would broadcast details of the fallen soldiers including their name, address and details of their parents. Since then, Vikas went to a journey which is still continuing today.
His first visit was to a 19-year-old martyr of Kargil Grenadier Udayman Singh. His house was located at just a distance of 20 kilometres from his own. He went to the martyr’s home and met his mother who would show him pictures and narrate incidents from the fallen soldier’s life. The teenage’s mother first mistakenly thought him to be an armyman. He later told her that he just came to pay his respects. She asked him to visit again and he fulfilled the promise by visiting her several times.
He worked with the Crosstream Consulting Pvt Ltd from 2007-11 which allowed him to travel to different parts of the country. In 2011, he started his own travel company in Talab Tillo, which made his schedule flexible for more such trips.
To save money, he uses public transport to visit as many families every year as possible. The families provide him place to stay.
He also avoids visiting the grieving families in the initial few days as everyone visits them during this period of time. He visits these families after a while as he believes that they need emotional support even after people stop visiting them.