There was a large boulder in the middle of Neugal Khad stream that was Saurabh Kalia’s favourite spot for bird watching.
When BJP leader Shantha Kumar told Saurabh’s father, Dr D N Kalia, that he wanted to construct a memorial for him after he was martyred in the Kargil war and asked him to suggest a theme close to his son’s heart, the father knew it would have to be nature, and the stream and the rock had to be a part of it.
“Saurabh used to spend hours watching birds while sitting on the huge boulder with his friends and the pine trees for company,” his father says, explaining the idea behind the 13-acre Saurabh Van Vihar that now stands as a memorial to the martyr.
A statue of Saurabh stands on his favourite rock. Around it, conceived and created by Nek Chand’s son Arun Saini, is a tableau of 63 figures, in the trademark style of the creator of the Rock Garden, representing Indian soldiers and Pakistani infiltrators. Nearby, another boulder depicts Kargil Hill, on which the figure of an Indian soldier stands, Tricolour in hand.
A board at the site explains the life and martyrdom of Saurabh and his special affection for the spot. Saurabh Van Vihar also has an artificial lake, walking trails, a huge aquarium and a small cafe. From a small island in the lake accessible by a specially constructed bridge, the snowline of the Dhauladhar range comes into view. It has become a popular tourist spot. The Forest Department, which looks after it, earned Rs 21 lakh in 2017 in entry fees alone. The entry fee was increased from Rs 10 to Rs 20 in January 2018. The foundation stone was set down in 1999 and it was opened to the public in 2003.
Divisional Forest Officer, Palampur, Birbal Singh Yadav, said the Defence Ministry and Himachal Forest department were in touch over a plan to display an old tank in Saurabh Van Vihar. “The defence ministry has agreed to it. We have constructed a platform for the tank near the entry gate.”