Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was the Chief Guest

Pomp and glory, solemnity and pride marked the 63{+r}{+d}Republic Day Parade down Rajpath here in the Capital on Thursday with the pageantry of the defence forces and the rich cultural diversity of the country on full display.

Prior to the Parade, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paid tributes to the immortal warriors at the India Gate.

President Pratibha Patil arrived at the saluting base accompanied by her 46 bodyguards — magnificent men atop large, bay-coloured horses with full mane. Also being escorted was the Chief Guest of the day, Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. A 21-gun salute soon boomed heralding the celebrations.

The Parade began with four Mi-17 helicopters flying in a ‘Y' formation, only 60 metres above ground and showering flowers as they flew. The flower petals set the mood for the rest of the spectacle as light winds ensured that the odd-petal came to rest on somebody's shoulder or head every now and then.

The Ashok Chakra was awarded posthumously to Lieutenant Navdeep Singh, who died while stopping terrorists from infiltrating the Line of Control. He had killed three and injured one. Seven winners of the Ashok Chakra award and two winners of the Param Vir Chakra for similar acts of selfless courage were paraded in open jeeps.

Thereafter, it was the turn of the Army which was led by their mounted columns regiment in full ceremonial garb astride brown horses. The newly acquired multiple launch rocket system, ‘Smerch', stood out among the various tanks and rocket systems that were showcased. Regiment after regiment marched rhythmically to the accompaniment of their marching contingents.

The ‘Remount Veterinary Corps' tableau showcasing the brave hearted Army dogs received “oohs” and “ahas” as the black Labradors formed themselves into a lotus position and had one white canine at the centre with its head up in ‘grand salute.'

The Navy cadets in blue marched smartly past the rapt audience.

However, the Air Force marching contingent led for the first time by a woman, Lieutenant Sneha Shekhawat, immediately enthralled the audience, who resumed the clapping that had temporarily abated.Loud claps and cheers also accompanied the other marching contingents of the paramilitary and auxiliary civil forces with the BSF camel contingent and its band, mounted on bejewelled camels getting the bigger share of cheers.

The Delhi Police marching contingents with silver-edged rifles that glinted in the sun also attracted resounding applause.Tableaux of different States and Central government ministries were followed by the courageous children who won the National Bravery Awards.

In open jeeps, the children were received with loud cheers, especially from their peers.

Next were the cultural programmes from school children of different States, followed by dare-devilry stunts on motorcycles. Men suspended on thin ladders and human pyramids atop moving motorcycles had children shrieking so much that the announcements on speakers were all but drowned.However, it was the ending that took the limelight of the entire parade. “Ladies and gentlemen, turn your eyes skywards!” announced the speaker.

Up in the sky came the fly-past of the Air Force that seemed to challenge the laws of gravity. The spectacle of three Su-30 MKI aircraft making a ‘Trishul' formation in the sky was surpassed only by the ‘Vertical Charlie' in which an Su-30 went up at breath-neck speed before suddenly taking a vertical turn.

The aircraft then started dropping down fast — appearing as it would crash — only to become steady again and disappear into the horizon.