AP PHOTOS: Marchers rehearse for India's Republic Day parade

NEW DELHI (AP) — Wielding a sword and wearing a turban in the colors of his regiment, Indian army Maj. Piyush Sharma thundered, “Troops, prepare to march.”

On his order, the camel-mounted regiment — its mustachioed riders led by shiny brass bands with glimmering tubas — swiftly moved down a boulevard in the Indian capital on Friday in a rehearsal for the annual Republic Day parade.

“I cannot describe my feelings in words. It is such an honor to lead my contingent,” said Sharma, 28.

Republic Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the country’s constitution on Jan. 26, 1950. Thousands congregate on Rajpath, a ceremonial boulevard in New Delhi, to watch a flamboyant display of the country’s military power and cultural diversity. Schoolchildren, folk dancers, police and military battalions march along the parade route, followed by a display of military hardware.

But what goes behind the high-precision parade — broadcast live and watched by millions of Indians across the country — is weeks and weeks of practice in the biting winter cold.

Due to a fervent nationwide campaign to fend off the coronavirus, participants in this year’s rehearsals marched with their faces covered in masks.

The crowd that came to watch was thin, braving a fog and chill as they stood along the sides of the boulevard.

Because of the pandemic, spectators at next Tuesday’s Republic Day parade will be limited to enforce social distancing, and some events will be canceled.

India won independence from British colonial rule in 1947.