New Delhi: Siachen glacier, world’s highest battlefield known for extreme cold weather and tough mountaineering terrain, has been opened for tourists.
“The Siachen area is now open for tourists and tourism. From Siachen base camp to Kumar Post, the entire area has been opened for tourism purposes,” said defence minister Rajnath Singh in eastern Ladakh. He was addressing a function to inaugurate Col. Chewang Rinchin Bridge on Shyok River, located about 45 km from the county’s border with China. He indicated that this step will make people appreciate the efforts put in by jawans, engineers and other workers, who are deployed at such a difficult environment.
Defence minister said that Ladakh has tremendous potential in tourism and better connectivity and the newly created Union Territory would bring tourists in large numbers.
The Siachen Base Camp is at around 10,000 feet above sea level. From there, tourists will be able to trek on to Kumar Camp which is at 16,000 feet, the distance of the trek being 60 kilometres across 8-9 days.
The post is named after Colonel Narendra ‘Bull’ Kumar, who was one of the first officers who did extensive expedition of the Siachen, helping India to launch Operation Meghdoot to secure the glacier in 1984.
However, the tourists will not be allowed to Bana post, which is the highest Indian Army post on the glacier at around 22,000 feet.
Indian Army had been conducting an annual Siachen Glacier Trek for around thirty selected civilians recommended by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF).
Now, common tourists will be able to trek the glacier independently. However, sources said that tourists still will need some clearance either from Army or the local administration.
Avalanches and landslides are common at the glacier during the winters and temperatures can drop to as low as minus 60 degrees Celsius.
Army lost 163 personnel at the glacier during the last 10 years. India and Pakistan started deploying troops at the strategically key glacier in 1984 and mountaineering expeditions were allowed, till then. The move of opening the glacier has raised concern over tourists polluting an ecological sensitive place.
Recently, Indian Army launched a ‘cleanliness drive’ at Siachen glacier under which it has disposed of 130 tonnes of garbage, since January 2018. The problem in Siachen is that due to very cold temperatures even biodegradable items do not decompose ,so waste keeps on piling year after year.