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2-min read

Selfie at Siachen Possible Now, But Don’t Pack Your Bags for the World’s Highest Battlefield Just Yet

The base camp of the glacier is located at 11,000 feet. Kumar Post, which the minister says will be open to tourists, is at 15,000 feet. Clearly, it's not a destination for the faint-hearted.

Shreya Dhoundial | CNN-News18

Updated:October 21, 2019, 10:32 PM IST
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Selfie at Siachen Possible Now, But Don’t Pack Your Bags for the World’s Highest Battlefield Just Yet
A file photo of Siachen Glacier. (Getty Images)

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has announced that Siachen Glacier, the highest battlefield in the world, will now be open to tourists. But before you start packing your bags, there are some things you need to know.

The base camp of the glacier is located at 11,000 feet. Kumar Post, which the minister says will be open to tourists, is at 15,000 feet. Clearly, it's not a destination for the faint-hearted.

Though the modalities are still being worked out, sources say a trip to Siachen will not exactly be like buying a ticket to Goa. Since the army will have to play host to the 'tourists', the number of people allowed to visit the glacier will be regulated.

From 2007 to 2016, the glacier was open to an annual expedition with civilians. The vetting process applied till then will be applied now as well. The army will do a background check of all prospective tourists, evaluate their medical condition and then decide who is fit enough to deal with the extremities of the glacier. Like in the case of Mount Everest, permits could be given out to private tour groups and mountaineers.

At a destination where even breathing is an effort, and battle hardened soldiers fall to frostbites and high-altitude sickness, prospective tourists will of course have to be physically fit. Some basic training in mountaineering and acclimatization will be a must, say sources.

“Siachen Glacier is a battlefield. Is it worrisome when the army comes in contact with civilians in a warzone? Yes, of course. But there is a larger strategic aim that outweighs that concern. Moreover, the army will be the final authority on who can come, so things should work out,” said a source.

But there are ecological and security concerns being raised as well. Siachen is already reeling under heavy military presence. The thermal footprint of soldiers deployed is causing the snout of the glacier to melt. Then there is the issue of garbage. It has taken the army 1.5 years to clean up Siachen and remove 130 tonnes of waste from the snowy heights. The army generates 236 tonnes of waste every year and more people will mean more waste.

The question then arises as to why the government decided to announce that it is opening up Siachen to tourists. Speaking at a closed-door seminar a couple of weeks ago, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat had spoken about how opening up treacherous battlefields like Siachen would give civilians a better appreciation of how soldiers live and work. National integration is a stated aim as well.

But the real motive is strategic. Tourism is often used as a tool to reinforce territorial claim. It is something Pakistan tried as well in the 1970s and 80s by regularly allowing mountaineering expeditions to the glacial wasteland. All that stopped after the Indian Army launched Operation Meghdoot in 1984 and occupied strategic heights at the glacier. Since then, India and Pakistan have been frozen in their positions and lost more than 2,500 men not to enemy bullets but to sub-degree temperatures and avalanches.

The Indian army spends Rs 6 crore a day to maintain Siachen, a place where temperatures dip to minus 60 degrees in the winter. So if you are imagining ski resorts, that may not happen. But a selfie at Siachen is very much possible.

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