Siachen – World’s Highest Battlefield (2004)

Siachen – World’s Highest Battlefield (2004)

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During our long trip from Srinagar to Leh and thence to Nubra Valley, thanks to our friends in the Indian Army, we manage to obtain the necessary permit to visit the Siachen Base Camp, the highlight of our journey to Nubra. Soon after we descend from the Khardung la and make our way past the confluence and then Panamik village, known for its medicinal hot springs, we are rewarded with tantalising glimpses of the glacier itself, said to be the longest outside of the Arctic region. But Siachen also has the dubious distinction of being the highest battlefield on earth, one in which for over a quarter of a century the armies of India and Pakistan have faced each other in the most inclement and dangerous locations in which to take on an adversary. At temperatures plunging below 50{+0} Celsius, merely staying alive on the glacier entails a war with nature, what to speak of fighting the enemy. But such is the dedication and commitment of our armed forces that soldiers and officers consider it a matter of pride to be posted to the glacier. This, notwithstanding the fact that a number of those posted on the glacier never return, a fact that is attested by the procession of plaques bearing the names of martyrs at the Siachen War Memorial at the Base Camp.

We are received by the ever-courteous officers and men of the Army at the Base Camp and shown around the establishment. We visit the OP Baba Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the legendary soldier who fought valiantly and repulsed the enemy in the face of dire adversity and inclement weather conditions. OP Baba’s blessings are sought by soldiers of every creed posted on the glacier. Today, there is an arti to OP Baba by a company of newly posted soldiers. We feel privileged to participate in the event.

Yet, there is little doubt that Siachen is a disaster waiting to happen. Heavy artillery, fibre-glass tents and other gear, tonnes of paraffin used by soldiers for lighting and heating purposes, not to mention loads of equipment required to maintain a military presence on this high-altitude ice field, have been accumulating over the years. Discarded gear and equipment is just dropped into the yawning crevasses where they remain buried intact for now, thanks to sub-zero temperatures. But once the ice begins to melt, it is very likely that all this debris will wash up into the Nubra valley and show up downstream.

Perhaps, that day is not far off, with global warming accelerating the process. Already, the glacier is receding at a rapid pace. Where there used to be a snowfield as late as 2003, all you can see now are black rock and sludge. If we are serious about averting this ecological disaster, it is imperative that we act now – to begin a constructive dialogue with Pakistan on evacuating the heights.



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