32 civilians brave extreme weather, complete Siachen trek

October 21st, 2008 - 11:36 am ICT by IANS  

Siachen Base Camp, Oct 21 (IANS) Thirty-two people have successfully completed the second edition of the civilian trek to the Siachen glacier, conducted by the Indian Army to “send a message that every civilian can visit the region” despite Pakistan’s criticism of India’s attempt to promote “tourism” in what it describes as a “disputed territory”.All the participants safely returned here Sunday after braving temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius during the nearly 80 km trek to an altitude of 15,000 ft.

“It is an achievement on the part of the participants as the extreme weather conditions and rarefied atmosphere makes things difficult,” Col S.K. Sharma, director of Army Mountaineering Institute, told the IANS correspondent who too completed the trek.

The team led by Lt. Col. A.L. Maini was stuck at Camp-II for two days due to heavy snowfall and chilly winds.

“All the participants have performed well. There has only been one evacuation. A cadet had to be air lifted on the second day as his blood pressure and pulse rate declined below normal owing to extremely low temperatures,” Maini said.

The bad weather forced the expedition to be cut short, with the team not able to go to its scheduled destination - the Kumar Post. The maximum height the trekkers, comprising of students of military schools, mountaineering enthusiasts and journalists, achieved was 15,000 ft.

“The experience has been overwhelming. Our army has been working in a harsh terrain against all odds. After the trek my regard for the Indian Army has gone up tremendously,” said Cadet Mandeep Basera from the Military School in Dholpur, Rajasthan.

The trek is part of India’s move to assert its right over the glacier, where the Indian and Pakistani armies had fought a bitter conflict from 1984 till a truce was agreed upon in 2003.

“The Siachen trek is being undertaken to send a message that every civilian with the help of the military can visit this part of the country,” an army officer explained.

Pakistan has been conducting trekking expeditions on its side of the glacier. The area on the Pakistan side has been open for long with no requirement of a military liaison officer to accompany trekkers and the permit formalities taking barely two weeks.

The civilian trek to Siachen started last year despite vehement protests from Pakistan, which termed it India’s attempt at promoting “tourism” in a “disputed territory”.

Pakistan has not lodged a formal protest against the trek this year and India has also kept it a low key affair, with Defence Minister A.K. Antony skipping the flagging off ceremony Oct 7.

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