Woman power rises as Siachen trek enters second phase

October 8th, 2008 - 5:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Leh (Jammu and Kashmir), Oct 8 (IANS) In a first, five women trekkers are among the 37 civilians who will be scaling icy peaks and braving extreme weather to reach the Siachen Glacier, once known as the world’s highest and coldest battleground and where the guns have been silent for the past five years.There was just one woman on the trek last year.

The expedition entered its second phase Tuesday as the Master General of Ordinance at Army Headquarters, Lt. Gen. S.S. Dhillon, flagged off the intrepid adventurers on their way to the Siachen Base Camp. Over the next seven days, the team will brave sub-zero temperatures, lack of oxygen, chilly winds and high-altitude induced sickness, climbing to a height of 18,380 feet en route to the glacier.

Lugging 20 kg backpacks, the team members will cover an average distance of 10 km daily.

“I have been a mountaineer and I am looking forward to the trek,” Yana Bey of the Indian Mountaineering Federation told IANS as the team, led by Lt. Col. A.S. Maini, was about to be flagged off.

Besides Bey, three women journalists, including an IANS correspondent, and an adventure seeker, are taking part in the second edition of the trek to the Siachen Glacier.

“I was nominated by my organisation. It will be an experience of a lifetime,” said Ketki Angre of the NDTV news channel.

Other members of the expedition include mountaineering enthusiasts, military scientists, defence personnel, and students of military-run schools. They had spent a week here on an acclamatising trek.

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 on in 2003.

“The Siachen trek is being undertaken to send a message that every civilian with the help of military can visit this part of the country,” a senior 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 “tourism” in “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.

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