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Last Updated: Monday, 13 November 2006, 12:16 GMT
On the world's highest battlefield
By Renu Agal
BBC Hindi Service, Siachen

Soldiers in Siachen
The weather is the soldier's worst enemy
India appears to have ruled out making concessions to Pakistan over the disputed Siachen glacier ahead of talks on Kashmir this week. We look at what life is like for troops stationed there.

On top of the world's highest battlefield, the soldier's biggest foe is the weather.

Bone-chilling winds whip the landscape and avalanches sweep soldiers into 30-foot-deep crevasses.

The harsh sun burns their skin and, combined with the thin air and sub-zero temperatures, can induce acute depression.

Cold statistics tell you that more lives have been lost to the weather than to the enemy since 1984, when the Indian army first occupied the Siachen glacier.

Some 7,000 Indian soldiers are stationed on the disputed glacier - at 5,500 metres above sea level - bordering Pakistani and Indian-administered portions of Kashmir.

Pakistan has some 150 manned posts and about 3,500 soldiers there.

Ironically, Siachen means a land of wild roses but all you see here are some thorny bushes weathering the elements hoping to bloom in April.

It is not easy for a journalist to endure the harsh terrain and the weather of the glacier.

As I walked along a rocky pathway with a grey icy massif on one side and a half frozen stream on the other, the 50-metre trek felt like a mile-long jog. I was catching my breath after every sentence I uttered.

In front was a shrine in the memory of 'OP Baba'. Legend on the Indian side is that Om Prakash protected a post in these icy heights single-handedly from Pakistani fire. No one knows what happened to him, but soldiers here feel that if they have 'OP Baba's' blessings they will survive any situation.

'I am never tired'

Just a few steps away on the icy mountains a training session for soldiers was underway. There were 450 soldiers present.

Rifleman Gyaltsen has been training soldiers here for the past year.

View of mountains on way to Siachen
The view from the air is breathtaking
"We tell them how to save someone from a crevasse, how to be aware of crevasses and to cross them and what to do to save yourself from being buried in an avalanche," he says.

I learnt from him that one way to save yourself from being buried in an avalanche is to make swimming movements.

Most soldiers are posted on the higher ridges for just three months. So, the Siachen battle school trains around 7,000 soldiers every year.

One of them, Anshuman Narain, is waiting for lunch after a long morning session.

In the evening he has time to watch films and read his favourite books - "I am never tired."

Other men, clad in white camouflage uniforms with their blood group written on their coats, seem to share his energy.

Breathtaking

The journey to Siachen is as spectacular as the visit to the glacier.

We flew from Delhi in an army plane to the Thoise air base in Ladakh in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The journey offered us some breathtaking views of rugged mountains, jagged crevasses in the glaciers below, blade-like mountain tops and tonnes of boulders which move slowly with the pace of the mammoth glacier.

The crew told us that the last village in Siachen area had just seven houses - beyond that there was only the army.

We saw the Nubra valley, the old Silk Route passing through the Karakoram ranges, and wondered how people managed to survive, let alone trade in these parts.

We landed at Thoise and felt the cold mountain air - there is 30% less oxygen here than normal. We were given heavy coats and woollen caps.

Siachen glacier
Bitter fighting erupted at Siachen in 1989
The soldiers here live in fibreglass huts with fibreglass toilets. There is an officers' lounge and some labourers worked on planting saplings and helping in maintaining the base.

A private carrier brings food and ration, kerosene and fuel for the troops. From Thoise supplies are flown up by helicopters to around 16,000ft (4,876 metres) where over four-fifths of the Indian troops in Siachen are stationed.

There is a famous local saying, "The land is so barren and passes so high that only the best of friends and fiercest of enemies come by.''

The dispute over Siachen, which began more than 20 years ago, is testimony to this saying.


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