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Amid LAC face-off, Army opens Siachen to civilians

  • Missing your fix of adrenaline since the lockdown and yearning to get high on adventure? The Indian Army has the perfect cure for your symptoms and is willing to “liberally” issue permits for civilian expeditions to the Siachen Base Camp and Kumar Post in Ladakh.
  • The decision to open up the world’s largest non-polar glacier and the highest battlefield was taken in October last year, when winter was already knocking on Ladakh’s doors and tourist season was nearly over. Carrying through that decision amid the border standoff with China indicates government’s assertiveness and a possible rethink on keeping forward villages off limits for civilians in future.
  • Siachen lies just west to the Galwan valley, which is in the eye of the current storm. It overlooks the tri-junction of Pakistan, India and Sakshgam, the area ceded by Pakistan to China in Aksai Chin that India claims as its own.
  • Lack of opportunities have led to thinning of population in forward areas, which has left them vulnerable. In contrast, tourism boom has brought visible economic prosperity in Leh and Nubra in the north and Man-Merak areas along the Pangong-Tso.
  • The district administration has been pushing for opening up more areas, reflecting the demand from locals who want to reap the benefit of tourism. In December 2018, five new routes were opened up through the border areas. Most of these either run along or lead to the LAC. But still large parts, such as Koyul on the Indus and Demchok remain out of bounds for civilians.
  • The Siachen Base Camp is roughly 225 Kms north of Leh. It is connected with a black-top road across the 18,360-ft-high Khardung-La (pass in Ladakhi) and along the Nubra river. The base camp is at an altitude of 11,000 ft and Kumar Post at 15,000 ft.
  • The Army Adventure Cell will vet prospective visitors to the Siachen area and issue permits. But all visitors will have to follow protocols and quarantine requirements put in place by the Leh district administration. Currently movement of non-locals is restricted within a 40-km radius of Leh.
  • Army sources said the popular tourist trail on the Shyok-Chushul ‘axis’ along the Pangong Tso (lake in Ladakhi)-Chushul is likely to remain out of bounds for tourists – at least for the time being – in view of the heavy military deployment and the border situation.
  • The five new routes opened up in 2018 were the Merak-Loma Bend axis, Chushul-Kartsangla-Mahe, Durbuk-Shachukul-Tharuk-Sato Kargyam-Parma-Erath-Chushul and Loma-Hanley, Korzok-Nurbo-Sumdo-Parangla-Kazaand, and Agham-Shayok-Durbuk links. All these are currently out of bounds for civilians.

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