At 22,000 feet above sea level, you are probably on top of the world but the feeling isn’t exactly that – the frost silently gnaws at your numb limbs and the low pressure makes your head reel.
But a few handy inventions by the Life Sciences unit of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) have made Siachen and other high-altitude places hospitable.
The DRDO is developing battery-operated socks and gloves that will save army personnel and civilians from frostbites. For those who find it difficult to adjust to low-pressure conditions, the DRDO has a kit, which provides emergency treatment for varying degrees of acute mountain sickness, including High Altitude Pulmonary Oedoma (HAPO). These kits have been already introduced in high-altitude areas along the Himalayan belt.
Dr W. Selvamurthy, Chief Controller, R&D, DRDO, told the Hindustan Times that Indian jawans had welcomed these inventions since it improved their sustainability and efficiency. Frostbite cases have come down by 65 per cent in the last three years, Selvamurthy said.
The DRDO has also introduced ‘biodigester’, a machine that can decompose night soil quickly in areas under freezing point. For this, DRDO’s scientists went to Antarctica to get a rare bacterium called psychrophyllic, which can survive in sub-zero temperatures. Currently, there are 120 such ‘biodigesters’ in Siachen.
The DRDO is also riding high on “purified” Zanskar ponies. According to Dr Z Ahmed, Director of the Food Research Laboratory, Leh, these ponies had become “impure” through several generations of crossbreeding and their ability to survive in difficult conditions had lessened.
Dr Ahmed said they were trying genetic engineering on the Ladakh yaks so that they can be “quick-footed and consume less water”. Ponies and yaks are used by the army to carrying goods to mountainous areas.