India's top designers have taken up the challenge to produce clothing to protect soldiers deployed on the world's highest battlefield in the Himalayas, where cold claims more lives than combat.
The army went to the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad, which in turn has focussed on the angora rabbit. These rabbits are bred for their super-soft hair, which the institute says, is eight times warmer than sheep wool.
The NID has also honed in on defence facilities secretly experimenting with other natural fibres to manufacture thermal clothing. NID professor Pradyuman Singh Jhala said that despite its thermal qualities, raw angora is fragile and needs to be toughened to withstand conditions at altitudes of up to 23,000 feet, where temperatures dip below minus 40 degrees centigrade.
The Indian army deploys around 19,800 soldiers in Kashmir's Siachen glacier area, which overlooks Pakistan and China. "Our challenge is to make this fibre cohesive so that we can weave and spin it into high-altitude clothing," Jhala said.
"The Institute of Plasma Research is helping us and now we have achieved initial success. So we have approached the government for a plant to treat angora in large quantities," he said.
The plant is due to be operational by year's end, with an hourly production capacity of three kilograms of strengthened angora, Jhala said.