The first time I heard of Siachen was in 1986 when Col Narinder Kumar, a veteran on the world's largest glacier, delivered a lecture at our school, The Lawrence School, Sanawar. On joining the army, I wanted to serve there but had to wait for two long years before the opportunity came thanks to the queue of volunteers.
It took another two weeks to reach Siachen base camp from Baramulla in the Kashmir Valley, where I was posted, courtesy convoy timings and other restrictions. On the way, we crossed Drass, the second coldest inhabited place in the world, and climbed Khardung La, the highest motorable pass in the world at 18,500 feet above sea level, while traversing the cold desert that Ladakh is.
Nature had forbidden human entry into Siachen since time immemorial but the Indian army was a different breed altogether, determined to conquer nature, and conquer it did.
At the base camp, we had to undergo two weeks' survival training before being inducted into the glacier proper. Extreme cold and breathlessness were going to be our never-deserting companions. The training was tough, to say the least, with sweat flowing down one's brow and instantly freezing into icicles at minus 30 to 40 degrees Celsius.
After the training, I, along with my team, started climbing to our post and it took us 13 days, involving the most arduous trudge with battle loads, across the treacherous icy terrain, to reach our destination. We were to spend three months at the post, guarding against the Baluchis deployed right opposite within abuse-hurling range.
The tenure at the post for the next three months was educative and challenging. We were practically out in the open, our habitat being flimsy shelters for living and ice caves for protection from enemy shelling. Water was locally 'manufactured' by melting ice; calls of nature were answered in the open in true Indian style. The enemy was punctual with his airburst artillery shells every time we were on patrol. Transistor was the only mode of entertainment with the request programme of All India Radio being the most sought-after. Television, dish, mobile phone, Internet were alien gadgets and terms.
I lived with my team in a place where we could not even stand properly. All of us could not sleep at the same time due to paucity of space and one of us had to be on sentry duty. Fresh ration was a rarity though glacier rations were in abundance but we had little appetite. The sun was an elusive commodity and once we experienced a 'whiteout' for 27 days at a stretch. It deprived the enemy the pleasure of firing at us due to near-zero visibility. However, the artillery, the God of War, was not inhibited by bad weather and sent shells, which flew past with a death-like whistling sound.
We completed our tenure successfully, earning the coveted Siachen medal for having served in the most dangerous, difficult, dirtiest, coldest and highest battlefield, also called White Hell on Planet Earth.
Siachen means a rose garden. Some wild roses did grow near the base camp but not enough to make a bed of roses.
Blurb: We completed our tenure successfully, earning the most coveted Siachen medal for having served in the most dangerous, difficult, dirtiest, coldest and highest battlefield, also called White Hell on Planet Earth.