Indomitable spirit takes Divyang trekkers to Siachen
Eight differently abled trekkers, comprising four visually impaired members, three hand amputees and a leg amputee, created a world record for the largest number of people with disabilities scaling the world’s highest battlefield, Siachen Glacier, up to Kumar Post at the altitude of 15,632 ft. Meet the lone woman and three heroes from the region who found special mention in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Mann Ki Baat on September 26.
‘Can scale any mountain if you’re mentally tough’
Shimla: “People often judge you by your physical ability. But you can scale any mountain if you are mentally tough,” says Chongjin Ingmo, 25, the lone woman in the eight-member team of Operation Blue Freedom, a climbing expedition organised by Team CLAW (Conquer Land Air Water) of the Indian Army, that created a world record by trekking to the 15,632-ft Kumar Post in Siachen Glacier, the highest battlefield in the world.
Born in Kinnaur, Ingmo moved to Ladakh for studies after losing her eyesight at the age of 8. After clearing her Class 12 from Chandigarh and graduation from Miranda House College, Delhi, she became a banker.
Ingmo was preparing for a fashion show for the physically challenged in Goa and had even paid her fee when she came to know about the climbing expedition. “I decided to go for climbing for it was an opportunity to prove myself,” says the gritty woman, who is also an ardent cyclist and pedalled from Manali to the 5,359-metre Khardung La in 2018, one of the world’s highest motorable roads.
She is an athlete, a swimmer, practises judo and is also a member of a cricket team for the blind in Delhi.
The expedition was launched in Delhi on August 15. Intially, there were 16 members in the team, eight of whom, including Ingmo, were selected based on their performance during the training from August 19 to 29.
“Yes, it was a tough challenge. The route involved crossing deep crevasses, icy glacial water streams, hard-ice stretches and undulating rocky moraines,” she recalls. “Life throws many challenges, and it is up to us how we overcome those difficulties. If we can do it, anybody can. There is too much stress in life, but one should not give up,”adds the youngster with a positive outlook.
When her friends questioned her decision to take up the risky expedition, she told them that for her, life is boring if there are no challenges.
Motivated to the core to create record, they did it
Jammu: Lobsang Chosphel, 38, and Irfan Ahmad Mir, 24, from Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir, respectively, are blind since birth but they have nerves of steel.
“My friend Tsering told me about the CLAW expedition by veterans from the army’s special forces that aims to rehabilitate people with disabilities through sports and adventure. I applied because I knew it would be an experience of a lifetime,” says Chosphel.
It took the team five days to reach Kumar Post from the Siachen base camp. “The endurance training, including 20-km runs, came handy. We didn’t face any problem while climbing, but the descent was a bit difficult. We were motivated to the core to create this world record and we did it!” he says proudly.
Chosphel says the differently abled need to be rehabilitated by the government with dignity. “For the past two years, I have no work due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Earlier, I made candles and earned ₹7,000 a month of which ₹3,000 was deducted for accommodation,” he says.
“We felt over the moon when the Prime Minister mentioned our names on Mann Ki Baat, but we should be given a dignified livelihood. I’m not educated but can be a productive part of society,” he adds.
Blind eye to visually impaired hurts: Mir
Irfan Ahmad Mir, 24, from Pampore near Srinagar agrees with Chosphel. “I’m a blind cricketer, who has represented the Indian team. The government is quick to recognise cricket players but turns a blind eye to us. We are not recognised for our contribution despite our physical handicap,” he says. “My family is sustaining me. There is no scholarship for me from the government,” he adds.
An arts graduate from Delhi University, Mir pursuing a computer diploma from the Blind Relief Association in Delhi at present.
Turning to his recent achievement, he says: “CLAW received 143 applications and eight aspirants were shortlisted after being through different stages of endurance tests.”
Recalling the trek, he says the squad started its descent on September 13 and returned to the base camp on September 15. “The distance was 60 to 65 km from the base camp to Kumar Post. The temperature was minus 10 to 12 minus degrees Celsius. We had to rope up to cross glaciers, crevices and rivers. Para instructors were with us, and teamwork made this unbelievable feat possible,” he says.
Fastest and fittest, soldier amputee battles the odds
Chandigarh: True to his name, havildar Ajay Kumar is invincible. A native of Karoli village in Kosli tehsil of Haryana’s Rewari district, the 37-year-old is a proud gallantry award winner who suffered a below knee amputation in the left leg due to grievous injuries sustained in combat. But that didn’t stop him from becoming the fastest and fittest member of the team of differently abled trekkers, who conquered the world’s highest battlefield on September 11.
Havildar Ajay believes dreams come true because his did. Two decades ago, he recalls how just four days before his Class 12 exams, the postman called out for him, insisting Ajay receives it himself. The letter was from the Indian Army, confirming his selection as a soldier. “My childhood dream had come true! I stuffed my books at one place and packed my bag to board the next train to report at the training centre,” he says.
Cut to the present. His amputation did not deter him from pursuing his dreams. He turned out to be the fastest and the fittest on the expedition despite being the only leg amputee, an army officer organising the mission said.
After three weeks of training and acclimatisation, the expedition started from Siachen base camp on September 7 to reach Kumar Post on September 11. The challenging terrain not only tested the physical endurance and mental stamina of the trekkers, but also their ice-craft skills. “We had to climb about 15 km in 8-9 hours on the glacier each day to reach the next camp, where we would halt for the night before resuming the march early in the morning,” Ajay adds.