Siachen tourism: Cold calculation

Siachen

The proposed opening of the Siachen Glacier to tourists will be warmly welcomed around the world. This could become the new go-to destination of nature-lovers, selfie-seekers and tourists looking for thrills. Opening the Siachen Glacier to tourists can be expected to bring India multiple benefits. For one, it will provide a shot in the arm to tourism. Located in the eastern Karakoram Range in the Himalayas, the Siachen Glacier, which is the world’s second longest glacier outside the Polar regions, is also the world’s highest battlefield. India and Pakistan have engaged in fierce fighting here for decades. The Siachen is renowned for its stunning scenic beauty, high altitude and hostile weather. India is hoping that its natural beauty and challenging topography will attract tourists. This will provide a boost to tourist infrastructure at the Base Camp and the Nubra Valley as well as to other parts of Ladakh.

More importantly, opening the Siachen Glacier to tourists will boost India’s strategic interests as well. Both India and Pakistan lay claim to this glacier, but it is India which has been in control not just of the glacier but of the mountains to its west as well. This has been the situation since 1984. For almost 20 years thereafter, India and Pakistan engaged in daily firing across the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) here. Hundreds of Indian soldiers have died defending territory at these heights. It was only when a ceasefire took effect in 2003 along the India-Pakistan International Border, the Line of Control and the AGPL that the guns fell silent. However, high-altitude sickness continues to claim the lives of many of our soldiers. Our soldiers’ lives are precious, and they should not have to stay for months in this inhospitable terrain. It is said that the militaries of both India and Pakistan are keen to de-militarize the Siachen region. But India wants its control over the Siachen Glacier to be recognized by the international community. It is to insure against any Pakistani adventurism, any attempt it may make to capture this strategic glacier after India vacates it that New Delhi is pushing for tourism in this region. It wants the public to endorse the fact that Indian soldiers are present on the heights to the west of the glacier and that the Siachen Glacier is Indian territory.

The opening of Siachen to tourists will have serious negative impact on its environment and ecology. The Indian Army’s presence here since 1984 is reported to have generated over 8,000 tonnes of waste. Tourists will add to this mountain of rubbish. India must make it mandatory for tourists to take their trash when they leave.

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