The Indian army’s Eastern Command recently concluded its first Trans-Theatre Adventure Activity. This event, which commenced in August took almost four months, included a series of adventure activities, conducted close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) spread from Sikkim to Arunachal, a region forming part of the Eastern Command. It was the first joint army-civil adventure activity in which 27 civilian experts from different domains participated alongside army personnel. The events forming part of this adventure activity included six mountaineering expeditions, seven treks of more than 750 kms each moving upto altitudes of 16,500 ft, six cycling expeditions each over 1,000 kms on almost non-existent roads in six valleys, and three white water rafting in different fast flowing rivers.
The participants displayed grit and determination to traverse through difficult and harsh terrain, most of which have thus far been explored only by army patrols and expeditions. For the civilians it was a once in a lifetime adventure. The army opened most of these remote regions, close to the LAC, to the public for the first time. Its success implies many more such activities would be a regular feature. While the entire event may have been novel the intent behind the event was not.
Arunachal has some of the most beautiful landscapes of the country, which remains unexplored for a variety of reasons. For a prolonged duration the government of India had adhered to the British era policy of an ‘inner line’ permit for visitors reducing footfall in remote regions. Though the system still exists however permits are granted easily. The second major reason has been poor road connectivity and lack of infrastructure facilities for tourists. With improved road connectivity, facilities would automatically be created, and these regions could then become national tourist destinations. Most parts of Sikkim, less the area covered by these activities, has been open to the public.
The teams participating in these activities also interacted with residents living in remote regions. Their way of life is vastly different from other parts of the country due to the nature of terrain and lack of connectivity. Thus far, the locals were largely in contact with the army whose patrols frequently traverse these regions. Meeting people from all walks of life would have given a different perspective for the locals. While the army conducts its own adventure activities and patrols in the region, involving civil society helps in projecting an image of cooperation and coordination as also displaying its hospitality.
These adventure activities also sent a firm message that there is no disputed region between India and China. It is solely Indian territory and open for its citizens who seek to partake in adventure, blend with nature, explore remote regions as also desire to understand local culture, cuisine and customs. Many of the regions, which were trekked on foot or on cycles, will soon be connected by road as the government has commenced construction of a 2400 km trans-Arunachal Highway connecting 16 districts of the state. This highway would transverse the centre of the state. The project is being simultaneously undertaken by four different agencies to ensure timely completion.
In Oct this year the government also cleared development of six additional corridors to enhance connectivity to border regions. In Nov, the government approved the construction of a 2000 kms Frontier Highway to counter Chinese road construction activities on their side of the LAC. Arunachal Pradesh already has two National Highways, the Trans Arunachal Highway and East-West Industrial Corridor. The Frontier Highway would be the third. All three highways will be connected with the six additional corridors. This will, apart from giving a boost to defence preparedness, also enhance the tourism potential of the state.
A second benefit of the event was identifying new tourism sites in and around border regions which could be opened to the national public. While currently these locations can only be reached by trekking or other forms of adventure activities, however as road network develops, these regions will be more accessible. The greater the tourism the better the economy and closer the integration of remote regions with the rest of the country.
For civilian participants, it was a novel experience as they would have witnessed first hand the manner in which soldiers serving in harsh, high-altitude terrain live and operate. They would have seen their morale, hospitality and spirit despite multiple shortcomings in facilities. This exposure is unique and would always be cherished. Very few from a non-military background have shared facilities with soldiers in border regions.
Finally, it conveyed that the LAC is firmly under our control and the army is prepared to challenge any misadventures by China. If civilians are free to move along the LAC, then the confidence level of the army in dominating it is high.
While this was a novel and unique expedition planned by the army and jointly implemented, it should neither stop here nor be restricted to the eastern theatre. Similar activities must be planned in other sectors too. Tourism and adventure activities along the LAC must become routine as connectivity improves. This would go a long way in cementing our claims as also projecting to the nation the hospitality and high spirits of our soldiers, as also the conditions in which they serve and operate.
For the states, increased tourism and adventure hubs in remote border regions would provide an additional source of income. For the adversary, it is a message that the region is firmly Indian, and any territorial claim is unacceptable.
The author is Major General (Retd)