Rajnath declares opening of Siachen Glacier for tourists

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurating Col Chewang Rinchen bridge in Eastern Ladakh on Monday.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurating Col Chewang Rinchen bridge in Eastern Ladakh on Monday.

*India, China share cordial relations
‘Actions will continue if Pak doesn’t stop infiltration’

Sanjeev Pargal

JAMMU, Oct 21: In a significant decision, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh today announced that Siachen Glacier, world’s highest battled field located at the height of about 18,600 feet from the sea level in Ladakh sector, which will become a Union Territory on October 31, is now open to the tourists from the base camp up to Kumar Post.
He made the all important announcement which had the strong potential of giving boost to adventurous tourism in the new Union Territory of Ladakh while addressing a function after inauguration of Col Chewang Rinchen bridge over Shyok River, located about 45 kilometers from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, in Eastern Ladakh this morning.
Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat, Northern Command chief Lt Gen Ranbir Singh and other senior officers accompanied the Defence Minister during inauguration of bridge, which, Rajnath said, has been completed in record time and will not only provide all weather connectivity in the region but will also be a strategic asset in the border areas.
India shares un-demarcated LAC with China in Eastern Ladakh.
“The Siachen area is now open for tourists and tourism, From Siachen base camp to Kumar Post, the entire area has been opened for tourism purposes. Ladakh has tremendous potential in tourism. Better connectivity in Ladakh would certainly bring tourists in large numbers,” Rajnath said in a tweet.
Ladakh along with Jammu and Kashmir is due to become a Union Territory on October 31.
“The step has been taken to boost tourism in Ladakh and give people a window to appreciate the tough work done by Army jawans and engineers in extreme weather and inhospitable terrains,” the Defence Minister said.
The Siachen Glacier at the height of around 18,600 feet from the sea level in the Karakoram range is known as the highest militarized zone in the world where the soldiers have to battle frostbite and high winds.
Avalanches and landslides are common at the Glacier during the winters and temperatures can drop to as low as minus 60 degrees Celsius.
The Indian Army had moved a proposal for opening up Siachen to tourists with a focus to showcase the working conditions of troops serving in the sector, and the Government gave its nod.
According to official figures, the Army lost 163 personnel at the world’s highest battlefield during the last 10 years. India and Pakistan started deploying troops at the strategically key Glacier in 1984 and mountaineering expeditions were allowed till then.
The Glacier came under the strategic control of India in 1984 following ‘Operation Meghdoot’.
Rajnath said the Indian Army has given a befitting reply to Pakistan on attempts to infiltrate militants from the Line of Control (LoC) and such actions will continue if they don’t stop infiltration.
He also asserted that after abrogation of Articles 370 and Article 35A, the Ladakh region will now only “draw friends” and “leave no scope for enemies”.
“However, our armed forces have never been offensive on the Pakistani side. We have never done the first firing. But, by supporting terror activities, attempts have been made from the other side to destabilise, weaken and compromise the integrity of India,” he said, adding the Indian armed forces have given a “befitting reply” to them.
His statement comes a day after Army chief General Bipin Rawat said that three terror camps have been destroyed by Indian Army in retaliation to unprovoked ceasefire violation from the Pakistani side at Tangdhar sector of Kashmir.
Singh said, “If they do not stop infiltration, our armed forces will keep giving befitting replies until they (Pakistan) stop such activities.”
The Defence Minister said India and China share “cordial relations”, and there are “perceptional differences” between the two countries on the boundary issue, but it has been handled with great maturity by both sides.
“The road “goes to the border with China. Now, India and China have good relations… Recently even the Chinese President (Xi Jinping) held a long meeting with our Prime Minister at Mahabalipuram, but he did not mention the Kashmir issue as China feels it’s an internal issue,” Singh said.
China’s recent statement to all nations to combat terrorism in a concerted effort has also been welcomed, he said.
Later, Singh also tweeted, “India shares cordial relations with China. There are perceptional differences between both the countries on the boundary issue but the issue has been handled with great maturity and responsibly”.
“Both the countries have not allowed the situation to escalate or go out of hand,” he said, adding that there are “perceptional differences between the two countries on the border issue, but defence forces of both the countries are discharging their responsibilities very sensibly”.
Col Chewang Rinchen built by Border Roads Organisation (BRO) between Durbuk and Daulat Beg Oldie, and roughly 45 km from the Line of Actual Control with China, will reduce travel time by about half.
The bridge has been named after the Colonel Chewang Rinchen, a decorated officer of the Indian Army who hailed from Ladakh.
“I congratulate BRO for constructing a strategic bridge on road to DBO within 15 working months. BRO is in the forefront of development of the road communication in remote and most difficult areas,” Rajnath said.
The bridge falls at the fag end of the recently-completed road connecting Leh with the Karakoram Pass and will allow ease of troop movement to the Daulat Beg Oldie sector in eastern Ladakh.
Chief Engineer BRO Nitin Sharma, who also accompanied the Defence Minister during inauguration of the bridge, said that bridge was built in a record period of 15 working months after the foundation was laid in 2017.
“It was built with innovative micro pile technology used for the first time in Asia,” he said.
The bridge is situated at a height of 14600 feet above sea level at 150th kilometer milestone on 260 kms long Leh-DBO road, he said adding that it can withstand 70 tonnes of load.
At the bridge inauguration, Singh said only steel and concrete have not gone into its making, but “sweat and valour” of the engineers and workers of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) too.
They have toiled hard and people should know their stories, Singh said.
The 1400-ft long bridge is the highest altitude permanent bridge that will connect Durbuk and Daulat Beg Oldie.