Temperatures falling as low as -50 degrees, open patrolling lines where you could be in the direct line of a Pakistan Army sniper, the deep cracks on the ice sheets — death lurks at every step on Siachen glacier.
There is no good or bad weather at Siachen as it snows for most of the year. The temperature falls from -2 to -50 during peak winter and even then Army teams have to take up regular patrolling, create new lines and cook for themselves and unit members.
Today, despite the advent of technology, we are helpless in the face of nature. Avalanches cannot be predicted and military men cannot sit in their tents waiting for better weather conditions.
It’s impossible to find bodies of soldiers who die in avalanches. Some of the avalanches that hit parts of Siachen bring a large quantity of ice and it’s possible the bodies rolled down and got stuck in crevasses.
On June 23, 1987, I was in a similar situation. The weather was getting worse and the enemy troops were gaining pace as the terrain which we were trying to scale was almost vertical. Some of the team members were tired and the oxygen in our cylinders was dwindling. The only thing that came to our rescue was the fact that four of my team members and I never stopped. Finally, I scaled the peak which the Indian Army named after me as ‘Bana Top’.
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Before that we had multiple failures in scaling the peak but we did not give up. The top of this particular glacier gave a bird’s eye view of Indian posts and the walking lines of army patrolling parties, making it an important peak. We had to make sure enemy forces did not occupy it.
It’s considered an honour to serve at Siachen where, before 1984, Indian and Pakistani armies used to conduct only regular expeditions. Several people ask me if the Indian Army has made occupying the Siachen posts a prestige issue, ignoring the safety of our brave men. But I don’t think that view is right. If you leave your positions in Siachen, the Pakistan Army will occupy the posts in no time. We cannot lose control of these posts at any cost.
Men serve about three months on the glaciers but their training for the tough job begins much before. The Indian Army is capable and motivated enough to serve in such adverse conditions.
My Take | Bana Singh
Bana Singh is an honorary Captain of the Indian Army and a recipient of the Param Veer Chakra, the nation’s highest military award. Bana Top in Siachen is named after him. In 1987, he led the team that conquered the highest and most important peak in Siachen