Notwithstanding Pakistan's vociferous protests, the Indian army on Wednesday launched a civilian mountaineering and trekking expedition to the forbidding Siachen Glacier for the second year in a row.
The 21-day expedition is meant to show to the international community that Indian troops hold the 72-km-long Siachen Glacier in the Saltoro Ridge region of Jammu and Kashmir, and Pakistan was nowhere near it.
However, the aim of the trekking trip for 42 civilians -- including women, journalists, Defence Research and Development Organisation scientists, and Defence personnel -- is to promote adventure tourism among civilian youth of the country, army sources said.
"The participants for the trek have already gathered at Leh and are currently going through an acclimatisation and medical fitness examination process before they proceed to the glacier," an army official told PTI.
Defence Minister A K Antony will flag off the expedition from Leh on October 7, when the actual trekking of the glacier would begin.
The trekkers would move to Siachen Base Camp on October 7 and go through another round of acclimatisation and glacier-craft training and orientation there from 12 instructors from the Leh-based Army Mountaineering Institute.
The expedition team would comprise personnel from Indian Air Force, Navy, DRDO, Defence Accounts, Rastriya Indian Military College, Indian Mountaineering Federation, prominent Ladakh citizens, journalists and dependents of army personnel from the Northern Command, the sources said.
From October 12 to 19, the 42 mountaineering enthusiasts would complete a long trek from the Base Camp to Kumar Post at 16,000 feet, the most difficult part of the expedition traversing through frozen wasteland.
After the trek, the team would return to Leh on October 21 and return to their hometowns the next day.
The civilian Siachen expedition last September had run into a controversy after Pakistan lodged a strong protest, calling it 'incongruous' to the ongoing peace efforts with India.
Though the army halted the trip immediately after the protest, it went ahead with the trekking expedition after a go-ahead signal was given by the United Progressive Alliance government.
Despite protests from Pakistan, India maintains that it does not need its neighbour's approval to send trekkers to Siachen Glacier that was 'essentially an Indian territory' west of the 110-km-long Actual Ground Position Line.
In June-July this year, the army had taken out another expedition to the Khatling glacial heights on the Indo-Tibetan border in Uttarakhand 'to leave telltale signs of Indian Army's presence there, essentially to show to the world that it belonged to India' and to counter any future claim by China.
Amid reports of frequent intrusions by China's People's Liberation Army into the Indian territory along the Line of Actual Control, the Khatling expedition left "imprints which include an Indian-made shoe and a copy of an Indian newspaper adequately sealed in a plastic fodder to ensure it did not get wet or damaged in the snowy terrain".
It was in fact a Pakistan's move to send Japanese mountaineers to climb Rimo peak, located east of Siachen overlooking the Chinese-held Aksai Chin, in 1984 that prompted India to swiftly airlift its troops to the glacier under Operation Meghdoot.
Since then, Indian troops have been located at the uninhabitable glacial heights ranging from 16,000 feet to 22,000 feet.
In 1989, India and Pakistan agreed to demilitarise the glacier along the AGPL from the NJ-9842 ground reference point, where the well-delineated Line of Control simply stopped in the 1972 Simla Accord, to the Karakoram Pass.
But India wants the AGPL authenticated first for international safeguards before troop disengagement, withdrawal and finally demilitarisation of the glacier.
Though military guns boomed across the AGPL since 1984, when India outwitted Pakistan, they have gone silent since the November 2003 ceasefire agreement between the two countries.