On the Northern tip of India lies the cold desert of Siachen. The word Siachen is believed to be derived from a Balti word ‘Sia’, which means a Rose. Siachen Glacier is the largest glacier in India, a 78 kilometer long frozen wonder hidden from the external world but not from the artillery guns and bombshells.
Harish Kapadia, a cloth merchant from Bombay (also India’s celebrated climber and writer), walked through the crevasses of Siachen when hardly any Indian knew of existence of such an area. Kapadia’s journey to the Siachen started in the year 1985.
And in his own words, “The lure of the East Karakoram worked like a magnet”.
This book details Shri Kapadia’s several visits to Siachen and its surrounding areas that were once strictly out of bounds to civilians. So much so that even when Pakistan was sheepishly luring foreigner climbers into this valley, Indians were still keeping this beautiful landscape away from its mountaineers and trekkers.
And it was not before 1978 that Indian mountaineers were allowed in this region. Four years after the first Pakistani Expedition, which was infact a breach of Simla Agreement between the two nations!
The mountaineering fraternity not only scaled newer heights but also made the world aware of the fact that Siachen and its mountains belonged to nobody else but India.
Siachen the Battle of Roses is Kapadia’s twelfth book and is written in the typical Kapadia style that not only takes the reader through the arduous yet exciting world of mountaineering but also details historical as well as political background of the Siachen battlefield Glacier. Like all his previous books, you will see plentiful anecdotes and hundreds of articles as footnote references related to Siachen Glacier.
Kapadia and his team of ‘budget climbers’ from Bombay tried their luck first in the year 1985. All they could manage on this expedition was a walk upto the snout of the Siachen Glacier. They tried their luck again in 1996. Back then, one had to go through a wait period of six months before application was denied or approved. Team Kapadia’s application was approved and as soon as they landed at the base camp, they were asked to pack up and go back. Without any explanation!
For a climber, six months doesn’t mean just Six Months but it means 12 months because one can climb only during the summers, especially in regions like Siachen. But that didn’t deter Team Kapadia. Those guys went again to the glacier in 1998.
This book also provides insight to the controversy-ridden world of Siachen Glacier. The early expeditions by Francis Younghsband and Fanny Workman have been detailed in two separate chapters. The book also contains 16 colored pages comprised of breathtaking images. There are four pages comprising of B&W images of the pre-independence era.
Unlike other books by Kapadia, this book does not contain detailed maps of the trek routes probably because of the security reasons. There are three rough sketches of the Siachen area and treks/climbs around it.
This highest battleground of the world is taking its toll not only on the lives of soldiers but also on the lives of people living downstream of the Nubra River as tonnes of untreated human and metal waste gets mixed with the glaciers of Siachen.
The author proposes a Siachen Peace Park by the end of this book and that looks like a plausible solution to the Siachen Problem.
And before we wrap up, I would like to quote from the book itself.
As hostilities on the glacier have ceased and the firing has stopped, there is very little rationale for the continued presence of troops at these altitudes.
Nations, which do not understand and respect geography, are condemned by history.
But in case of the Siachen conflict, the converse is also true; ‘Any nation that does not understand its history is condemned by geography”!