A visit to the Siachen Glacier, the world’s longest at 76.4 km and highest at nearly 22,000 feet, recently provided a group of adventurers and environmentalists a rare glimpse of the fauna around the world’s highest battle zone. It also offered them an opportunity to see first hand how some bird species also survive in the severe cold conditions.

The trip to Siachen Glacier was organised by the 16 Rajput Battalion to enable 18 civilian adventurers, including a 62-year-old member, to see what life was like at such heights for the soldiers manning one of the highest battlefields in the world.

The breathtaking views of the place apart, Siachen Glacier also presents some of the harshest weather conditions.

“The expedition allowed us an opportunity to see the challenging life and service of the Indian Army personnel for the nation in the extreme harsh weather conditions of the snow-covered desert. At the same time, it helped me explore one of the highest desert habitats in the world,” said expedition member and Delhi-based ecologist T.K. Roy.

The expedition was flagged off from Leh on September 7 and reached the Siachen Base after crossing the highest motorable pass in the world at Khardungla (18,380 feet).

At the Siachen Glacier, which is full of dangerous crevasses, the expedition members experienced the tough life of the deployed Army personnel who stay in tents amid harsh weather conditions, which change rapidly, said Mr. Roy.

From snowfall and rains to high velocity winds and usual sub-zero temperature of up to - 60 degrees Celsius at night, the expedition members got a feel of the life high up.

“For me the high point was being able to record the surprising diversity of more than 20 species of alpine flora in the month of September. What stood out among this was the bird diversity as there were many species like the hill pigeon, yellow-billed crow, red-billed crow, raven, great rosefinch, white-winged river chat, white wagtail and accentor to name a few which I could spot in this highest cold desert land.”

Mr. Roy, who also conducts the annual Asian Water Bird Census each year in Delhi, however, expressed concern that the glacier was becoming badly polluted and contaminated due to the huge quantity of plastic, polythene and metal garbage which is dumped there regularly.

He lauded the huge high altitude plantations being undertaken by the Army near the Siachen Base Camp. “The expedition members hoped that attempts would also be made to clean up the glacier as that would also preserve the rare fauna we see there.”