Go back a decade or more and you hardly hear anyone talking about Ladakh. It was not even considered a place worth visiting; forget to be a tourist spot. It was just a name we heard from time to time; a distant land somewhere in our country. Fast forward to times like today and everyone now wants to visit Ladakh; all thanks to Bollywood. There is so much craze these days that people have now started thinking about remote areas, even in this most remote part of our country. Everyone wants to come to Ladakh and explore the unexplored; go to areas where no one has been; less traveled or visited areas. One of the questions I started getting asked about the trip to Ladakh quite often now is how to visit Siachen; the glacier itself or at least the base camp.
If you are also planning a trip to Ladakh; and wondering how to add Siachen to your itinerary; then read on to find out.
What is Siachen
First of all, let me start with some information on what exactly Siachen is. The Siachen Glacier is a glacier located in the eastern range of Karakoram, in the Himalayas, northeast of NJ9842, where the control line between India and Pakistan ends. At 76 km long, it is the longest glacier in Karakoram and the second longest in the non-polar areas of the world.
Most importantly, however, at an altitude of 5,753 meters (18,875 feet), it is now the highest battlefield in the world. It is an active battle zone, where Indian and Pakistani forces remain involved in conflicts for 12 months. The entire Siachen Glacier, with all major passes, has been under Indian administration since 1984.
However, it is not really the problem of the constant battle here. More soldiers died in Siachen due to harsh climatic conditions in the region than from fighting. A total of 869 soldiers lost their lives on the Siachen Glacier; due to climatic conditions and environmental and other factors to date; since the Indian Army deployed posts in Siachen in 1984.
So this is Siachen for you. It is not a place of adventure, nor a tourist spot or an area where tourists are allowed. It is not a place where you just go for a challenge or to explore. Siachen is where you are at great risk of dying if you are careful, prepared, escorted and trained to do so.
Siachen Base Camp
Siachen Base Camp is the base that came or in layman’s terms, the army base from which the Indian Indian Army commands Glacier operations. It is here that the road ends and the walk begins to several army posts on the Siachen glacier.
Where is the Siachen base camp
Siachen Base Camp is located in the Nubra Valley of Ladakh region. From the city of Leh, you will cross Khardung La to enter the valley; and drive through the villages of Panamik and Warshi to reach the base camp. Civilians from now on are only allowed up to Vila Warshi.
How to go to Siachen Base Camp
So, unless you practice trekking and mountaineering professionally, Siachen Base Camp is as far away as possible. This is also where the road ends, so you can no longer drive or walk. The journey from Leh city will easily take about 10 hours to reach the base camp, depending on your speed. However, it is difficult to get permission to go there. Your regular ILP in Ladakh will only take you to Vila Warshi in the Nubra valley.
Permission for Siachen Base Camp
DC Leh’s office is not authorized and cannot issue any permission to visit Base Camp. To do this, you will need to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Interior (MHA) and the Ministry of Defense (MoD) with a very clear explanation as to why you want to visit here. So, to sum up, to get permission from the Siachen base camp, you really need to have good bureaucratic contacts in the ministries and the Indian army.
There is, however, another way around this, which is really unofficial. If you know a senior Indian army officer published in Ladakh; or perhaps a junior officer who can speak to the senior on our behalf; you can get a permit issued to visit the base camp. To do this, you will have to go to Partapur Army Camp, the North Ladakh brigade headquarters and try your luck. It is about 7 km from Hunder.
Please note that it will be a day trip anyway. You will first have to reach any of the cities in the Nubra valley from Leh and stay there all night. On day 2, you will take a day trip to Siachen base camp and return to the Nubra valley. On the third day, you will return to Leh. There are no accommodations anywhere near the base camp and you will not be able to stay there either, unless you are part of an Indian Army operation; in that case, they will make arrangements for your stay. The Army conducts this type of event or excursion to the Siachen base camp and, if you were lucky enough to be part of that group, your trip to the camp will be organized by the army itself.
How to visit the Siachen Glacier
Visiting Siachen Glacier, however, is a totally different game than visiting Siachen Base Camp. For the base camp, you can drive to the end, but for the glacier, you will have to travel 60 kilometers through the rugged terrain, through brunettes, glaciers and deep crevices. You not only need to be physically fit for this, but also have extensive experience in trekking and mountaineering. You will also need to have a medical exam and a doctor to declare that you are fit for the task. Even the soldiers who are deployed on the Siachen glacier spend several days at the base camp before going up to the glacier. Not far from the base camp is the Siachen Battle School, where soldiers train for several weeks before being introduced to the glacier. Then you can imagine the difficulty of the task.
Almost impossible to obtain is what best describes it. First of all, the Siachen Glacier is not really a place where you can get permission and start walking towards it. The only way to get here is to be part of a trekking expedition and continue with the whole group. These trekking expeditions are more organized by the Indian army. Some other trekking expeditions are also organized after the approval of the government and the Indian army, but mainly it is the Army itself that organizes the trek.
Siachen Trekking Expedition
How to be part of this trekking expedition? Well, first of all, the number of shipments is severely limited, only 1 per year. This is correct, it is an annual thing. And so the number of people on the expedition is limited. A large number of people sign up for these expeditions and I’m really talking about people with a lot of experience in trekking and high level contacts. Only the lucky ones are chosen for the walk at the end.
The Army takes about 40 people, including its specialists, two journalists, defense scientists, school cadets and civilian volunteers for this expedition. For civilian volunteers, a medical check-up is carried out in Leh and only people who pass this test can go to Siachen base camp. So, at the camp, these people are trained or about a week before they go to the glacier.
Organizations associated with defense forces, media people, the Indian Military College of Rashtriya and cadets from the Military School of Rashtriya participate in the journey every year. So, for civilians and people like you and me, it is almost impossible to get permission for the Siachen Glacier. If, however, you still want to try your luck, visit the link below to read the entire procedure on how to apply for the expedition.
Can foreigners visit the Siachen glacier or the base camp?
Not at all. If you are not an Indian citizen, you cannot go beyond Warshi village. This is the last point in the Nubra valley that a foreigner can visit. Even for the Siachen base camp, being an Indian citizen is the first qualifying condition.