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Centre opens ' restricted' J& K peaks for trekkers.

IF YOU are a mountaineering freak, here's news that will bring some cheer.

The Union home ministry has decided to approve a defence ministry proposal, opening up 104 peaks in Jammu and Kashmir for mountaineering expeditions.

All the peaks share borders with either China or Pakistan- Occupied Kashmir ( POK) and the move is being seen as another step to suggest normalcy is back in J& K. Starting this summer, which also marks the beginning of the mountaineering season, mountaineers will not have to undergo the arduous task of obtaining permission from the defence and home ministries. They would be allowed to undertake expeditions to the peaks in the " sensitive" Eastern Korakaram region in Jammu and Kashmir, a home ministry official said.

A majority of these 104 peaks are located in the Leh and Ladakh regions. Till now, they were known as ' restricted peaks', given their sensitivity and proximity to the Line of Actual Control ( LAC) and the Line of Control ( LoC). " The home ministry has already started processing the defence ministry's proposal," said the minister of state ( home), Mullappally Ramachandran.

The Eastern Karakoram region of J& K, which is now being opened up, lies to the north of Leh across the Ladakh Range and the Nubra Valley. It includes largely virgin peaks such as Saser Kangri- I ( 7,415 m), Saser Kangri - II ( 7,513m), Saser Kangri III ( 7,495 m), Mamostong Kangri, Rimo Group, Apsaras I, II, II1, Teram Kangri I, II, III, Singhi Kangri, Sia Kangri, Ghaint I and II and Indira Col.

Due to their ' restricted' status and close proximity to the LAC or LoC, only 10 joint expeditions or purely Indian expeditions were permitted on these peaks.

And for that, one had to take permission from the defence and home ministries, and the Indian Mountaineering Federation ( IMF). But now, mountaineers simply have to apply to the IMF and book a peak for expedition.

" This will expedite the procedure of granting approvals for expeditions. It will open up a host of avenues in the tourism sector and increase revenue.

Most of the restricted peaks lie beyond the 20,000- feet- high Stok Kangri in Ladakh, which is a favourite among the mountaineers.

Expeditions to these peaks were so restricted that a liaison officer from the Indian Army used to accompany mountaineers.

That will still apply to foreign travellers. " A liaison officer, who is an experienced mountaineer appointed by the IMF, will accompany foreign climbers," explains a home ministry official.

Last month, the home ministry had relaxed the Protected Areas Permit Regime, allowing foreigners to visit the village of Turtuk in the high- altitude Nubra Valley.

The village is situated on the famous silk route, near the LoC in J& K. During the Kargil War in 1999, Pakistan troopers occupied an area of one km on the ridges overlooking Turtuk, making it the only sector in Leh to be taken over by the enemy. The Indian Army had to move from Leh through the Khardungla Pass, at an altitude of 18,380 ft, to evict the intruders.

Given the latest decision, visitors will also be allowed to travel along the banks of the Pangong Lake in Leh, right up to the villages of Man and Merak. Earlier, they were only allowed up to Spangmik, said officials.

For the first time in the last two decades of militancy in J& K, the casualties of civilians and security- men dropped below 150 this year.

Following this, the government has withdrawn nine CRPF battalions ( approximately 10,000 men) and three BSF battalions from J& K while the Army has withdrawn nearly 30,000 men comprising two divisions, the Centre said.

" The incidents of violence in J& K are the lowest in 2009.

Hence, I will take what appears to be a risky step of withdrawing a significant number of battalions from J& K," Chidambaram had told the Rajya Sabha earlier this month.



Stok Kangri is the highest mountain in the Stok Range of the Himalayas.

Despite its altitude, it is a popular peak among climbers Saser Kangri II is the 49th highest mountain in the world. Saser Kangri II West was first climbed in 1984 by an Indo- Japanese team. But Saser Kangri II main remains unclimbed



To undertake expeditions to these ' restricted peaks', mountaineers need permission from the IMF, defence and home ministries. It takes months for clearance An army officer accompanies all mountaineers to the peaks in the Eastern Karakoram ranges Only 10 joint expeditions or purely Indian expeditions are permitted every year


From this summer, climbers only have to apply to the IMF. So clearance will be obtained faster Only foreign climbers will be accompanied by an Army officer to the Eastern Karakoram peaks The step will boost tourism

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Dec 20, 2009
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