Capt Shiva Chouhan is the first woman officer to be deployed at Siachen where life is tough as hell

Amrutha Pagad
Amrutha PagadJan 04, 2023 | 15:01

Capt Shiva Chouhan is the first woman officer to be deployed at Siachen where life is tough as hell

Captain Shiva Chouhan, first woman Army officer to be deployed at Siachen. Photo: @firefurycorps/Twitter

India just got the first woman officer operationally deployed at the world's highest battleground - Siachen. Captain Shiva Chouhan trained for a month at the Siachen Battle School for the posting. Chouhan will be responsible for combat engineering tasks and will be posted in the merciless terrain for three months. 

We have often heard of Siachen, the highest militarised zone in the world, with a history and strategic importance to India. 


Before we get into what life is like in unforgiving Siachen, here's a little bit about Captain Shiva Chouhan, who will be the first woman calling the glacier her home for three months:

  • Capt Shiva Chouhan hails from Rajasthan and is a Bengal Sapper Officer. 
  • After finishing her school and bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from NJR Institute of Technology in Udaipur, she joined the Indian Armed Forces. 
  • She was commissioned into the Engineer Regiment in 2021 after successfully completing her training at Officers Training Academy (OTA), Chennai. 
  • Later, she trained at Siachen Battle School at 12,000 feet, which also serves as the last point for politicians and celebrities to visit. 
In spite of various challenges, Captain Shiva with unflinching commitment successfully completed the training and was all set to be inducted to the Siachen Glacier.
- Senior Army official
  • Training at Siachen Battle School involves crossing crevasses, cutting through ice walls and climbing over them, rescue and evacuation and avalanche drills. 
  • Previously, women officers have been posted only to Siachen base camp at 9,000 ft.  

What is life like in Siachen? If you are shivering in the Delhi winter at 4 or 5 degree Celsius, imagine what it must feel like to live in a place where temperatures can drop to between -18 and -60 degree Celsius at any given point without a warning. 


  • At Siachen, the Indian Armed Forces keep a watch on both Pakistan and China, mostly the Gilgit Baltistan region of PoK. 
  • The battle in Siachen is not just with the enemy forces, but the unpredictable and dangerous weather. 

The altitude: First, soldiers need to get acclimatised to the heights - at 9,000 ft, then at 18,000 ft - where oxygen levels are low and the lungs are pushed to their limits. 

How long does it take to reach Siachen: From the base camp at 9,000 ft, it usually takes 4-10 days to reach a post depending on its location.

  • Climbing is undertaken around 2 or 3 am to be able to reach a post by at least 9 am. Climbing during the daytime is avoided as the chances of avalanches are more. 

The climb: If you get out of breath climbing a few flights of stairs at your apartment, imagine going up a hill carrying a load of 20 to 30 kg. Soldiers need to carry their ice axe, weapons, and other requirements.

  • At this rate, humans do sweat; even in sub-zero temperatures. The only difference is that even your sweat forms a thin sheet of ice underneath your clothes. 
Captain Shiva Chouhan. Photo: India Today

Battling weather: Avalanches are common and in the past, both Pakistan and India have suffered casualties due to avalanches. 

  • If not avalanches, then soldiers have to battle various altitude sicknesses such as hypoxia, hypothermia, frostbite, etc, or not falling into crevasses covered by deceptive thin ice.
  • Last year in August, the body of Lance Naik Chandrashekhar Harbola was found in Siachen... 38 years after he went missing during an avalanche (in 1984). 

Mental health: Soldiers are also up against various mental health issues in the cold and lonely Siachen. Usually, soldiers have their own coping mechanisms like dining together, playing games, etc.

Soldiers get to talk to their families once a week for two minutes per person.
- A soldier who was posted at Siachen told Business Standard

Food: Appetite isn't great at the glacier, where the body doesn't get enough oxygen and fatigue sets in. 

If you have, say, soup, you first have to melt it. But first you have to heat the container in which you have to heat the soup because that too is frozen. In the end, a 15-minute exercise takes three hours.
- Business Standard quoted an unnamed officer 

Protective gear: Protective gear is very important. There is a risk of skin peeling off or even losing a hand if someone touches a piece of metal, like a gun, without wearing gloves or protective gear. 

  • Protective goggles are also important to not lose eyesight due to the glare of the glacier. 

Shelter: Soldiers now stay in fibre-glass huts, an upgrade from tents. But the shelter is not held on stable ground and the structure keeps coming off. 

  • And yes, the bed here is just a sleeping bag. 
  • Going to the loo is also a task and since bowel movements are messed up, laxatives are a requirement. Soldiers now have access to bio-digester toilets; earlier they were forced to relieve themselves in the open. 
  • Bathing means melting a lot of snow, even for half a bucket of water. 

Why is this uninhabitable place militarised? According to one report, the military on average spends about Rs 5 crore per day to operate at Siachen. But that is nothing compared to the human cost.  

  • Siachen wasn't always militarised. Pakistan was the first to mark its military importance and planned to deploy its first-ever troops in the 1980s. But the Indian Army beat Pakistan to it and occupied the Siachen area in 1984.
  • The Saltoro ridge on the Siachen glacier provides India with an upper hand while keeping a watch on Pakistan and China.
Last updated: January 04, 2023 | 15:44
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