A team of eight Indians created a new world record for the ‘largest number of people with disabilities to scale the world’s highest battlefield, the Siachen Glacier.
History was created when these eight champions reached Kumar Post on Siachen Glacier at an altitude of 15,632 feet on 11th September 2021.
This group was trained and led by Team Conquer Land Air Water (CLAW), a team of Special Forces Veterans from the Indian Armed Forces. The expedition was actively supported throughout by the Indian Army, helping make this unique and powerful expedition, a success.
This expedition known as ‘Operation Blue Freedom’ included Havilder Ajay Kumar, Mahesh Nehra, Lobzang Chospel, Pushpak Gawande, Chhonzin Angmo, Akshat Rawat, Maj Dwarakesh and Irfan Ahmed Mir, who have created history with their incredible achievement.
1- Pushpak Gawande is a right-hand amputee from Nasik, Maharashtra. He lost his right hand to an electric shock at the age of 12. After being hospitalised for over four months, for the next two years he was not able to come out and face society. With his family’s support, he finally decided to step outdoors and test himself. Since then, he has never stopped. Pushpak has been a junior national football player, a state athlete in hurdles, 400m, and 200m. This gave him the confidence and belief that he is no less than anyone else.
“I just lost a hand, not my courage,”SAYS PUSHPAK GAWANDE.
2- Lobzang Chospel is a resident of Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre in Ladakh. He is 100% blind. Yet, one of the happiest persons on earth. His disability has not stopped him from doing things that he loves. Lobzang is a candle maker, a massage therapist, and a music lover who walks around with his radio, listening to music and humming his songs.
3- Mahesh Nehra: A 36-year-old right-hand amputee from Rajasthan lost his hand during a machinery accident in the year 2015. After the accident, he worked very hard with just one hand and went on to become the first-ever disabled PTI Physical teacher in Rajasthan. He has trained over 3000 disabled students over the past few years. He joined this expedition with only one goal in his mind- to achieve the world record and motivate and help other disabled children achieve great things in their lives.
4- Chhonzin Angmo: A 25-year-old from Himachal Pradesh, lost her eyesight at the age of 8. But this braveheart never let her disability stop her from exploring her life to its fullest. As an avid adventure seeker and a para-athlete, she completed her Basic Mountaineering Training and two-cycle expeditions from Manali to Khardung La. Ms Angmo is also a national judo player.
”My blindness is not my weakness, it’s my strength,”says Chhonzin Angmo.
5- Akshat Rawat from Uttarakhand is a solo traveller and an artist. He lost both his hands in an accident. He is living his life without prosthetic hands for the last 13 years. Despite innumerable challenges and difficulties, Akshat didn’t lose hope and started doing everything in his own way. He is a determined 19-year-old, who did what only a few could ever do, by climbing the world’s highest battlefield- Siachen Glacier.
6- Havildar Ajay Kumar from Haryana is a Gallantry award-winning soldier who suffered a leg amputation due to grievous injuries in combat while protecting the nation. But his amputation has never deterred him from pursuing his dreams or his duties as a soldier standing guard for the country.
A true son of India and a pure expression of the power of human determination, he was one of the fastest and fittest in the expedition team, despite being the only participant with a leg amputation. He wishes to convey the power of human will to everyone through his ability to overcome his own disability, his heart and mindset.
7- Maj Dwarakesh hails from Tamil Nadu. He sustained injuries in an accident early in his career which led to complete loss of eyesight in both eyes. He remains the first officer in the Indian Army to be retained in service with 100% physical disability. Besides proving his mettle in academics at par with his able-bodied counterparts, he has been actively involved in office administration with the help of hi-tech assistive gadgets.
His tenacity to overcome hurdles on account of injuries sustained has not only made him stand on his own feet but has empowered him to be the first visually impaired army officer to undergo training at the Army Paralympic node. Today, he heads an office under the aegis of the Army Welfare Placement Organisation. He aspires to motivate people by action. “I am a soldier, I will always be one. There is no defeat unless you accept one”
8- Irfan Ahmed Mir who hails from Jammu and Kashmir lost his eyesight in his childhood. He learnt about ‘Operation Blue Freedom’ through social media and immediately decided to join the expedition team for the Land World Record at Siachen Glacier exemplifying grit courage and determination. He is also a national level blind cricketer.
The expedition team climbed a total distance of 60 km atop the Spine of the Siachen Glacier over a period of five days from 7th Sept to finally reach Kumar Post on 11th Sept. The team ascended 4,000 ft, gradually, while scaling the Glacier. The route involved crossing several deep crevasses, icy glacial water streams, hard-ice stretches and undulating rocky moraines.
This not just tested the physical endurance and mental stamina, but also the ice-craft skills of the participants, like – use of ice axe, crampons, ladder crossing and rope skills. The expedition of 60kms from Siachen Base Camp to Kumar Post tested the mental and physical limits of the expedition team.
The extremely rough, rocky and undulating terrain along the moraines of the glacier made the climb particularly challenging for the visually impaired and the leg amputees. They displayed phenomenal grit despite the challenges. The participants with hand amputation had to constantly work on their balance, managing the rope and work on adaptations for emergency rescue procedures.
The nerves of steel and sheer will displayed by the people with disabilities on the expedition moved the soldiers who saw them in action along the Siachen Glacier. At all the intermediate camps where the expedition team stayed en route, the soldiers displayed pure love and affection born out of respect after seeing them in action along the obstacle-ridden moving block of glassy ice.
Besides the ever-emerging icy obstacles, the expedition team had to face erratic and fast-changing weather challenges too. Dry throats as a consequence of Glacier winds, dehydration owing to constant sweating, alternating scorching sun and bone-chilling cold conditions kept the expedition team on tenterhooks.
With the weather changing faster than cricket scores, the team had to constantly adjust the protective clothing while on the Glacier march
The expedition team had to climb roughly 15 km on the Glacier each day to reach the next camp en-route, where they would halt the night before resuming the march on the next day. Built atop glassy hard ice, these en-route camps are the only logistical pit-stops on the glacier for all survival needs of food, shelter and water.
Time was the next challenge that needed deft planning and careful execution to overcome the speeding glacier winds. One has to wake up early, start the march on time and complete the day’s route before 4 pm to evade the bone-chilling glacier winds.
Operation Blue Freedom is proud to have been a catalyst for the Indian Army’s Operation Sadhbavna by enabling this rare opportunity for the people of Kashmir to undertake the World Record Expedition to Siachen Glacier.
Participants – Operation Blue Freedom
Team C.L.A.W and ‘Operation Blue Freedom’
Team C.L.A.W is a team of Indian Special Forces veterans, set upon a global mission to shatter the common perception of pity, charity and inability associated with people with disabilities and recreate it to one of dignity, freedom and ability.
With this goal in mind, they launched ‘Operation Blue Freedom’ in 2019. It is founded by Major. Vivek Jacob (Retd) served with the Indian Army’s elite Parachute Regiment – Special Forces for 14 years.
Team Claw aims to create a triple world record on land, air, and water. They created their historic world record on land on 11th September 2021 with the largest team of People with Disabilities climbing the Siachen Glacier.
Their next missions will be to have the largest team of People with Disabilities to Skydive (Accelerated Free Fall) in Dubai, UAE and have the World’s Largest SCUBA Occupational Therapy and skill training programme for People with Disabilities (Adaptive scuba diving) in the Maldives.
Team CLAW expressed gratitude to Team Mahindra for their unflinching support for this expedition and thanked Exxon Mobil and Car India for walking strong with Team CLAW on Operation Blue Freedom.