The Indian Army’s skiing expedition that hoisted the national flag at the South Pole on Army Day Jan 15 was Tuesday flagged in by Defense Minister Arackaparambil Kurian Antony.
Receiving the expedition flag from expedition leader Colonel Anand Swaroop, Antony said the ‘coast to pole’ effort, undertaken by army soldiers, had further strengthened the credentials of the Indian Army in adventure activities. Antony also congratulated the members of the expedition and the army’s adventure wing for the successful expedition, saying it had done the nation and the armed forces proud.
Army director general of military training Lt Gen Ramesh Halgali, in his opening remarks, presented a brief outline of the historic expedition. The team comprising three officers and nine other ranks was formally flagged off by army chief Gen Vijay Kumar Singh Nov 1 last year from the national capital.
The team, which established its base camp at the Indian Glacier on the Antarctica coast Nov 24 last year commenced their journey on skis Nov 26 from Hercules inlet. In the initial week, the team skied for four to six hours every day averaging 25 km per day. They reached the South Pole Jan 15 this year to coincide with Army Day.
Col Anand Swaroop, in his presentation on the expedition, explained that it was one of the toughest journey undertaken by man on earth.
In line with successful mountaineering expeditions in the recent past, where the Indian Army successfully hoisted the national and army flags atop six peaks, the South Pole expedition was taken up, as the army started looking for new challenges.
The expedition involved traversing the continent from coast to pole covering a distance of 1,170 km facing blizzards, skiing in temperatures between minus 30 degrees and minus 40 degrees Celsius and hauling sledges with loads of 90-100 kg. The Indian Army prepared for this adventure from March 2010 with selection trials at High Altitude Warfare School in Sonamarg of Jammu and Kashmir.
To prepare realistically for the polar conditions, the team undertook an expedition in Greenland in September 2010.
Only two Indians have been to the South Pole before — Col J.K. Bajaj, as a part of an international team in 1989 and Reena Kaushal in 2010 as part of the Commonwealth women’s expedition.