This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
More than 100 people, including teams from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, participated in the first-ever ice wall climbing competition in northern India, to demonstrate athletic skills in brutal climatic conditions in the Himalayan Mountain region and to boost high-altitude sports and tourism in the area.
The three-day event, organized by the North West Frontier Indo-Tibetan Border Police, or ITBP, in collaboration with the Ladakh Mountain Guide Association, began on Feb. 27 in Gangles in the Union Territory of Ladakh. It honors Norbu Wangdu, a high-ranking member of the border police who died during an avalanche at the frontier in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand in 2019.
The event’s objective is to encourage participation from across the region, improve skills in extreme weather conditions, nurture talent and promote sports and tourism in Ladakh, which lies in the vicinity of the Karakoram and westernmost Himalayan Mountain ranges, people who attended the event told Radio Free Asia.
Ladakh in the western Himalayas is a strategically important area divided by a Line of Actual Control, a notional demarcation line that separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-administered Aksai Chin, amid a long-running border area dispute between the two countries.
About two dozen soldiers were killed during a clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Ladakh in 2020. The two sides clashed again in a December 2022 skirmish in the eastern Himalayas, though no one died.
Among the 13 teams that participated in the competition, were five from the ITBT, two from the Ladakh Mountain Guide Association, two groups of schoolchildren from the city of Leh, and the Ladakh Police, according to an article by The Times of India.
Members of India’s ITBP are deployed along the Asian country’s borders with China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. The unit was one of the seven Central Armed Police Forces set up in October 1962 amid the Sino-Indian War during which the two nations fought a bloody war over contested territory. The ITBP has been safeguarding the border area ever since.
“[With] Ladakh being a strategically important region, such competition is not only beneficial in developing individual skills, but also helps to secure the border area,” said Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, an Indian politician and member of parliament from Ladakh, who attended the event.
“Such activity is beneficial to the youths of Ladakh in gaining some skills that could help in rescue operations at the border,” he added.
The event also aims to attract more tourism during winter when the number of visitors to the region plunges due to cold weather, said S.K. Gunjal, inspector general of the ITBP in the North West Frontier–Ralong region.
Gunjal also said he hoped the competition would yield candidates who could represent India in the Winter Olympics, which will be held next in 2026 in Milan, Italy.