| Gen. Singh hands over the ice axe to Parmar. (PTI)
New Delhi, March 18: Fear of Maoist strikes in Nepal have forced two Indian military expeditions to Mount Everest to change their plans at the last minute and take the tougher north route from Tibet.
An Indian Army team of 10 women, which was flagged off by army chief General Joginder Jaswant Singh from New Delhi today, had booked themselves for the route to the summit from the southeast ridge of Everest. The team was to fly to Kathmandu and Lukla and then trek to the Everest base camp from where they had planned summit attempts.
'This is a sporting expedition. The Nepalese (government) has not stopped us. But we thought that for safety and security reasons, it is better they go from the other route,' the general said after handing over the flag to team leaders Major S.S. Shekahwat and Captain Isha Parmar. Asked if the insurgency forced the change, he said: 'Yes, the Maoists are a threat in the remote areas.'
The teams will now fly to Lhasa after a stopover in Kathmandu and motor down to the Everest base camp from the Chinese side for the near-vertical climb to the top of the 8850-metre peak.
The Indian Army trains and arms the Royal Nepal Army but it has suspended military supplies to Kathmandu since the February 1 coup by King Gyanendra. General Singh said he had advised the defence and foreign ministries after Pakistan's offer of help to Nepal with military supplies.
'We had gone about preparing for the expedition in every way. Even now, the Nepalese government is assisting us but we put a premium on safety and security,' said Lt General Bhopinder Singh, who heads the Directorate General of Military Training overseeing the expedition. 'Our relations with the Nepalese government continue to be what they were. Military training and exchanges are continuing.'
Since Delhi expressed its displeasure with the coup, it is the defence military establishment that has had to do some tightrope walking on relations with Nepal because of its organic links with the RNA.
India's ambassador to Nepal, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, who has been recalled to Delhi 'for consultations', briefed defence minister Pranab Mukherjee this afternoon in the wake of the offer of military aid by Pakistan's envoy in Kathmandu.
A second expedition, too, has altered plans similarly. The Indian Air Force, which has set itself the target of being the first air force to scale Mount Everest, announced earlier this week that they, too, will be attempting to summit from the north face.
The team, led by Wing Commander Amit Chowdhury ' a Jadavpur University alumnus ' will be following immediately behind the army's women team.
The two teams have been put through rigorous training. Major Shekahwat, the leader of the army team, is a para commando who has summitted Mount Everest in 2001 and 2003 from the southeast ridge. The men in the army team are essentially the support staff for the women's team.