Meanwhile, the corrosive detritus of war keeps metastasizing. The Indian army has an impressive scheme to try to clean the glacier by building a gargantuan aerial cableway that will cart supplies up and carry waste down. And Harish Kapadia, a well-known Indian mountaineer, is trying to galvanize a grassroots campaign to turn the region into an "international peace park" that Pakistan and India would share. But that seems highly unlikely. As Colonel Kumar told me back in New Delhi: "There's no sharing to be done. The Siachen belongs to us."
On our final evening at Kumar Base, I sat down on a rock to watch as a storm moved in over the Saltoro. The clouds were scudding along the tops of the peaks, and the sky was bruised a deep purple. I turned to the north. Somewhere up there, over on the other side of Bilafond La, the Pakistani soldiers at Tabish were gearing up to endure another night at their post. I looked south. Farther down the glacier, the men at Sher were undoubtedly doing the same. The storm would probably clobber both posts, but for the moment, the Siachen front was very still.
And then something strange happened. The wasteland disappeared and I saw only the great peaks, the great bowl of dark sky, the great ice serpent of the glacier. The sadness and despair of our journey fell away and left only desire: the desire to strike off across the glacier toward Bilafond La and climb its ridgeline. The desire to ski down the gentle slope of the Lolofond Glacier, as Colonel Kumar had done during that magical summer of 1981. The desire to go marching off toward Indira Col, to posthole up its sugary flanks and gaze into the white wastes of China. Like Yaseen, I wanted to come here without restrictions and without confinements; to set up a base camp with some friends; to scale every peak that struck my fancy, for as long as it took me to swallow them all or be swallowed up by them.
I wanted to do all these things, and I knew that they were all impossible. The most that was possible—and this was a lot, I realized—was to feel the pull of these mountains, a pull that is powerful enough to transcend the war and the squalor and the shame of everything else that has happened here. If you go to the Siachen, the very best you can hope for is to know the meaning of kashish.