Islam isn't the only influence on this army; as is true on the Indian side, its rituals are clearly British. At the heart of the base sits a crude cricket field said to be the highest in the world. On our first afternoon at Ghyari, a Sunday, the officers gathered on a row of folding chairs to watch a match. In front of them was a low table with a field telephone that squawked every few minutes as posts called in reports.
After two hours of casual cricket talk—"Good batting, sir!"... "Shabash! Well done!"—the game was halted for high tea. The officers rearranged their chairs in a circle while the sirdar, a bearded man in a white lace skullcap, started serving them. Without warning, a massive, hollow boom resounded from the ridges up near the front lines.
"Artillery?" asked Major Sikendar, looking behind him.
"Rockslide," responded a second officer.
"Must be artillery," said a third.
"Phone!" barked the commanding officer, a chiseled lieutenant colonel on his third tour of Siachen duty.
Sikendar seized the green field telephone, cranked the handle, listened, grunted. Everyone else stared at the ground. After a minute or two, it emerged that dynamite was being used to clear a route blocked by a landslide. The tension ratcheted down a notch, but the tea was now cold. Sunday afternoon cricket was over.
THAT EVENING IN THE OFFICERS' MESS, three guests on loan from other regiments were entertained prior to returning to their home units. The C.O. singled out one young captain for special praise: Safdar Malik, 30, who had just descended from a post called Tabish, which sits on the northwest side of Bilafond La. It takes six days to reach Tabish from Ghyari, traveling by night to avoid Indian snipers and artillery. The final approach requires troops to jumar up ropes anchored to a rock wall, exposing them to sniper fire from several Indian posts hundreds of feet above. Once you get to the post, you're sure to be pounded relentlessly by Indian rockets.