I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for religion — I have shuddered at it. I shudder no more — I could be martyred for my religion —Love is my religion — I could die for that.
— John Keats

Words By Cory Richards

Ice Martyrs

The foot, a human foot, still attached to the lower part of the leg, lays frozen in the Pakistani Military issue boot, crusted into the azure glacial ice. I stop and stare, transfixed. Soon, I will leave this place…go home. The soldiers I’ve met during my time here will stay, and some will die.

The Karakorum Himalaya are a veritable wasteland of granite monoliths that stand in isolation on the border of volatile political borders: Pakistan, India, and China. Naturally hostile, the environment is a lonely and befitting landscape for a conflict that has endured since the partition of British India in 1947 when the British Empire withdrew and the region was divided based on religious demographics. 12.5 million were displaced and as many one million perished. Four wars have been fought since. The violent nature of the partition created an atmosphere of mutual hostility and suspicion between India and Pakistan that plagues their relationship to this day.

The images included in the essay are an examination of the lives behind a broken war, fought by unbroken spirit. The young men on the front lines of the Indo-Pak conflict live in the isolated heart of the highest mountains in the world, fighting more against the immediate environment than each other. During January 2011, a group of young Pakistani soldiers granted me unprecedented access to their ‘homes’, their lives, and their story; fighting to survive the winter as much as the seldom unfriendly fire from India. Proud to a fault, hospitable beyond measure, and dedicated literally to death, theirs is a story of the futility of a deflated impersonal conflict that serves only to create martyrs. For most however, martyrdom is the highest calling.