Though the government says there is a “face to face” situation in the Daulat Beg Oldi sector, a few hundred kilometres from here, no such undercurrent is visible on the ground — either in the Army’s preparations or in the activities in Ladakh, with the much-awaited tourist season round the corner.
Despite talks of a prevailing standoff ensuing after the Chinese border force, Border Defence Regiment, made an incursion in the sector and erected tents there, senior Army officers and residents here feel the situation will soon be back to normal.
On its part, Indian Army officers in-charge of “operations” in this crucial sector say they are “sitting pretty” and claim that since the Chinese troops have declined to move back to their original position, Indian forces also decided to stay put, setting up tents till China obliges.
No clear demarcation
As there is no clear demarcation of boundary, India and China have been mutually carrying out patrolling in the DBO sector. While Chinese forces have intruded into Indian Territory on previous occasions, they have usually retreated later; however, this time they have stayed put, escalating the situation. India was closely monitoring the situation, senior Army officers in charge of Ladakh sector said.
Dismissing the Chinese claim that India had set up fortifications in the DBO sector, Army officers noted that India was only acting as per the pact signed between the two nations. In the DBO sector, China has developed a network of roads and has powerful vehicles that make movement of its men and machinery to the front line easier. On the other hand, Indian troops have to trek three days to reach that inhospitable terrain. India is not coming up with any permanent structures, the officers added.
They also pointed out that India had taken a “cautious approach” on the DBO issue as it could escalate the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-east, where Chinese troops have reportedly carried out around 600 incursions in the last three years.
India has stepped up patrolling in other locations on the India-China border in Ladakh. For instance, in the Demchok sector, around 800 km south of the DBO sector, China has been carrying out major construction and fortification work. India is also doing its bit to strengthen border posts and other paraphernalia, the officers added.
Since the Kargil war in 1999 India has been deploying its forces close to the border areas for swift response in times of an eventuality.
Just ahead of Leh, be it on the road leading to the Chinese or the Pakistan border, one can see mini cantonments with infantry, artillery and engineers regiments. While Nimmo, a few kilometres ahead of Leh, where the road leads to international borders, has come up a major area of stationing the forces. Similarly, mini army stations have come up along the roads leading to Chushul, where the Indian troops were engaged with China in fierce battle in 1965.
But for shopkeepers and hoteliers in this sleepy town surrounded by the mighty Himalayas, it is business as usual. The much-awaited summer season is about to kick in and residents here are gearing up to welcome tourists unperturbed by standoff between Indian and Chinese forces. Though tourists will start arriving in good number after mid-May, already a good number of visitors can be seen in Leh. The ‘3 Idiots’-fame Pangong Tso lake, which is over 150 km from here, is still 90 per cent frozen and yet over 100 tourist vehicles are visiting it daily after braving the snow-covered Changla pass, which is located over 17,500 feet above sea level.
“We hope to see the tensions at the DBO sector easing soon ... We have seen similar situations earlier also. We have not seen any major change in the Indian Army’s day-to-day routine and nor there is any worrisome new from the government quarters ... So we are not worried about the current situation. The shopkeepers, hoteliers and tour operators are ready for the summers and we hope to see tourist season beginning with a bang,” said noted documentary-maker Stanzin.