Ground Report | New Delhi: India China border conflict: A year after clashes along the Sino-India border in Ladakh amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism-dependent Indian region is reopening for visitors, even as the region remains heavily fortified. Phuntsog Tsering, a doctor of Tibetan medicine who works at a COVID-19 health center in remote Chushul village, has several safety measures that have been put in place for the livelihoods of 290,000 people in the area.
India China border conflict
According to a report of The Week in Asia, some tourist hotspots have started welcoming domestic visitors, who have to undergo a COVID-19 test before entering the area by road or air. Among the first to reopen was the 160 km Pangong Lake, the central draw of the region.
The tourism sector contributes 50 percent to the GDP of Ladakh. In 2019, over 2,79,000 tourists visited Ladakh, while in 2020 till June only 6,079 tourists visited. Ladakh tourism has also been promoting visits to the many scenic valleys, historical sites, and local festivals in the Buddhist-dominated region.
Arif Radhu, 49, is among business owners hoping for better times as they reopened their Shankar Residency hotel, located near Shanti Stupa, which houses Buddha relics. The businessman said the war-like portrayal of the Sino-India border conflict in the media had frightened visitors. “Tourists are not coming due to Covid-19 and clashes on the border. Both have majorly affected our economy,” he said.
Meanwhile, in the region’s major city Leh, young Ladakhis can be heard discussing their future in cafes as the Covid-19 restrictions give a glimpse of normalcy. While uncertainty is looming large, young people want to move forward in their daily lives.
Irshad Khan, a 32-year-old manager of Coffee Culture Cafe, said that apart from the Indian Air Force’s regular aerial exercises, life has not changed since the border conflict. But he added that due to the media attention on Ladakh, it was important for the region to practice responsible tourism. “If tourism is not promoted properly in Ladakh, it will become another hill station bearing the brunt of unplanned development,” Khan said.
PLA becoming aggressive
In June last year, 20 soldiers and reportedly four Chinese soldiers were killed in the deadliest conflict between the two countries in more than 50 years, after months of escalating tensions along the India-China border in Ladakh. Firing with weapons forbidden, both sides fought in medieval fashion on the icy mountain cliffs of Galwan Valley, using pointed clubs and killing many soldiers.
The conflict did not result in an outright declaration of war, but instead over a year of building troops, artillery, and infrastructure on either side of the 2,100-mile border oversaw several rounds of de-escalation and unsuccessful military negotiations. At any time in history, when China invaded India in 1962.
Indian Army officials allege that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is becoming aggressive day by day. Although the Indian government denied the recent clashes between the two sides, army officials told the Guardian that the situation in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan Valley and hot springs, including areas, remained extremely tense, The Guardian reported.
Durbuk is another strategic military base in eastern Ladakh that has expanded significantly. Locals say hundreds of new tents have been erected in recent months to accommodate more troops, while new structures have been erected to shield tanks and large vehicles. Deldon, who runs a guest house in the village of Durbuk, described how “during the night, we see large convoys of army trucks and tanks moving towards the border”.
Tensions remain high
For locals in Ladakh, who have spent a year watching troops, tanks, helicopters, and heavy artillery brought to the border, fear remains. “I hope war never breaks out here,” said Dolma Dorje, who grew up in Chushul village, near a huge military base along the Line of Actual Control [LAC], the unmarked disputed border between India and China. “But it seems that preparations for war are taking place.”
Before the conflict in Galwan, Dorje and most of the villagers, who are tribal Changpa pastoralists, took their livestock to the vast, wide valleys without any other consideration of the range and mingled freely with the pastoralists on the Chinese side. . “We will trade cattle and carpets and more with people on the other side,” he said.
According to the Chinese foreign minister, in some of the tensest areas, a buffer zone has been agreed upon between Indian and Chinese troops to prevent troops from attacking, and frontline troops “displaced in the Galwan Valley and Pangong Lake area”. is. But locals say it does not reflect the ground reality and reject any talk of de-escalation.