The Indian Army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force (ITBP) have reported unidentified flying objects (UFOs) in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, according to a report in the latest issue of news weekly India Today.
An ITBP unit based in Thakung, close to the Pangong Tso Lake, reported over 100 sightings of luminous objects between August 1 and October 15 this year, says the magazine report headlined 'Mystery sighting spooks soldiers'.
In reports sent to their Delhi headquarters in September, and to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), ITBP officials described the sighting of "unidentified luminous objects" at day and by night. The yellowish spheres appear to lift off from the horizon on the Chinese side and slowly traverse the sky for three to five hours before disappearing.
These were not unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drones or even low-earth orbiting satellites, say army officials who have studied the hazy photographs taken by the ITBP. Drone sightings are verified and logged separately.
Such mysterious lights have been sighted before in Ladakh, a barren, 86,000 sq km heavily militarised zone wedged between Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir and Chinese-occupied Aksai Chin. The persistent sightings by the ITBP this year, however, worried the army's Leh-based 14 Corps.
In September, the army moved a mobile ground-based radar unit and a spectrum analyser - that picks up frequencies emitted from any object - to a mountaintop near the 160-km-long, ribbon-shaped Pangong Lake that lies between India and China.
The radar could not detect the object that was being tracked visually, indicating it was non-metallic. The spectrum analyser could not detect any signals being emitted from them. The army also flew a reconnaissance drone in the direction of the floating object, but it proved a futile exercise. The drone reached its maximum altitude but lost sight of the floating object.
In late September this year, a team of astronomers from the Indian Astronomical Observatory at Hanle, 150 km south of the lake, studied the airborne phenomena for three days. The team spotted the flying objects, army officials say, but could not conclusively establish what they were. They did, however, say that the objects were "non-celestial" and ruled out meteors and planets.
'UFO' sightings have not been uncommon in Ladakh over the past decade. In late 2003, 14 Corps sent a detailed report on sightings of luminous objects to the army headquarters. Army troops on posts along Siachen had seen floating lights on the Chinese side.
Scientists say the mysterious objects are not necessarily from outer space. "There is no evidence of 'UFOs' being of extra-terrestrial origin," the magazine quoted reputed Pune-based astrophysicist Jayant Narlikar, as saying. "The implication of them being alien objects is fancy, not fact."
UFO sighting was reported in the Lahaul-Spiti region of Himachal Pradesh, south of Ladakh, in 2004, by a five-member expedition of geologists and glaciologists led by Dr Anil Kulkarni of the ISRO's Space Applications Centre at Ahmedabad. On a research trip to the barren Samudra Tapu Valley, they had filmed a four-foot tall 'robot-like' figure, that 'walked' along the mountain ridge, took off vertically and disappeared in the sky when excited scientists moved closer. Kulkarni had sent his report to the Union government but the 'UFO encounter' remained a mystery.