There are more boats patrolling the idyllic Pangong Lake, the only water body shared by India and China, than ever before.
But Asia’s giants, playing a cat-and-mouse game on this cold northern frontier, make sure their boats don’t make contact, when earlier they did without much fuss.
<b1>Most of the lake, 180 km north of Leh, is with the Chinese. Their patrols come around only when Indian boats are anchored. Indians do the same.
“There is tension,” said an army officer who refused to be identified as both sides would officially not talk about tensions. “We used to patrol unarmed, now we go with weapons.” Said the officer: “You cannot trust the enemy.”
As nationalistic feelings grow in China, a wary India tries hard to downplay reports of incursions — which the foreign office in Delhi said haven’t changed over the last two years — but the wariness here on India’s 4,056-km-long unmarked border with China is evident.
The army is preparing for military exercises with troops moving 105 mm artillery guns in Chishul — called Tak Makoo or black mountains — where HT saw troops taking positions.
“This is a routine exercise,” a soldier said. But locals, who complained of Chinese troops menacing shepherds last year, watched anxiously.
“We haven’t seen this thing [troop build-ups] happening in several years,” said Tashi, a resident of a settlement Tangste. He gave only his first name.
Mindful of China’s distaste of media reporting of tensions, army spokesmen in Delhi and Udhampur (Northern Command headquarters) refused comment.
Officers said exercises were an annual affair, when the weather was clear.
Incursions by Chinese troops on land and in air into India have increased in recent weeks. In one instance, last week, a patrol painted the word ‘Yellow river’ on a boulder on the Indian side.
India has confirmed all the incursions, blaming them on the unclear demarcation of the Line of Actual Control.
Reports on Sunday spoke of incursions in Uttarakhand. But the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, which mans the border, and the state police denied it.
“Though there has been no such incident recently, it’s not new. Every year around August-September Chinese activity is seen near the border,” said Uttarakhand police chief Subhash Joshi. China has denied all reports of incursions.
The civil administration refuses comment. “You talk to me about development,” said Leh deputy commissioner A K Sahu. “About the border you should talk to the Army.”
The locals are nervous. “We are waiting to see what happens this winter,” said Chering Dorjay, chief executive councilor of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council.
“Last December, they intimidated shepherds, uprooted tents in border areas,” he said.
(With inputs from Delhi and Dehradun)