|Indian army soldiers operate a T-90 Bhishma tank near the Line of Actual Control in the Chumar-Demchok area of Eastern Ladakh on Sunday. (ANI Photo )|
At a height of 5,800 metres on the Finger Four mountainous spur, an endurance test is set to take place this winter, with Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) poised face-to-face, and the first short snow already falling on the Karakoram and Kailash ranges of Ladakh.
While the winter is expected to worsen after Diwali in November, the situation on all the friction points in the sector is a stalemate with the PLA accusing the Indian Army of upping the ante south of Pangong Tso on August 29-30, as a result of which its claimed withdrawal plans were scuttled. The Indian Army troops are geared for the winter with specialized Alaskan winter clothing being imported from the US to handle temperatures 25 degrees below zero celsius at these heights. At present, the day temperatures are around 10 degrees with sunshine, with the night temperatures dropping to minus 10-15 degrees celsius.
The situation along the 1,597 km Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh continues to be tense but under control with a small detachment of the Indian Army facing off a PLA detachment on Gogra-Hot Springs or patrolling point 17 A. The situation on the north bank of the Pangong Tso is that a small number of troops on both sides are at the Finger Four height with PLA stationed behind Finger Six and Indian Army on Finger Three. There is no PLA presence on ground level of Finger Four or Finger Five but it is on the dominating height of Finger Four.
On the southern bank of Pangong Tso, the Indian Army is dominating the Rezang la-Rechin La ridgeline on Kailash ranges with strong positions to defend the LAC despite PLA’s presence on Black Top and Helmet with the Indian troopers in between the two at the saddle.
“The situation is that both sides are defending their positions, but the ridgeline in the area is with the Indian Army,” said a military commander familiar with the postures of the two armies.
Although the Indian Army will have a new Ladakh Corps Commander in Lt Gen P G K Menon in place of Lt Gen Harinder Singh in October, the former is a colonel of the Sikh Regiment who dishes out the choicest Punjabi cuss words despite being from Kerala. He has vast experience of the LAC as he was the brigade general staff (operations) of the XIV Corps in Ladakh before commanding a division in Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.
While the PLA has deployed a brigade strength of mechanized infantry around Tien-Wien Dien across the Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) near the LAC, Indian Army troops are patrolling the Depsang bulge area within the patrolling limits despite the Chinese efforts to block them. The PLA air activity in this area is more than in south of the DBO sector due to close proximity of the Hotan air base in Tibet.
As another round of Indian and Chinese military-diplomatic dialogue for total Ladakh disengagement will soon take place, the Indian Army commanders are prepared for the long winter ahead. From November onwards, it will be the endurance power of a volunteer army (India) against a conscript (PLA) army that will be on display. Sitting on the glaciated heights of the Saltoro ridge since 1984, the Indian Army will surely give a run for their money to the adversary.