Oh Indians salute the jawans for their valor!

By Pradeep Kumar

May is the hottest month in India with average temperature of 36ºC, but Assam’s Tezpur, Mazbat, Dhubri, North Lakhimpur and Mohanbari saw record-breaking temperatures this year. In Rajasthan, the mercury soared to 48.8ºC in Barmer, 48ºC in Jaisalmer and 47.2ºC in Bikaner.

The pictures posted by some porters while carrying head load heavy supplies for the jawans in some higher reaches of this Himalayan state. Shiver would pass down from head to toe if one thinks of Bum La Pass, a border pass between China’s Tsona County in Tibet and India’s Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, is 37-km away from Tawang town and 43-km from the town of Tsona Dzong in China’s Tsona County.

The Bumla Pass located at 15200-feet remains covered with heavy snow throughout the year and its temperature comes down to -10ºC, making it is one of the most off-beat passes in the world.  But during my visit to Bumla Pass twice in the past, the Army officer had indicated at hills few metres above the ground where Army jawans were maintaining eagle’s eye on the other side of the border. Arunachal Pradesh shares 1,129-km of total 3,488-km Sino-India border.

The dedication of the jawans suits the slogan ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’ of Lal Bahadur Shastri, spoken in 1965 at a public gathering Uruwa, Prayagraj. Shastri soon after took over as second Prime Minister of India after death of Jawaharlal Nehru.

Concrete infrastructures have been built for the use of special invitees of Indian Army, but much ahead Army personnel first test the oxygen level and permit to proceed to this point only if the level is as prescribed.

1962 Sino-Indian War: The road to Bum La Pass is a historical route as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China had invaded India during 1962 Sino-Indian War. One of the fiercest battles, known as Battle of Bum La Pass, had taken place then. Indian Army and the PLA patrol these areas regularly.

In 2006, Bumla Pass was re-opened to traders for the first time in 44 years. Traders from both sides of the pass were permitted to enter each other’s territories, in addition to postal workers from each country. The pass is a currently serves as a trading point between Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet besides an agreed Border Personnel Meeting point for security forces of China and India.

There is a Heap of Stones at Bumla Pass where visitors place pebbles as gratitude to the mighty Himalayas and the guardians of our northern frontiers. There is a Sino-India friendship sign here.

A special permit is required to visit Bum La Pass.  Without the army stamp, visitors will not be allowed through the numerous check posts on the way.  The permits can be requested at Tawang DC office and the same has to be stamped in Indian Army cantonment of Tawang.

Tourism: It is one of the most important tourist attractions of the state. But, civilian Indian tourists are allowed with permission from Indian Army with an army escort. The road is very treacherous with bunkers on both sides and huge size dogs roam around. The Army permits only during day time with clear weather and no snowfall or rainfall.

Sangestar Tso  (Tso means lake in Tibetan language) was formed by falling rocks, boulders and trees triggered by1950 earthquake. The lake, nestles between huge mountains and is clear and beautiful with what looked like a hundred bamboo poles standing straight up in the water all over the lake, attracts large number of tourists. The road to the lake from Zemithang has 52 hairpin bends. The Lake, having unique dead trees in the middle, freezes during winter and the glaring orange-blue sun on the icy surface turns the lake quite pretty to behold.

The lake, located at a height of 12,165 ft above sea level where Bollywood movie Kolya featuring actress Madhuri Dixit was shot to get the name Madhuri lake. It is about 35-km from Tawang & 7-km beyond bifurcation of road leading to Bum La Pass. Tourists visit in hired vehicles from Tawang and there is a small parking base close to the lake with a food stall.

The Taktsang Chu River originating below the Takpo Shiri glacier to the north, flows through this region to the west and then southwest to join  Nyamjang Chu River,13-km downstream while Taktsang Gompa within the area is 2.4-km on the west.

The border with China and lakes appear bright turquoise or brooding gray according to the mood of the sky. The Zongatsar (Sangetsar) Lake located at 15,000 feet reflects enchanting natural beauty.

BPM: It is one of the five officially agreed Border Meeting Points (BPMs) between the India Army and the PLA for regular consultations and interactions to improve relations. There is a hut on the India side where border meetings are held by the rival armies.

The Indian Army and the PLA meet at BPMs along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to resolve border issues and improve relations. The first formal BPM was established in 2013, but border meetings have been held since the 1990s. As of October 2023, there are five BPMs: Two in Ladakh, one in Sikkim, and two in Arunachal Pradesh in India’s Central and Eastern sectors..   “The Chinese have been trying a game of salami-slicing with us – incursions in Ladakh, fortified villages near the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh, and new roads right up to the border,” says former director general (engineers) Lt. Gen. (Retd) Utpal Bhattacharyya, an expert on India-China border.

Thus, large number of soldiers not only stand guard on both sides but at the same time satellites of all leading powers have been keeping watch over the pass. A mobile application HamGPS shows that at least a dozen satellites are hovering over Bumla, not just Indian and Chinese but also Russian and American.

However, India has proposed Rs 5.94 trillion defence budget for 2023-24 fiscal, 13% up from previous, aiming to add more fighter jets, weapons and roads along its tense border with China.  Indian defence budget is still lower than China’s 1.45 trillion yuan ($230 billion) for 2022. This is “reasonable but not sufficient” considering requirements for military modernization, according to Laxman Behera, a defence expert at government-funded Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

21 Feb 2024 — India stressed that its relations with China could not be normal without the complete resolution of the four-year-long stand-off along the LAC. The Indian and Chinese military commanders met at the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point on Monday. It was the 21st round of talks between the military commanders after the stand-off between the Indian Army and the PLA had started in eastern Ladakh in April-May 2020. The latest round of talks between the commanders of the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA came more than four months after they held the 20th round of talks on October 9 and 10, 2023.

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