Heightened Chinese activities were reported across the international border in two Himachal Pradesh districts adjacent to the mountainous and arid Tibetan region where Beijing is building roads and infrastructure.
The reports surfaced after the India-China standoff over Doklam across the Sikkim border in the eastern sector.
Himachal shares a 260km porous border on its northeastern side with China and three battalions of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) are maintaining constant vigilance since the Doklam faceoff in mid-June.
Residents of villages in the remote districts of Kinnaur as well as Lahaul and Spiti have reported spotting Chinese helicopters and increased road-building and construction activities across the border.
“Though we have been seeing construction activities for the past year, there has been a marked acceleration in the past four months,” said a government official who didn’t wish to be named.
Chinese constructions could be seen from Shaktot village, about 5km from the Indian border point of Kaurik, which is the last village situated beyond Sumdoh. China has an airfield at Lupsuk, which is nearly 190km from Kaurik.
Kinnaur shares a 140km border with China, while 80km lies in Lahaul and Spiti district.
“We have stepped up vigilance along the China border in Himachal,” said a security officer.
The paramilitary ITBP guards the Chinese border and it has 20 outposts, including the high-security camp at Kaurik in Himachal.
The standoff has affected the annual cross-border trade, which begins in the last week of June and ends in November, through traditional mountain trails and passes.
The local administration has approved trade permits to 52 applicants this year, but is yet to give them permission for go to China. “There is no clarity when it will start,” said Hishey Negi, president of the Kinnaur India-China trade association.
For ages merchants have been crossing the Shipki La, a mountain pass at an altitude of 18,599 feet, to trade with Tibet. It is through this pass that Sutlej enters India from Tibet.
The route was closed after the India-China war in 1962 and reopened when the two countries signed a trade protocol in 1994.
Besides, there are several mountain passes, including Lepcha La, Rang La, and Ranisha Dob Rang.
But, between the passes, there are transit routes that villagers use to cross over and meet relatives across the border.
By Gaurav Bisht