KUPUP (EAST SIKKIM): With India and China agreeing on ‘expeditious disengagement’ along Doka La, Indian and Chinese soldiers at the India-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction will finally get to rest their eyes.
Indian soldiers posted at Doka La had to stand continuously for 10 hours staring into the eyes of their Chinese counterparts, according to local sources. “Their duty lasted for 10 hours every day where they had to stand in attention facing their counterparts across the border, much like the North and South Korean soldiers along the Demilitarised Zone. As temperatures hovered around 6-10 degrees Celsius over the past few months, the rains were particularly cruel in the region,” said Suman Rai (name changed), one of the few local residents of Kupup who helped build the road till Dokalam plateau for the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). The road had irked the northern neighbour and sparked the stand-off in mid-June.
A board at Kupup indicates that the India-Tibet-Bhutan tri-junction is just 5 km away from this hamlet of 250 people. However, photography is strictly prohibited and any outsiders asking questions of locals are tailed by Sikkim State Intelligence Bureau sleuths.
While the Indian and the Chinese defence ministries claimed that the number of Indian and Chinese soldiers posted at Doka La were only 350 and 300 respectively, local sources said the numbers were much higher.Though the initial numbers may have been 350 Indian and 300 Chinese soldiers, Kupup locals said that convoys of trucks brought jawans from Kalimpong army cantonment over two months through the Rongli route after acclimatisation at Dzuluk village which lies at a relatively lesser altitude than Doka La.
While the Eastern Command of the army told the New Indian Express that the process of withdrawal of troops has already begun, the process may take some time due to the sheer number of soldiers posted at Doka La. Though the stand-off was as much a military muscle-flexing along the border, it was also more of a psychological war than a physical one. Initially, tall soldiers of the Dogra regiment were posted at Doka La, and gradually they were replaced with Gorkha jawans known for their fierce nature to match the Chinese aggression. However, the stress at Doka La necessitated that the duty of troops be rotated after every week.
Amid the tense engagement at Doka La, Chinese and Indian soldiers shared some lighter moments too.
“The Chinese smoke a lot. Sometimes, they offered us cigarettes in lieu of beedis. When our armies were engaged in stone-pelting and fist-fighting in Pangong Lake in Ladakh, we exchanged sweets and pleasantries on Independence Day,” said an army soldier sipping piping hot tea at a café in Gnathang village while returning from duty at Doka La.
No android, only GSM phones
A commodity that had come under strict scrutiny was android phones with cameras. Despite having android phones with cameras, the soldiers, as well as army porters and locals working as BRO road-builders, were strictly asked not to use them, switch them off and instead use GSM phones without cameras.
“The jawans and locals were barred from using android phones with cameras to not only prevent the possibility of people capturing pictures of sensitive locations but also because android phones reveal locations and movement of people and troops, which may be tracked from across the border,” a jawan said.