The strategic importance of Galwan Valley

Strategic significance because of its proximity to Daulat Beg Oldie

The strategic importance of Galwan Valley

For representation only. File photo

Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, June 16

The Galwan valley in eastern Ladakh that saw a violent face-off between Indian and Chinese troops on the night of June 15 resulting in casualties on either side has strategic significance because of its proximity to the vital road link to Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO)---the world’s highest landing ground that lies close to the Line of Actual Control and serves as an important aerial supply line.

This DBO area is known in the Army as Sub-Sector North. 

India is engaged in building up border infrastructure in this area, including the all weather 255 km Darbul-Shayok- DBO road. The road runs almost parallel---at places very close---to the LAC and extends up to the base of the Karakoram pass, which when complete, will reduce the travel time from Leh to DBO from the present two days to just six hours. Road and bridge construction works have recently been speeded up with a large number of labourers being ferried in.

 The Galwan valley connects with Shyok on the road under construction and lies between DBO and Chushul to the south near Pangon Tso, another hot spot, providing convenient access to Shyok and the areas beyond. Control of the ridgeline along the valley also allows domination of the road. Looking eastwards, control of the Galwan valley gives access to the Aksai Chin plateau, through which part of the Xinjiang-Tibet highway passes.

While the road is highly prone to Chinese interdiction or long range artillery, it serves a vital peace time role in maintaining forward posts and building up reserves. An alternate route to DBO is being developed from a different axis in Ladakh that has adequate depth from the LAC.

 The Galwan river flows westwards from the disputed Aksai Chin region in to Ladakh after originating in Samzungling area on the eastern side of the Karakoram range and joins the Shyok River, one of the tributaries of the Indus. The fast flowing river runs for about 80 km.

The river is named after Ghulam Rasool Galwan, a Ladakhi explorer from Leh, who first explored the course of the river. In 1899, he was part of a British expedition team that was exploring the areas to the north of the Chang Chenmo valley, when he is said to have run into this previously unknown river valley. It is said one of the rare instances where a major geographical feature is named after a native explorer.

The Galwan river is to the west of China's 1956 claim line in Aksai Chin. However, in 1960 China advanced its claim line to the west of the river along the mountain ridge adjoining the Shyok river valley. India had established some military posts in this sector.

During the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict, Indian posts in the Galwan Sector were attacked and overwhelmed by the Chinese, resulting in casualties and some prisoners-of-war. After the war, this sector largely remained dormant till the recent face-offs.

 

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