Galwan Valley: A new flash point
Galwan Valley became a flash point on June 15, when a violent brawl broke out between Indian and Chinese soldiers. 20 Indian soldiers were martyred in the incident, while 35 Chinese soldiers were either killed. It is said that the incident took place at a time when the soldiers of both sides are locked in a tense stand-off with each other.
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, which runs 80 kilometres westward from its origins in Karokoram range through Aksai Chin and East Ladakh to join the Shyok river is said to be of strategic significance in the region. It may be recalled that the Galwan Valley was also a flashpoint during the Indo-China war of 1962.
It 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.
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 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.