|Elevation||5,171 m (16,965 ft)|
The Kongka Pass or Kongka La (Hindi: कोंग्का दर्रा; Chinese: 空喀山口; Standard Tibetan: དགུན་ཁ་ལ) is a high mountain pass of the Chang-Chemno Range on the Line of Actual Control between India and China. China considers the Kongka Pass as its boundary with India, whereas India regards Lanak Pass further east as the boundary. The pass was the location of the Kongka Pass incident, a military skirmish between Chinese and Indian patrol officers in 1959.
In the late 1800s, the pass was referred to as Salmu Kongka and described as a "small pass".
Colonial-era British sources state that the traditional boundary between Ladakh and Tibet was at Lanak La, where the Chang Chenmo River originates. They also state that the border was accepted by both sides.
Chinese maps also recognised Lanak La as the boundary till 1951. However, by late 1950s, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai started claiming that Kongka La was the "traditional customary boundary" of China.
Kongka Pass incident
Until October 1959, China had not declared its border with Ladakh. When enquired in 1954 and again in 1956, the Chinese Premier Zhou En-lai replied that PRC government was still printing Kuomingtang maps and had not had the time to prepare their own maps. While maintaining this position, the Chinese laid the Sianking–Tibet road (now G219) through Aksai Chin and detained an Indian patrol party that was sent to investigate it.
In matter of fact, the 1956 Chinese map showed Kongka Pass as its boundary in the Chang Chenmo Valley. The three locations, Tsogstsalu, Hot Springs and Shamal Lungpa, where an Indian police party was sent to set up posts in 1959, were on the Indian side of the 1956 line.
The police party was led by an Intelligence Bureau officer, Karam Singh, who was an experienced patroller in Ladakh. He states that they had established a post at Hot Springs and were about to head to Shamal Lungpa. On 20 October, two men sent out for reconnaissance went missing. According to the Chinese version of the events they had crossed the Kongka Pass, which China now regarded as a border pass.
On 21 October, with signs of Chinese presence becoming available, a larger search party was formed for the missing reconnaissance team. They encountered Chinese soldiers at a hill near the Kongka Pass, and a firefight ensued. Chinese forces had a more favourable position in this engagement. Of the 70 Indian soldiers, nine were killed during the engagement, one died later of his injuries, and seven were taken prisoner (totaling ten when including the reconnaissance team). One Chinese soldier was killed in the engagement.
Military posts and infrastructure
Called Kongka Shankou base, it is located at the junction of the Kyapsang and Chang-Chenmo rivers. It is linked to the China National Highway 219 (G219) via two highways.
- The Konghong Highway (空红线, S519), or Kongka–Hongshan Highway, runs along the Chang-Chenmo Valley via Lanak La, and meets G219 near the Sumzhi and Longmu lakes.
- The Banying Highway (班应线, S520) goes south to the Khurnak Plain on the bank of the Pangong Lake and runs on the northern shore of the lake till its eastern terminus.
According to the Indian government, the original versions of these roads were built between 1959 and 1962.
In addition to these, a Tiankong Highway (天空线) or Tianwendian–Kongka highway, appears to have been constructed between 2013 and 2020. It passes through territory marked as being on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control by the US Office of the Geographer in 2013. It is a mountain road that runs till the Tianwendian post in the Depsang Plains, running parallel to the Line of Actual Control in Askai Chin. It passes through Nischu and Heweitan, and also connects to the Wen Jia Way, which leads to the Galwan Valley.
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- Chou Enlai, The Sino-Indian Boundary Question, Foreign Language Press, Peking, November 1962. "In October 1959 Indian armed forces crossed the traditional customary boundary line in the western sector and provoked a sanguinary border clash of an even graver nature at Kongka Pass." (emphasis added)
- Fisher, Rose & Huttenback, Himalayan Battleground (1963), p. 101: "Confusion as to the extent of the Chang Chenmo valley between the Lanak and Kongka passes continued to be a feature of Chinese cartography even after the Communists came to power.... the flexibility shown by official Chinese cartographers here and on other sections of the border makes mockery of China's oft-repeated claim that its concept of the border has a solid basis in history."
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The Chinese could not quote a single document confirming that the Kongka Pass constituted the boundary.... The thorough approach of the Indian side generally contrasted with an inconsistent and almost careless presentation by the Chinese officials.
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"In the western sector of the border, on 21 October 1959, a team of Indian troops crossed the traditional border at Kongka Pass, entering Chinese territory." (emphasis added)
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More dead resulted, however, on 21 October, from fighting at Kongka Pass, at the trijuncture of Tibet, Sinkiang, and Ladakh, where nine Indians were killed and ten taken prisoner.
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Chou had assured Nehru that the PRC was still using old KMT maps, not yet having had time to prepare their own... On 8 October 1958 the Indians protested to China that the [Sinkiang-Tibet road] traversed Indian territory, to which the PRC replied that the territory in question was Chinese.
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[Chinese interrogation of Karam Singh] We established a checkpost at Kayam and we had to establish one at Shamul Lungpa. On 20th October, 1959, our two men missed. On the morning of 21st October 1959 Tyagi took 60 men and reached the hill (battle field). ... [Indian debriefing of Karam Singh] we had inadequate cover and the Chinese were in a favourable position ... five of us were made to carry the dead body of a Chinese soldier who had been killed.
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Fighting gallantly nine men laid down their lives and ten were wounded. Later on, one of the injured also succumbed to his injuries. ... Seven men were taken Prisoners of War by PLA
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(p22) Karam Singh of ITBF was assigned the task of establishing outposts near the Chinese Occupation Line ... "Hot Springs" was barely three Km far from the site where Chinese Army had intruded.
- "在海拔5070米的空喀山口哨卡某边防团政委宗建明和官兵深情的拥抱". Sina Military (in Chinese). 17 September 2009. Retrieved 14 December 2019.
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