25 Mar 2017
Leh & Ladakh: Tunnels to improve connectivity to Chinese frontiers
Even as the strategic Rohtang tunnel is running two years behind schedule, the Defence Ministry decided to construct four more tunnels to improve all-weather connectivity to treacherous roads connecting Chinese frontiers and Leh and Ladakh.
The proposed tunnels would pass through the Himalayan and Zanskar ranges' lofty mountain passes.
They would facilitate movement of civil and army vehicles to border territories all year round.
Italian consultants to conduct feasibility studies
Border Roads Organization ( BRO), the elite agency that is responsible for the development and maintenance of road networks in the border regions, has engaged Italian consultants to conduct feasibility studies for the tunnels.
First tunnel to pass through Shinkula pass
The first tunnel once built will pass through the avalanche-prone Shinkula pass that links Lahaul valley in Himachal Pradesh to Zanskar in Jammu & Kashmir.
The 16,703-foot high pass reportedly has no glaciers but it's highly prone to avalanches during winters.
It was only last year that the BRO finished the 39.6-km stretch to connect Lahaul valley and Zanskar.
Residents walk for six days to reach Leh or Manali
The stretch connecting Darcha and Shinkula pass would also reduce travel time drastically between Manali and Leh.
Experts said the road, besides being strategically important, will improve the connectivity for residents of over 15 villages in Zanskar valley.
The residents currently walk for six days to reach either Leh or Manali.
The road would aid construction of the tunnel being planned beneath Shinkula pass.
Third tunnel beneath the Baralachala pass
The Ministry of Defence has also proposed the construction of an 11.25-km long tunnel beneath the 16,040-feet Baralachala pass in the Zanskar range.
Using the 470-km National Highway connecting Manali and Leh to cross Baralachala pass has been a nightmare for drivers and travelers.
It remains closed during winter while summers see melting glaciers create dangerous streams on the treacherous road.
Baralachala tunnel would be the longest in Manali-Leh axis
The tunnel beneath Baralachala pass would likely be built through 17,480-feet-high Taglangla pass, the world's second-highest motorable mountain pass.
Stretching for about 14.78km, it would be the longest tunnel on the Manali-Leh road.
The fourth tunnel on Manali-Leh axis would be below the 16,598-feet Lachungla pass on Himachal-J&K boundary.
The 11.25km tunnel would be the second-longest in the axis and located 25km from Sarchu.
Rohtang Tunnel missed its 2015 deadline
The strategic 8.9km-long Rohtang Tunnel project was announced in 2000 by the then-PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee; the work began in 2010.
It is aimed at providing all-weather road connectivity to territories bordering China.
Digging through withered rocks beneath the 13,050-feet-high pass is often difficult.
The project missed its 2015 deadline and 2019 is the new deadline; working engineers feel 2020 would be more realistic.