With the opening of all three strategic passes and axes, BRO has successfully restored connectivity on all routes leading to Ladakh. Never in the history were these routes opened in such short time frame and the connectivity achieved in March this year, writes Col Prashant Oberoi, Director HSPR, HQ DGBR
The UT of Ladakh enjoys the significance of being located at the ancient Silk Route which traversed through this region and played a very vital role in the development of culture, religion, philosophy, trade and commerce in the past. Ladakh’s importance has increased in the recent times in the backdrop of its geostrategic significance. Ladakh incidentally gets cut off from the rest of the country during winters, as all the passes leading to it get closed. Due to the deployment of armed forces and its connected logistics and for the socio-economic reasons for the locals of Ladakh, it is imperative to keep the axes leading to Ladakh open for as long as possible.
There are three axes that lead to Ladakh. One of the axes leads to Ladakh from Jammu and Kashmir and the other two from Himachal Pradesh. First axis is the strategic Srinagar-Kargil-Leh Axis (NH-1) which passes through the Zojila Pass at 11575 ft. The second axis is Manali-Leh Axis (NH-3) moving from Manali to Leh via Sarchu. The third axis is along the Road Nimmu-Padum-Darcha which passes through the Shinkun La Pass at 16800 ft. Keeping in view the strategic importance of the region of Ladakh and the necessity of redundancy it is imperative to keep all the three axes open.
Zojila Pass is located on the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh Road at an altitude of 11,650 feet. NH1 is a strategic axis which is crucial for the sustenance of civilian population as well as the security forces deployed in the Ladakh Region. As the area receives heavy snowfall precipitation during the period of October to March, it is challenging task to keep the pass open for the maximum duration. The responsibility to open the pass lies with BRO’s Projects Beacon and Vijayak.
Due to heavy snow fall, heavy winds and avalanches, the pass used to normally close by October/ November and re-open only by April/ May in the yesteryears with the total closure time averaging almost five to six months. However, in 2020, due to the operational necessity along the Northern Borders, BRO was given the responsibility to keep the pass open till the end of December which was done in an efficient manner by the organisation, fighting against all odds. True to its name, BRO not only kept the pass open till the end of December but also ensured early opening of the pass in the month of Feb/Mar. Ever since, defying life-threatening odds, BRO has been constantly working towards truncating the road closure period, which till recent past was anything up to 150 days. In 2021 the pass was closed only for 110 days in winters. In 2022, Zojila Pass was kept open till as late as January 4 and was re- opened in just 73 days, a feat hitherto unimaginable. This year, the pass remained trafficable till as late as Jan 6 2023, thereby creating a new historic precedence of its kind. BRO Srinagar-Zojila-Leh (NH-1) on March 16 for traffic after a record closure time of just 68 Days.
Leh-Manali Highway (NH3) is a 427 km long strategic highway connecting Ladakh to the rest of India via Manali. The highway is strategic for the movement of the armed forces and their logistics to forward areas in Ladakh region along our Northern borders, in addition to connecting the people of Ladakh to the rest of the country, the highway is an alternate axis to the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh Highway (NH-1). With onset of winters and snow accumulation, the Leh- Manali highway traditionally remains closed from November end till it is opened by the BRO karmyogis. The entire 427 km road was cleared of snow by BRO frontline Project Himank in Ladakh and Deepak in Himachal Pradesh, whose snow clearance teams have worked with great synergy to open the treacherous route in a record time. This challenging operation commenced from two extremities of the road by two different teams comprising skilled manpower and state-of-the-art machines. Project Deepak undertook the operation from Manali to Sarchu (Border of Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh) and Project Himank clearing the highway from Leh to Sarchu. Karmyogis of both the Projects worked in extremely challenging conditions in snow storms and extreme temperatures with paucity of oxygen along the high altitude areas to clear the highway. They also negotiated and cleared four important and high altitude passes including the Baralacha La (15910 ft), Nakee La (15547 ft), Lachung La (16616 ft) and Tanglang La (17482 ft), a challenge in itself. A significant time of snow clearance was consumed in clearance of these high mountain passes where the precipitation was high and the teams encountered snow walls of height in excess of 10-15 feet.
In the previous years, the Manali- Leh Highway was opened in the month of May/June, thereby reducing the land connectivity available to the residents of Ladakh and incoming tourists. BRO, with the renewed focus on early opening of all strategic roads and passes has been progressively reducing the closure duration and opening the roads and passes earlier than the previous years. BRO has broken its own record in 2023, by opening this strategic road on Mar 25 this year with a record closure of 138 days as against 144 days in 2022.
Road Nimmu- Padum- Darcha
The third axis, Nimmu-Padum-Darcha Road axis is being looked after by BRO Poject Yojak. This project has also set another record by re-opening the mighty Shinkula Pass just after a closure period of 55 days. Amidst the freezing temperature at 16,580ft, the Karmyogis of the Border Roads Organisation toiled day and night to restore the connectivity of Zanskar Valley in Ladakh with Lahaul Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh. Last year the pass was closed for almost five months and was opened on 17th April 2022. However, this year the pass was kept open till January last week and only after a long spell of heavy snowfall the pass was closed. It is also pertinent to note that, to overcome the travel along the treacherous Shinkula Pass and to provide an all-weather connectivity along this axis, a 4.1km long Shinkula Tunnel has been approved for construction along the strategic Nimmu- Padum- Darcha road.
This pursuit of excellence and constant reduction in the closure of the pass is a direct reflection of BRO’s relentless commitment towards nation building. BRO has successfully opened Zojila and Rajdan passes in Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir (UTs) in record times. The early opening of Manali-Leh Highway also augurs propitious times for the tourism which is the major source of living for the people of Leh, Lahaul and Spiti valleys. The travellers and adventure seekers from all over the world can now rush to these places as early as March.