Udan Khatola –The Skyway

Many a ropeway rides are a once-in a lifetime opportunity. I rode to the ‘Top of the world’ (top of Europe) way back in 1999, enjoying views of the most iconic and beautiful places on to the Jungfrau# (mountain) in Swiss Alps. The Ice Palace at jungfraujoch remains the frozen nostalgia.

On my subsequent visit to Switzerland in 2017, I missed riding the new Eiger Express tri-cable gondola with a direct transfer option by train to jungfraujoch. Faster than before, it would have been a different feel of a thrill of the sort. The additional access would be the world’s longest tunnel-lift system, funicular^; UNESCO World Heritage – Jungfrau Region.

Scrolling my past, I catch up with my trolley rides at Shanan* Hydro station, Jogindernagar- Himachal; the funicular railways for Haulage, operating by cable with ascending and descending cars, counterbalanced.

While talking about the Titlis Rotair gondola (360° view) & the Cliff Walk (Switzerland), believed to be the highest elevation suspension bridge in Europe; I look back to my Froggy leaps over ‘Shour Jhoola’ (hanging bridge) of Pangi in Himachal Pradesh.

At times in sixties, I visited Gulmarg (Kashmir), when I was a student of Engineering in REC, Srinagar. Alas! Gondola cable at 13,400 ft. was not built, yet.

  • Prior to 1893, a combined goods and passenger carrying cableway was installed at Gibraltar (UK). After the Second World War, many installations like ski lifts and chair lifts emerged in Europe, America, Japan, Canada and South Africa.

The gondola ride of the Merida Cable Car in Venezuela is said to be the highest in the world at fifteen thousand and six hundred and thirty-three feet at the highest point.

The Shinhotaka Ropeway carries 121 people in each cabin at Mount Hotaka in Japan. There are aerial tramways with double deck cabins.

The Express cable car carries 200 people in each cabin at a height of 380 m (1,247 ft) over the Vernon Gorge in France.

  • Here, in India, aerial ways are a public transportation system, more so in mountainous areas. Many a multipurpose Air lift -Aerial tramway – Aerial ropeway rose up. Cabins, gondolas and open chairs are being hauled above the ground with the help of cables.

The philosophy behind is- getting easier pilgrimage with the dual aim of providing eco-friendly and energy efficient Safe Alternate Transport Network; and development of tourism.

Accompanied by Vishav Kirti, Manu Maharaaj & Meenakshi, I was there, in 2010, at the Ropeway at Rajgir, Bihar; said to be the oldest in the country. It leads to the ‘Vishwa Shanti Stupa’ (Peace Pagoda), built by Japanese devotees of the Buddha on top of the Ratnagiri Hills.

The taking off of the Udan Khatola from Mansa Devi and Chandi Devi -Haridwar, Ambaji -Gujarat, Taratarini–Odisha Malampuzha-Kerala and elsewhere; affirms the mythological beliefs of the people.

Presently, under ‘Parvatmala scheme’, the National Ropeways Development Programme PPP (Public-Private Partnership) construction of 8 ropeway projects for 60 km is in the offing. Besides, transportation and connectivity on the mountains, it will also strengthen the border villages.

  • Back home with Manu, I enjoy a few minutes ride on the cable car of the private Jakhu, Shimla Ropeway; showing unique views of Himalayan hills-steady and slow-paced glide. Getting a fantastic bird’s eye view of the ‘Queen of Hills’ from above is exhilarating.

Prerna Singh of America also shares her hilarious experience of her joy ride at the ‘Dharamshala Skyway’ on a rainy day.

Ropeway & Rapid Transport System Development Corporation (RTDC) H.P. Ltd, Government of Himachal Pradesh is at its prime. M/s Wapcos Ltd provides consultancy. Ski Himalayas Ropeway has been formed by the entrepreneurs from Himachal Pradesh and is a joint venture with Swiss company Air Zermatt.

A 5-stage ropeway project 3S covering a 21.4 km, over the 14,000 feet Sach Pass is on its way; providing round the year connectivity to remote areas around the Killar region of Himachal Pradesh.

Walking over the Himachal’s First Sky Glass Walk Bridge (70 ft by 15 ft), at Nainadevi, Bilaspur shall also happen.

  • Terminology may differ in various countries and several languages, as such, careful phrasing is necessary to prevent confusion. An aerial tramway, sky tram, cable car, ropeway is a type of aerial lift which uses one or two stationary ropes for support while a third moving rope provides propulsion. Gururu is the ropeway in local parlour of Himachal.

Most Ropeway Systems can go up to a speed of 10 mps (meter per second). When the cabin reaches station, it detaches itself from the continuously moving hauling rope and moves on the fixed structure and the speed is reduced to crawling speed or it comes to a halt while the passengers can de-board and board at defined areas in the station.

‘Quite unusual is a ropeway combining both freight and passenger transport. Such a system provides a supplementary solution to rising problems in areas with dedicated spatial challenges.’

Made in India ropeways come at par with world standards of safety. Apart from ensuring structural safety, it is crucial to have an emergency system in place to get the cable car back to the nearest station in emergency, safe evacuation can be done.

  • The aerial transport has an edge over conventional commuting:
    – Lower land acquisition costs make it economical mode of transportation.
    – Being in a straight line over a hilly terrain, it is a faster mode of transportation& can also handle large slopes.
    – Low dust emissions without soiling keep it Environment-friendly.
    – Low footprint makes it possible for ropeways to be constructed in built-up areas with intense competition for land.

It is a preferred ecologically sustainable alternative to conventional roads in difficult hilly terrains as also in congested urban areas. The tricable gondola lift, also known as the 3S gondola lift, is a fast, modern gondola technology that, perhaps, can transport up to 6000-8000 PPH (passengers per hour).

While many gondolas are newer inventions, much has changed since, but the views remain the same. If heights scare, it is ‘Love for Thrills’.

*Engineering marvel of the 20th century. Built in1930s to carry heavy machinery of Shanan Power House to Barot.
^funicular railway is a specific type of cable transportation.
#Jungfrau Railway is planned as an electrically operated cog railway.
Ropeway –a safe and secure transportation experience Aditya Chamaria ,7 June, 21 M D Damodar Ropeways and India (DRIL)
Aerial ropeway transportation system for combined freight and passenger transport- Martin Pernkopf & Manfred Gronalt Published 30 Nov, 2020.

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