Manali: Border Roads Organization (BRO), a road engineering wing of the Indian Army, is embarking on constructing one of the world’s highest tunnel under Shinku La Pass (Altitude 16,580 feet) to the mountainous terrain of Himachal Pradesh with that of Ladakh in the north-western Himalayas.
Set out under Project Yojak, BRO Chief Engineer Jitender Prasad said “construction on the strategically important tunnel would start in July. It will connect Himachal with Zanskar valley in Ladakh.”
The ambitious project is expected to be completed by 2025.
The commanding Shinku La Pass is an alternate entry point to Zanskar valley but is inaccessible from October to April due to heavy snow in the high region.
With winter temperatures dropping to -30 to -40 Degree Celsius, providing an all-weather route from Leh is not possible but having one from Manali that can breach a high range by way of tunnel below Shinku La can make it possible.
Prasad said that BRO was aware of the importance of connecting Zanskar valley with Manali. Project Yojak is centred around keeping Manali-Leh roads operational around the year, he added.
The organisations is also working on widening of the Nimu-Padam-Darcha road, one of the toughest road to traverse in the region which often receives heavy snowfalls of 15 to 20 feet at multiple stretches in one season.
The Srinagar- Leh National Highway is critical for connecting Kashmir valley with Leh-Ladakh but it remains blocked for several days in winter.
The alternate Nimu-Padam-Darcha road is the only alternate road that can connect Leh, even in peak winter days, with rest of the country
For the proposed project the south portal of the tunnel is located at Shinku La and the north portal at Lhakhang.
Prasad lauded the efforts of BRO engineers and workers in restoring the Shinku La-Padum road and with Atal Tunnel providing year around connectivity to Lahaul valley, opening of the alternated Manali to Leh road in record time.
It may be recalled a 7-km link road between Ramjak in Lahaul and Kargyak in Zanskar valley was constructed by one local resident Chultim Chonjo, a retired government employee.
Chonjo had used his personal savings and later received support from the local residents. The road was constructed between May 2014 and June 2017.
For his efforts Chultim Chonjo was conferred Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award, for social service in 2021.
Later the road was ltaken over by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and today it is a tarred road that can withstand to carry trucks with load of up to 18 tons. Hi
Himachal Roadways has started operating a small bus service on the route for the benefit of people in Zaskar valley.
Chonjo, a resident of a remote villate Stongde in Zanskar valley, for most of his life had had to cross Shinku Pass on foot. All his efforts to persuade the government authorities to construct a road to the valley failed, until he took on the onerous task himself.
The humble 80-year-old Chongjo, however attributes it all to BRO. “All this has happened due to the cooperation of BRO and we want that the road remains open around the year,” he says.
Sanjay Dutta, an engineer by qualification but is a journalist by choice.
He has worked for the premier new agency Press Trust of India and leading English daily Indian Express.
With more than a decade of experience, he has been highlighting issues related to environment, tourism and other aspects affecting mountain ecology.
Sanjay Dutta lives in a village close to Manali in Kullu valley of Himachal.