Three Strategic Axes To Ladakh

Three Strategic Axes To Ladakh

Considering deployment of armed forces and its connected logistics, and the socio economics of the locals, it was imperative to keep all the three axes open for as long as possible.The union territory of Ladakh enjoys the significance of being located on the ancient silk route which traver...

Considering deployment of armed forces and its connected logistics, and the socio economics of the locals, it was imperative to keep all the three axes open for as long as possible.The union territory of Ladakh enjoys the significance of being located on 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 their connected logistics, as also for 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 connect Ladakh to the rest of the country. One of the axis leads to Ladakh from Jammu and Kashmir, and the other two from Himachal Pradesh. The first axis is the strategic Srinagar-Kargil-Leh axis (NH-1) which passes through the Zojila pass at 11,575 feet. The second axis is the Manali-Leh axis (NH-3) from Manali to Leh via Sarchu. The third axis is along the road Nimmu-Padum- Darcha which passes through the Shinku-La pass at 16,800 feet. Keeping in view the strategic importance of Ladakh and the necessity of redundancy, it is essential to keep these open for public.Srinagar-Kargil-Leh AxisZojila 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, and hence keeping the Zojila pass open is crucial for the logistic sustenance and socio-economic development of the region. Moreover, since large number of troops and equipment of defence forces are deployed there, this axis assumes importance for the sustenance of these forces along the northern borders. As the area receives heavy snowfall precipitation during the period from October to March, it becomes a 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 or November, and re-open only by April or 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 February-March. 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 4th January and was re-opened in just 73 days, a feat hitherto unimaginable. This year, the pass remained trafficable till as late as 6th January 2023, thereby, creating a new historic precedence of its kind. On 16th March 2023, BRO opened Srinagar-Zojila-Leh (NH-1) for traffic after a record closure time of just 68 days.Manali-Leh AxisLeh-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. On 25th March 2023, snow clearance teams of both, and additionally four projects 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. The Karmyogis also negotiated and cleared four important and high altitude passes including the Baralacha La (15,910 feet), Nakee La (15,547 feet), Lachung La (16,616 feet) and Tanglang La (17,482 feet), 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. In 2022, this road was opened for traffic on 26th March.As the two snow clearance teams from Projects Himank and Deepak converged to a common point, which is also the inter project boundaries, a ‘Golden Handshake’ ceremony was organised at Sarchu on 25th March 2023. BRO has broken its own record in 2023, by opening this strategic road on 25th Mar with a record closure of just 138 days as against 144 days in 2022.Nimmu-Padum-Darcha AxisThe third axis along the road, Nimmu-Padum-Darcha is being looked after by Poject Yojak of the BRO. This project has also set another record by re-opening the mighty Shinkula pass after a closure period of just 55 days. Amidst the freezing temperature at 16,580 feet, the Karmyogis of BRO toiled day and night to restore connectivity to 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 all-weather connectivity along this axis, a 4.1 km long Shinkula Tunnel has been approved for construction along the strategic Nimu-Padam-Darcha road.With the opening of all three strategic passes and axes, BRO has successfully restored connectivity on all the routes leading to Ladakh. Never in the history were these routes opened in such short time frame with connectivity achieved in March.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 Razdan passes in Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir (UTs) in record times. These endeavours of BRO have been appreciated by the security forces, civil administration and most importantly by the local populace. The early opening of Manali-Leh highway also augurs propitious times for tourism which is the major source of living for the people of Leh, and Lahaul and Spiti valleys. Also, the travellers and adventure seekers from all over the world can now rush to these places as early as March.The nation owes this to the grit, courage and sacrifice of BRO Karamyogis. These unsung and mostly unknown heroes are the junior leaders of BRO, equipment operators, equipment mechanics, paramedics and casual paid labours, who perform daredevil acts day after day, with unyielding faith in their machines, unwavering trust in each other and a silent prayer on their lips. They seek no more than a pat on the shoulder for a job well done. The BRO has again demonstrated its commitment to Nation First, Always First and lived up to its ethos of “We Will Either Find A Way or Make One”.(Contributed by: Border Roads Organisation)

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