By Monidipa Dey
Travelers in the upper reaches of the Himalaya are familiar with the various passes that often fall on their way as they cross state borders or even districts. These passes being on mountain top areas give a beautiful view of snow peaks and surrounding mountain ranges, though they often have low oxygen content hence considered dangerous for long stays or any exertions. Geographically a pass is a gap, in high altitude rugged terrain such as a mountain top ridge. A pass is formed when the area between two mountain tops is eroded by a glacier formation or a stream coming out from a glacier that erodes to create a break. Passes generally short and saddle shaped and may have short steep peaks or wide valleys around them. These breaks in the high mountain terrains or passes have been used by people from ancient times for traveling across the otherwise inhospitable and insurmountable steep mountain ranges. Generally passes are good defence outposts as they provide the only flat land in an otherwise rough mountainous terrain, thus making it a vantage point to observe enemy movements and defend homeland. It is also for this reason passes have played important roles in the human civilization history related to trades, migrations, and wars and conquests.
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This vantage point also makes a pass an easier location to defend against threats or enemies.
The Himalayan pass that was in limelight recently is the Shinku-La (La is the Tibetan word for pass). Shinku-La Tunnel or Shingo-La Tunnel is a motorable tunnel being constructed at around 16,580ft height on the Shinku-la (pass) that connects Himachal Pradesh’s Lahaul valley with the Zanskar valley in the Union territory of Ladakh. The road which is being built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is takes the route across Darcha-Shinkula-Padum-Nimu is an alternative that connects Leh/Ladakh with the state of Himachal Pradesh, and is the third highway connecting Ladakh with mainland, the other two being the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh and Manali-Sarchu-Leh highways. The major advantage of the newly constructed Darcha-Padum-Nimu road is that it will be an all-weather route once the Shinku-la tunnel work is completed, and will facilitate the army movement even in winter months. Another advantage of this new road is that Shinku-la will be the only pass on this way, unlike the Manali-Sarchu-Leh highway that has many high altitude mountain passes with low oxygen content, making travelling risky at some points.
Once the work on the Shinku-la tunnel (16,580 ft) will be completed it will be among the top high altitude highway tunnels in the world, beating Atal tunnel which runs at around 10,000 ft altitude. The length of this new Darcha-Shinkula pass – Padum-Nimu highway will be around 297 KM.
Shinku La Tunnel specifications
Name of Tunnel: Shinku-La Tunnel
Length of Tunnel: 4.25 KM (earlier 13.5km)
Location: Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh and Zanskar, UT of Ladakh
North Portal: Lakhang, Zanskar (Now 3 KM before Shinku-la top)
South Portal: At KM 33, Just below Shinku-la top (Earlier it was Patseo, Lahaul)
Altitude of tunnel (approximate): 15,900ft
Altitude of Shinkula Pass: 16,580 ft
Agency: BRO through its newly formed Project Yojak
A note to the travelers who wish to take this route (road is almost ready as seen in October 2022), please be a responsible traveler. Do not litter the pass or any other places on the way. Preserving the Himalaya (a natural heritage) is the duty of every citizen of India, and while travelling one should always bear that in mind.
(The author is a well-known travel, heritage and history writer. All images provided by the author. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)