Todays news quote engineers from the BRO saying that the work on clearing the Manali-Leh highway has started. There are already guesstimates for the road opening as well : mid-April for clearing the Rohtang , and mid-May for the whole road. The word from he BRO is that there are up to fifteen feet of snow near the Rohtang : hardly surprising with the news of heavy snowfall and disrupted traffic in Lahaul in February , affecting also helicopter transport of patients to HP hospitals.
Tribune photograph from Keylong , February 1st
Fullfilling the guesstimates on the road opening will depend a lot on the amount of late snowfall . Ironically enough weather forecast talks of heavy snowfall over the Rohtang in the next three days.
The gleam in the Himachali politicians eyes have have started grow a little more intense : a definite proposal for a Manali-Leh train has been kicked to national level by the Railway Ministry.
Details are still scarce , but the cited distance for Bilaspur-Manali-Leh , 489 kilometers , is nearly identical to the present Manali-Leh road. This should mean that they are aiming for westerly shortcut from Darcha , same as being underway for the Manali-Leh highway.
Some question marks : the Rothang tunnel work that has started is a dual lane road only , no data on if it has been planned with a third railway track in mind. The sale pitch is that this will be an all year round open route once the Rothang has been bypassed : some Ladakhi politicians have been less convinced that this will work out , and have pushed for a a route over Tso Moriri ( ouch ! ) to Spiti and the NH 22/ Hindustan-Tibet road as a more practical solution.
Indias border policy has involved a certain conscious under-development of roads and railways , with the idea that poor roads slowing down the enemy would be a strategic asset : Spiti at least should perhaps be seen as a resounding success in this strategy…
The current road and railway work in Tibet and adjoining areas ( railway to Lhasa , construction/planning of tracks to Shigatse and Nyingtri , highways to Yadong and work on re-opening the Stillwell /Ledo / road thru Burma) has been used a lot over the last years as arguments for abandoning this policy.
Meanwhile , in practical terms : expect very little change in the coming years. We are still waiting for the completion of the railway to Srinagar , soon a decade over the schedule , and there is still no formal decision or any money allocated in this years railway budget.
Tribune today : Two feet of snow , hundreds of vehicles stranded in Rothang and a number of other locations in Himachal. Unsurprising , given how it looked here from Leh yesterday – will post picture later.
Arrived yesterday in Leh from Manali – on the original route. Snow was not an issue , but cold was : after making excellent time ( three hours ) up to fifty meters below the Rothang , we ascended another thirty in the next four because of stranded vehicles from the night before. First one breaks down , then all fuel lines freeze – enter the classical scene with truckers making up small fires under their vehicles. Another similar stop just after the Baralacha La.
Brilliant weather all the way , road just after Gondhla : “regret the inconvenience” . Excellent road after the Tanglang La ( one meter of snow , but well cleared ) just until twenty klicks before Lato , then good.
Andrea Espin , a fellow traveller to Leh bring these pics from his first aborted trip over the Rothang La on the 24th. Many tried towalk back to Manali on the same day , under severe conditions and with even worse clothing. Andreas group picked up a couple with a child in their minibus : tragically the news later tells us of a Bengali woman perishing the same day.
Arrived in Manali yesterday , with a half meter of snow being dumped on the Rothang La during my bus ride from Delhi. News talk of a number of vehicles ( figures strating from sixty ) being trapped in the pass , and snow cutters now working their way up. Had some fresh snow thrown at me from Gulaba , the highest open point this morning ( i.e. 3000 meters ) .
Also mentioned in the news : Srinagar-Leh also closing the same day (!) , snowfall in Kalpa (13 cm ) and Keylong ( 18 cm) , Saach Pass ( more than a meter ) and over the Kunzum La , closing the Manali-Kaza route on a second point.
UPDATE : BRO talks of having the road cleared within two days , according to a official quoted by Himvani.
UPDATE , OCTOBER 26th : Srinagar-Leh has been posted as open today , and I’m heading for Leh tomorrow morning from Manali.
copyright Azmi Rahmat , 2010-08-06