BRO races against time to make all-weather road near India-China LAC at 17,000 ft.

Source:-BRO races against time to make all-weather road near India-China LAC at 17,000 ft.

The arm of a giant excavator perched precariously on the mountain slope drills a hole into the mountainside. Standing at an altitude of almost 17,000 feet, Lt Col Ajay Chauhan says a silent prayer under this breath as the drill of the excavator bores into the mountain. This is a zero error exercise as a tiny mistake could send the 20-ton machine hurtling down into the raging Shyok river 50 feet below.

Engineers of the Border Roads Organisation are racing against time to make an all-weather blacktop road to quickly move men and material from Leh to Daulat Beg Oldie at the base of the mighty Karakoram Mountain at an altitude of 16,696 feet. “This is an extremely risky task. There are always chances of an accident. The operators risk their lives. But we are preparing an alternate axis with a gentler gradient so that heavy trucks and equipment can be moved quickly between Durbuk and Daulat Beg Oldie,” says Lt Col Chauhan, officer commanding Road Construction company.
The army has declared the 255 kilometre-long Durbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie road its top priority for completion. The road starts at Durbuk at an altitude of a little over 14,000 feet and snakes along the Shyok river before climbing up to 18,000 feet near DBO. “DS-DBO road runs parallel to the LAC and connects the DBO Advanced Landing Ground to Durbuk.

We are constructing 37 all-weather bridges on the road to enable quick movement of men and material anywhere along the LAC. Earlier, it took almost seven days from Leh to DBO without proper roads, now it takes just about a day,” says Lt Gen Harpal Singh, Director General of the Border Roads Organization. In remote high altitude areas, the window of opportunity to work is less than five months due to snowfall and extreme cold climate at extremely high altitudes. The temperatures fall to minus 50 degrees Celsius and it becomes worse due to the wind chill factor. Heavy snowfall in some areas also affects road construction. “Therefore, our aim is to complete our task before the onset of winters. We did not let the ongoing tension between India and China at the LAC affect our road construction activity,” Lt Gen Singh adds.

The China Study Group has identified 73 strategic roads and labeled them as India-China Border Roads. The BRO is to construct 61 of these 73 roads totaling a distance of 3409 kms. The 255 km-long DS-DBO road has been identified as one of the most crucial of these roads.This is perhaps the most critical sector as India faces multiple adversaries in the Karakoram mountain belt. This is the only sector where India shares a border both with Pakistan and China. And another adversary is the weather. “We are constructing a blacktop road at 18,250 feet. This is the highest point on the DS-DBO road and the oxygen in the atmosphere here is greatly reduced. Both men and machines here work at less than 50 per cent of their capabilities. Therefore finishing the task of giving our soldiers a wide blacktop road is a race against time,” says Maj Anand, officer commanding, DBO Crusaders Road construction company.

Shyok river is also called the river of sorrow as multiple caravans and traders lost their lives crossing the river along the ancient silk route. BRO is now constructing 37 bridges along the road. “Till a few years back, even army trucks waded through the river and drove along the river bed. We are in the process of constructing wide bridges capable of carrying 70 tons of load. This road is truly a game-changer,” says Brigadier Arvinder Singh, Chief Engineer, Project Himank. Brig Singh is the officer-in-charge of all strategic roads in eastern Ladakh. In November 2019, Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh inaugurated 1400 feet-long, 70-ton load-carrying bridge the longest on the Shyok river. “This is the world’s highest baley bridge of this span at 14,650 feet altitude. We also used micro piling technique for the first time and completed construction in record 14 months,” says Maj Daulat, Officer commanding Bridge Construction company.

Given the current India-China standoff, India refuses to buckle under pressure and is pressing ahead with completing the road and several other roads to enable better patrolling and protection of our territory. “We have also imported the latest machines from Europe to pulverise cement and rock together and make cement-based roads. They are quick to construct and relatively easy to maintain. We will lay a layer of blacktop on this for a smooth ride,” says Col Deepak Baskandi, the Task Force Commander. The army is using the latest equipment and technology to construct roads in the area. Techniques to build runways and airports are being used for speedy road construction. But the challenges for the BRO and army are as high as the Karakoram ranges. “The biggest challenge will be to keep the strategic road open through the winters, especially at high mountain passes. More men and material are being brought in to ensure the roads are kept open till as late as possible,” Brig Singh adds.

The Indian Air Force, which first landed a Fairchild Packet at DBO in 1962, repeated the unique feat twice, the first time in 2008 when an An-32 aircraft landed at DBO and the second time in 2013 when a C-130 J Hercules successfully landed here. Presently, there is a big helipad at the Advanced Landing Ground (ALG), the world’s highest at 16,696 feet and the government is considering a proposal to improve the facilities at the ALG. The DS-DBO road and the ALG give the Indian armed forces a unique capability to improve its presence and grip in the area. For the BRO, the immediate task of constructing the road may be all but over but the engineers are now making alternate access to DBO. The bigger challenge will remain to keep the road operational 365 days a year.





Source:-India Today

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