The National Highway NH-1A, the only life line to Kashmirvalley has given this year the worst headache during its entire existence.Earlier too it had once broken down during winter for a month or so. That timesupplies including medicine and kerosene had to be flown to Srinagar in IAFaircraft. Since the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947 whichresulted in the J & K state getting divided in two parts, one each with thenewly created countries, Kashmir has remained physically isolated especiallyduring winters. This unnatural partition also closed the only real life line ofKashmir along the Jhelum River known as the Jhelum Valley Road. Prior topartition this had been the main connection of the valley to the outside world.At present a section of the highway from Ramban to Bannihal is being widened tomake it a proper highway. However, the widening of the Road by extensiveblasting has destabilized the entire mountain range and massive slides havebeen coming on the exiting road and quite a few times the stretches of the roadhave been totally washed down forcing the road builders to make new temporarystretches. Reportedly, the technique adopted for its widening and theprocedures followed by the contractors have resulted in massive slides. Someengineers have opined that the road builders should have first fully stabilizedthe upper slopes before starting the widening. The other alternative could havebeen to use the mountain slopes on the other side of the Chenab River either bycreating a new road stretch or going in for a series of tunnels.
While talking of tunnels, it may be pointed out that therecould be other alternatives for connecting the valley in winter but these areblocked because of absence of tunnels which had initially been incorporated inthe projects but were never taken up for some unknown reasons. The immediateinstance is of the Mughal Road constructed along the route even followed byMughals and practically the easiest and the shortest one apart from thetraditional Jhelum Valley Road. A tunnel under the Pir Ki Gali pass which getsblocked due to heavy snowfall would cost Rs. 500 crores. This tunnel wasalready a part of the project when it was initiated. In fact, the project hadto face many hiccups before it finally materialized. The other route which toocould be used in winter and which passes through more solid mountains is theroad across the Simthan pass going to Kishtwar. This road too gets blockedduring winter due to heavy snowfall on the pass. A tunnel could make it anall-weather year round connection. Again for some unknown reasons constructionof a tunnel under Simthan pass has not been considered by the government.
At the present moment the most talked about is the Zoji Latunnel. The province of Ladakh has remained disconnected by surface duringwinter for ages. Ladakh had always remained a camel caravan destination. It waspart of the famous Silk route and there used to be very active trade betweenKashmir and Central Asia on Bactrian camel (double humped) caravans. Some ofthese camels are still in Nubra Valley as a big tourist attraction. Nowhereelse in the entire sub-continent can one see these Bactrian camels! The surfaceroad to Ladakh through Zoji La pass was constructed after the Indo-Pak conflictof 1947. The road got a boost after the 1962 India-China war. The road wassubsequently improved and black topped throughout its length making the twoweek journey to Ladakh on camels and horses to be completed in a day only!However, like other similar roads it was useable in summer only as heavy snowon Zoji la pass would completely close it. The snow depth has been sometimesrecorded as 40 feet or so. Again, a tunnel has been missing here which couldhave made it an all-weather round the year road. Ladakis have been agitatingfor this tunnel for a long time as they are truly living in a totallyland-locked country especially after the closure of Kargil-Skardu, Leh-Lahasaand Leh-Kashgar routes which used to remain open throughout the year. Recentlythere was a lot of pomp and show for starting the construction of the Zoji Latunnel. The work was started but reportedly there was some dispute with theconstruction company and the project has probably got delayed. However, thework on the first tunnel leading to Sonamarg is reportedly going on. The mainZoji La tunnel had run into some legal problems. It is supposed to be thelongest tunnel in Asia.
Tunneling is now a very sophisticated procedure with latestboring devices which can bore through hardest rock granite like cutting butter!The Chinese have very sophisticated boring devices. They have constructed alarge number of some very long tunnels. In Europe they have the Eurostar traingoing through a tunnel under the Channel between England and France. Italy andFrance are connected by a 12 km long tunnel under the Mont Blanc, the highestmountain in Europe. It would have been ideal if this job of tunneling had beenassigned to a global firm specializing in the field of tunneling. The mostimportant tunnel, the Bannihal Tunnel known as Jawahar Tunnel was alsoconstructed by German engineers in early sixties. It has lasted almost 60 yearswithout any major problem. Had this tunnel not been there, Kashmir would haveremained cut for six months as used to happen before sixties of the lastcentury. The winter blockade of Kashmir valley as well as Ladakh creates aclaustrophobic situation for the local the population. They feel physicallyimprisoned which creates many psychological problems apart from physicalshortages of all essential supplies. Ending this physical isolation can evenhelp in calming down the overall situation. The authorities should go aheadthrough some reputed international construction firms to complete all these"Missing Tunnels"! That would be a boon for Kashmir as well as Ladakh!