India on Friday inaugurated an 80km-long road that will curtail the travel time to the Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrimage site. Besides making the road trip comfortable for pilgrims, the development has its strategic value as it will be the first road that provides connectivity to the Indian troops deployed on the Line of Actual Control with China in Uttarakhand.
Built by the Border Roads Organisation, the road originates from Ghatibagarh and terminates at Lipulekh Pass, the gateway to Kailash-Mansarovar.
Approved in 2005 by the Cabinet Committee on Security at cost of Rs. 80.76 crore, the strategic 80km road between Ghatibagarh and Lipulekh was made under the directions of the China Study Group, an inter-ministerial strategic group. In 2018, the cost of the project was revised to ₹439.40 crore.
In this 80km road, the altitude rises from 6,000 feet to 17,060 feet. From Lipulekh pass, which is at the height of 17,060 feet, the holy mount Kailash is less than 100km north of Tibet.
While inaugurating the road via videoconference, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said that with the completion of this road link, the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra could be completed in one week compared with the two-three weeks it took earlier.
"With the completion of this project, the arduous trek through treacherous high-altitude terrain can now be avoided by the pilgrims of Kailash-Mansarovar yatra," Rajnath Singh said.
At present, the travel to Kailash-Mansarovar takes around two to three weeks through the Sikkim or Nepal routes. Lipulekh route had a trek of 90km through high-altitude terrain and the elderly yatris faced lot of difficulties.
"Now, pilgrims to Mansarovar will traverse 84 per cent land journeys on Indian roads and only 16 per cent land journeys in China. This is truly historic," Rajnath Singh commented.
Rajnath Singh also flagged off a convoy of vehicles from Pithoragarh to Gunji in Uttarakhand.
The other two roadways to the holy mountain are via Sikkim and Nepal. They entailed approximately 20 per cent land journeys on Indian roads and 80 per cent land journeys in China. With the opening of Ghatibagarh-Lipulekh road, this ratio has been reversed.
Rajnath expressed confidence that local trade and economic growth in the region would receive a boost with the operationalisation of this roadway.
While congratulating the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) engineers and personnel, Rajnath Singh mourned the loss of lives during the construction of this road.
Explaining further, Director General of BRO Lt General Harpal Singh said that the construction of this road was hampered due to multiple problems. "Constant snowfall, steep rise in altitude and extremely low temperatures restricted the working season to five months," Lt Gen Harpal Singh said. He noted that Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra took place in the working season from June to October and it coincided with move of local residents and their logistics as well as movement of traders (for trade with China), thus further reducing the daily hours for construction.
He added there were numerous flash floods and cloud bursts over last few years, which led to extensive damage. In the initial 20km, the mountains have hard rock and are near vertical due to which BRO has lost many lives and 25 pieces of equipment were also badly damaged as they fell into Kali River.
"Despite all odds, in last two years, BRO could increase its output by 20 times by creating multiple working points and inducting modern technology equipment. Helicopters were also extensively used to induct hundreds of tonnes of stores/equipment into this sector," the head of BRO said.