Road link to Line of Actual Control achieved, faster route for Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrims and security forces

NEW DELHI: A crucial road link to the Line of Actual Control between India and China in Uttarakhand has been achieved, which will be the shortest, fastest and most comfortable route for pilgrims to reach the holy Kailash Mansarovar in the Tibet Autonomous Region and also provide better connectivity to troops deployed along the border.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday inaugurated the road link from Dharchula, a town in Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district, to the Lipulekh pass, which is located at an altitude of 17,060 feet at the border between India and China. The pass is located near the tri-junction of the two countries with Nepal. Mount Kailash, which is believed to be the abode of God Shiva, is located about 100 km north of the border in China. The holy Mansarovar lake is located near the mountain.

“Delighted to inaugurate the Link Road to Mansarovar Yatra today. The BRO achieved road connectivity from Dharchula to Lipulekh (China Border) known as Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra Route. Also flagged off a convoy of vehicles from Pithoragarh to Gunji through video conferencing,” Singh posted on Twitter.

His office’s official Twitter handle also posted, “Border Roads Organisation connects Kailash Mansarovar Route to China Border. While combating Covid-19 pandemic, BRO in Uttarakhand has connected Kailash Mansarovar route to Lipulekh pass at a height of 17,060 ft; thus providing connectivity to border villages and security forces.”

The Dharchula-Lipulekh road is an extension of Pithoragarh-Tawaghat-Ghatiabagarh road. The 80 km road starts from Ghatiabagarh and terminates at Lipulekh Pass, the gateway to Kailash Mansarovar. The altitude on this road rises from 6,000 feet to 17,060 feet. The BRO has achieved connectivity on this road upto 5 km short of Lipulekh pass on April 17. The army’s Director General of Military Operations had placed a temporary ban on last mile connectivity in 2016 and it is yet to be lifted, officials said on the condition of anonymity. If approved, the work on the last mile connectivity to Lipulekh pass will begin by mid May, after the snow clearance, and will be completed this year.

But, the new connectivity implies that a light vehicle can ply up to five km short of the border. This means that a five day trek by pilgrims and security forces to reach the Lipulekh pass will be reduced to two-days of road travel. Pilgrims can take their first night halt at Gunji for first stage acclimatisation and the second stage near Lipulekh pass. Across the border in China, a 97 km road exists after a 5 km trek. Singh said with the completion of this road link, the yatra could be completed in one week compared to two to three weeks it took earlier. The journey on the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra route before the new connectivity entailed 130 km of road travel and 79 km or five days trek from Ghatiabagh to Lipulekh pass.

The other Kailash-Mansarovar yatra routes via Sikkim (2,780 km) and Nepal (3,090 km) are longer, more expensive and arduous. They entail about 20 per cent land journeys on Indian roads and 80 per cent land journeys in China. With the opening of Ghatiabagh-Lipulekh road, pilgrims will traverse 84 per cent land journeys on Indian Roads and only 16 per cent land Journeys in China. “It is the shortest and cheapest route. It is one-fifth the distance of road travel as compared to other routes,” an official said.

The new road funded by the China Study Group (CSG) was first approved by Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in 2005 at a cost of Rs 80.76 Crores. In 2018, CCS approved a revised cost of Rs 439.40 Crores with PDC as Dec 2022.

Director General Border Roads, Lieutenant General Harpal Singh, said the construction of this road was hampered due to constant snowfall, steep rise in altitude and extremely low temperatures. The working season was restricted to five months. The BRO lost many lives and 25 equipment were also badly damaged due to falling into the Kali River. In the last two years, the 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 tons of equipment into this sector.

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