India plans world’s highest tunnel in the Himalayas

India’s Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is planning to excavate what it says is the world’s highest tunnel to improve road access to the Ladakh region of the Himalayas, the site of a deadly brawl between Indian and Chinese troops in 2020.

Lieutenant General Rajeev Chaudhary, the BRO’s director general, told media that work on “Project Yojack” will begin in July, and will connect Himachal Pradesh, India’s northernmost state, to the Zanskar Valley in Ladakh. The link will follow the route of the Shinku La Pass, which has an altitude of just over 5km.

When the tunnel is complete in 2025, Lt Gen Chaudhary said it would “change the economy” of Zanskar Valley. At present, cars have to travel 100km from the Himachal Pradesh resort town of Manali to enter Zanskar valley.

The south portal of the tunnel will be at Shinku La and the north will be at Lakhang, a distance of 4.5km.

Project Yojack was approved by the Indian government in August 2020, at which point a 13.5km tunnel was envisaged. This was later changed to the 4.5km alignment. The aim is to create a two-lane road that will allow all-weather connectivity with Ladakh, thereby improving the Indian government’s strategic access to the region.

No cost was given for the scheme, but a programme of work to build four tunnels to Ladakh from Indian-controlled Kashmir, announced last year, had a price tag of $1bn (see further reading).

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