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In pictures: India builds strategic tunnel project in occupied Kashmir

Hundreds of people are working on an ambitious project to drill tunnels and construct bridges to connect the valley with Ladakh.
Published 30 Sep, 2021 12:31pm

High in a rocky Himalayan mountain range in Indian-occupied Kashmir, hundreds of people are working on an ambitious project to drill tunnels and construct bridges to connect the valley with Ladakh, a cold desert region isolated half the year because of massive snowfall.

Vehicles run through the Zojila Pass northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP
Vehicles run through the Zojila Pass northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP

Strategically important Ladakh shares de facto borders with Pakistan and China and currently depends on air supplies for about six months of the year.

Officials say a 6.5-kilometre tunnel, the first of four, is already complete and will make the resort town of Sonamarg accessible during the winter months for the first time. Sonamarg marks the end of conifer-clad mountains before Ladakh begins across the rocky Zojila mountain pass.

Land movers work to clear rocks and boulders as they work at the entrance of Nilgrar Tunnel in Baltal area northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir.— AP
Land movers work to clear rocks and boulders as they work at the entrance of Nilgrar Tunnel in Baltal area northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir.— AP

Kashmiri worker Tariq Ahmed Lone, wearing blue helmet, stands on a crane along with other worker employed by the Megha Engineering And Infrastructures Limited inside the Nilgrar Tunnel in Baltal area northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP
Kashmiri worker Tariq Ahmed Lone, wearing blue helmet, stands on a crane along with other worker employed by the Megha Engineering And Infrastructures Limited inside the Nilgrar Tunnel in Baltal area northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP

The $932 million project’s last tunnel, about 14 kilometres long, will bypass the challenging Zojila pass and connect Sonamarg with Ladakh. Officials say it will be India’s longest and highest tunnel at 11,500 feet.

Indian workers employed by the Megha Engineering And Infrastructures Limited work on the construction of a bridge which will connect Sonamarg to Nilgrar Tunnel in Baltal area, northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP
Indian workers employed by the Megha Engineering And Infrastructures Limited work on the construction of a bridge which will connect Sonamarg to Nilgrar Tunnel in Baltal area, northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP

“It’s not like any other construction work. It’s great learning,” said one of the workers, Tariq Ahmed Lone, as he helped at a drilling machine.

Indian and Chinese soldiers have been engaged in a sometimes violent standoff in the Karakoram mountains in Ladakh for over 16 months along their de facto border, called the Line of Actual Control. Both countries have stationed tens of thousands of soldiers there, backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets.

Workers employed by the Megha Engineering And Infrastructures Limited work inside the Nilgrar Tunnel in Baltal area, northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP
Workers employed by the Megha Engineering And Infrastructures Limited work inside the Nilgrar Tunnel in Baltal area, northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP

Indian military planners view the tunnel project as extremely important for Ladakh. Experts say it will provide logistics flexibility to the military and give it operational and strategic mobility.

Indian workers employed by the Megha Engineering And Infrastructures Limited work on the construction of a bridge which will connect Sonamarg to Nilgrar Tunnel in Baltal area, northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP
Indian workers employed by the Megha Engineering And Infrastructures Limited work on the construction of a bridge which will connect Sonamarg to Nilgrar Tunnel in Baltal area, northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP

An Indian worker employed by the Megha Engineering And Infrastructures Limited works inside the Nilgrar Tunnel in Baltal area, northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP
An Indian worker employed by the Megha Engineering And Infrastructures Limited works inside the Nilgrar Tunnel in Baltal area, northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP

Indian workers employed by the Megha Engineering And Infrastructures Limited work on the construction of a bridge which will connect Sonamarg to Nilgrar Tunnel in Baltal area, northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP
Indian workers employed by the Megha Engineering And Infrastructures Limited work on the construction of a bridge which will connect Sonamarg to Nilgrar Tunnel in Baltal area, northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP

Politicians also see an opportunity in the project.

The Zojila part of the tunnel is to be functional in 2026, but India’s road transport and highways minister, Nitin Gadkari, said on a visit to the project site on Tuesday that he hopes the work will be finished before the 2024 general election.

“It’s a challenge I know, but I’m confident they can do it on time,” Gadkari said. “Obviously, we would want it to be finished before the elections.”

Indian Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari (centre) accompanied by his wife looks at the under construction Zojila tunnel in Baltaal, northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP
Indian Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari (centre) accompanied by his wife looks at the under construction Zojila tunnel in Baltaal, northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP

A lone truck travels on the Zojila Pass, northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP
A lone truck travels on the Zojila Pass, northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP


Header Image: Workers employed by the Megha Engineering And Infrastructures Limited walk inside the Nilgrar Tunnel after the end of their shift in Baltal area northeast of Srinagar in Indian-occupied Kashmir. — AP