It was the most exciting moment when I saw the river Shyok flowing quietly in the Galwan Valley for the first time in my life. The river, surrounded by mountain peaks, virtually resembled a glacier. Slow-moving chunks of ice were floating down the river.
The Shyok is exactly opposite in features compared to many rivers I have seen. Unlike the Shyok, many rivers, including the ones flowing through my native district Belagavi, flow rapidly carrying huge quantities of water. They quickly dry up during summer.
The Shyok flows slowly as masses of ice melt. As they float, water beneath flows quietly. The Shyok’s unusual features have been the epicentre of tragedies for thousands of families in the valley. Many people have lost their lives while attempting to cross over the river to reach Leh for emergencies.
The river posed challenges equally even to the Indian soldiers guarding the country’s frontiers. It was virtually impossible for them to cross the river and rush to their native places whenever their dear ones departed.
The formation and troops across the river would be cut-off from the rest of India for nearly six months. It meant the soldiers could not cross the river for as many as 180 days.
After lending ears to heart-rending tales of the soldiers, we vowed to construct the bridge across the Shyok.
The project Himank for border security
The Indian government decided to commission road and bridge projects under Project Himank and assigned it to the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) known as mountain tamers.
The development of the road up to Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) and construction of the bridge across the river Shyok were major tasks.
During the peak of the summer, the temperature in the region hovers around 10-20 degrees Celsius. The temperature during winter dips to minus 40 degree Celsius. Oxygen levels are 50% less at that altitude. Adverse weather conditions make the work possible only for four months a year.
The BRO personnel were acclimatised through a tedious process and a lot of training was given before assigning the job.
255 km road project
The DBO is India’s northernmost corner and is located just 9 km away from the Indian perception of Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. The distance between Leh and DBO is about 350 km. The Darbuk–Shyok-DBO Road’s length is about 255 km.
The road, running parallel to the LAC connects Leh to the Karakoram Pass and divides Ladakh from China’s Xinjiang province. This road between the Shyok and Karakoram Pass helps India manage the borders and the areas near Aksai Chin, Chip Chap River and Jiwan Nalla, besides ensuring the faster deployment of army troops in the area.
It branches off towards the Galwan Valley and helps the Indian military to ensure its presence in the area.
It was a Herculean task to construct the road in the terrain. Adopting the latest technology, the BRO utilised local materials and geocrete and constructed a cementitious base road which can withstand recurring snowfall and cold climate.
Permanent bridge: The engineering marvel
The daunting task was the replacement of temporary bridges with the permanent ones. The micro-piling technology, known as the great engineering marvel in the terrain, has been used to construct the permanent bridge.
The bridge across the river Shyok, christened after Colonel Chewang Rinchen, the road up to DBO and various other bridges have reduced travel time between Leh and DBO from two days to just seven hours.
The 400-metre-long all-weather permanent bridge built at an altitude of about 15,000 feet is located between the Karakoram and Chang Chenmo mountain ranges in eastern Ladakh. It is nearly 45 km away from LAC. The work for the bridge began in 2015 and completed in 2018.
It has strengthened security in border areas such as Aksai Chin and Jammu and Kashmir facilitating quick movement of army forces.
Built as an integral part of the strategy for the development of the border area, the bridge connects Darbuk with Daulat Beg Oldie, people of Ladakh and all interior areas of Jammu and Kashmir with other parts of the country giving scope for development and investment.
The bridge with 10 spans of 140 feet each with 4.25 metre of width was built in 15 months. Its superstructure is called Extra Wide Bailey Bridge.
World’s highest motorable road ready
The BRO constructed the world’s highest motorable road connecting Chisumle and Demchok villages in six years despite objections by China. It was commissioned in 2016.
The road, at the height of 19,300 feet on Zero Line and passing through the Umlingla top, was constructed to meet the strategic requirements as part of three key links.
The BRO has also constructed and repaired various helipads and Advanced Landing Grounds. The BRO’s contribution in the development of the entire Leh-Ladakh region is immense. The projects have benefited locals and tourists boosting the economy.
Shyok, the unusual river
Shyok, a river of the Kashmir region in the northern part of the Indian sub-continent, rises in the Karakoram Range. A tributary of the Indus River, Shyok originates from the Rimo Glacier, one of the tongues of Siachen Glacier. It is fed by melted water from numerous glaciers on its journey through the range and flows generally north-westward. It enters Pakistan and joins the Indus River near Khapalu. The Shyok’s length is about 550 km.
Hazardous conditions make the river impossible to cross. The climate of the valley is semi-arid with annual precipitation averaging less than 8 inches (200 mm). The sediment load and the flow are highest between June and September. The glacial melted water reaches a maximum during monsoon. During winter, the minimum daily temperature dips below minus 10 degree C.
The river has protected people of Ladakh since ancient times from foreign invaders. Many invaders and their cavalry attempted to cross the river but got drowned.
Honouring ‘Lion of Ladakh’ Col Chewang Rinchen
Colonel Chewang Rinchen, known as ‘Lion of Ladakh’, was born on November 11, 1931, at Sumur village in Nubra Valley. He is one of the six soldiers of the Armed Forces to have been awarded the highest Indian gallantry award, the Maha Vir Chakra twice. He was the youngest ever recipient of the Maha Vir Chakra. He served in 1962’s India-China war and played an important role in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 as he led the battalion to capture the Chalunka complex of the Pakistani Army and a strategic outpost of Turtuk.
He demonstrated extraordinary acts of courage in defending the Leh and Partapur sector.
Need for good infrastructure in Ladakh sector
The China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is building up a cluster of military infrastructure signalling a gradual shift in its training activities over a period of time.
The PLA’s major focus is centred around protecting the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), especially the area of Gilgit-Baltistan, where a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is being commissioned.
The four major road networks for the development of the Ladakh region include Leh-Dabruk-Shyok- Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO/Sub-Sector North road), Leh-Nyoma-Demchok (LND), Leh-Chalunka (LC) and Leh-Upsi-Sarchu-Manali (LUSM).
Brigadier D M Purvimath: The Belagavi man
Brigadier D M Purvimath, former Chief Engineer, Project Himank (2015-2018), hails from Yaragatti in Belagavi district. He joined the Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army in 1986.
He served in northern and eastern borders. As commander of prestigious air force station of Central India, he was instrumental in constructing runway and biggest hangar. He was Deputy Director General (DGG) of NCC Directorate, Karnataka and Goa.
He was honoured with the Prime Minister’s Banner for Best Directorate on January 26, 2019. He has been decorated with VSM and Bar by the President of India twice.
The Colonel Chewang Rinchen Sethu, under Purvimath’s supervision, across river Shyok, was completed in 2018. The project has boosted the morale of the troops.
(Translated and edited by Jagadish Angadi and Praveen Kulkarni)