Force Magazine

 Such a Long Way
 Roads and better air connectivity with the mainland can boost economic activity and
 a sense of security in Ladakh

Thiksey monastery
Thiksey monastery

Depending upon the road you take, the distance between the national capital Delhi and Ladakh’s capital Leh hovers between 1,000km to 1,200km. But on these roads, the distance is not measured in kilometres or miles; but in weather and road conditions. And because of both, Ladakh is very far from mainland India.

Of the two road links that connect Ladakh to mainland India, the road through Himachal Pradesh (called Manali-Leh road) is shorter and bypasses both the Jammu and the Kashmir regions. But it is more treacherous, reaching altitudes as high as 17,400 ft (Tanglang la), prone to landslides and is closed for the good part of the year. The other road meanders across the Pir Panjal range, is longer and has lower altitude throughout with the highest pass at about 13,478 ft (Fotu la). On good days, both demand a minimum of three days on the road; pleasure-seekers may take up to four days. And if the weather packs up or there is a landslide/ avalanche, the journey could take much, much longer. Such is the certainty of landslides and avalanches on this route that several camp sites have come up along the Manali-Leh road to help stranded travellers have a tent over their heads.

In September 2008, when FORCE team was visiting Indian Air Force (IAF) station Leh to witness the first ever landing of Su-30MKI at the high-altitude airfield, Karmapa Lama along with his entourage was caught in an avalanche on the Manali-Leh road. The SOS was received by the station commander even as he was telling us how Su-30MKIs operating from Leh would change everything, as far as India’s war-fighting capabilities were concerned. The oblique reference was to the possibility of a two-front war. No other place in India faces two fronts; Ladakh has Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to its north and China to its east.

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