Friday, May 17, 2013

Aksai Chin-2 - Road Link to DBO

The road situation which I have been able to find out is as follows:

 (1) The Saser La is route to DBO is the summer caravan route which was used in earlier times as crossing Shyok river in summer was a big issue, not to mention life threatening.

As per a 2008 report by an expedition which took the Sasoma-Saser La-Saser Brangsa-right bank of Shyok river route to reach glaciers at the starting point of Shyok River, Indian Army had constructed a road from Sasoma to a point just short of Saser La. The expedition report talks about seeing bulldozers in general area of Saser-La. However, there is no known report about BRO/IA having COMPLETED this road. In fact, some time back when this whole DBO incident flared up, there was a small reference to this communication axis and the fact that BRO has not been able to make this road fully operational.

For reference - please see the map link below

The map is centered on a series of bends in the mountain range to east of Sasoma Camp. You can clearly see that a road has been cut into the mountain side and if you follow this road, you can make out a road till the point from where ascent to Saser-La actually begins. Regrettably, the map for exact Saser-La area seems to not have been updated by Google and the presence of snow in that area does not allow to ascertain presence of a road on the map. If one starts to look up from the other side (Shyok River to Saser-La), again, the area is covered with snow and one cannot make out the presence of a road. Though, some trails are visible.

You would be quite amazed to know that private tour operators organize trekking camps from Nubra to Sasoma - Saser La-Saser Brangsa-Murgo and all the way up to DBO and KK Pass.

Here, check the trek itinerary from one of the operators. Has some good photographs as well:

(2) The second route is the winter route when Shyok freezer over.

Rather than me going into details about the route, please read this excellent account of a trekking expedition in the region in 2002. The expedition went from Shyok Village (at the V bend of Shyok) to KK Pass, then traveled west along Chip_Chap River and crossed into upper Siachen after crossing Remo Glaciers, Col Italia and Teram Shahr Glaciers. It has a very good map explaining the route and features.

The map is shown below:

What the above report tells you is that a road existed even in 2002 between Burtse and DBO. And further, from DBO to Gapsham, where the Chip_Chap river meets Shyok River.

This expedition in fact clearly shows the strategic nature of SSN/DBO and why it needs to be defended. Also, clearly brings out the interlocked nature of defenses in the sector.

To information contained in the expedition report, let me add couple of points:

1. From Pratappur Sector at confluence of Nubra and Shyok rivers, road exists for sure till Shyok Village.
2.An alternate road now exists between Shyok Valley and Indus Valley. This one starts Agham in Shyok Valley, crosses over Wari La and meets the road which going towards Chang La ( but before Chang La).

3. Again, a road now exists between Tangtse, Darbuk and Shyok Village.

I'm attaching a crude map which shows the above routes. Hope it will be of help.

On the question of road to DBO from Shyok, BRO had started work on the same but reports say that the same is not complete. Having said that, if one were to examine the satellite image on Wikimapia or Google Earth, a road in many sections can be clearly made out. In fact, some kind soul has actually marked a road alignment as 'SSN ROAD' on Wikimapia.

Please check the link here:

In my opinion, some sort of road does exist from Shyok Village, along western bank of Shyok River and then entering the gorge towards Murgo (before the summer route from Saser-Brangsa to Chong-tash to Murgo).


  1. Hello Rohit,

    I feel the "road" means many different things in those parts.

    A reliable road is one which is "all weather". This is a very tricky claim to make.

    For example, if I have a road that is surfaced with tar or concrete (like most roads at lower altitudes) then the covering material has to withstand very large temperature swings and not degrade complete. This becomes difficult at high altitude and very cold temperatures. In certain parts of the world where temperature swings by 50-60 C during the year, the road is resurfaced each year during the summer months. So at the very least the "all weather" road in these parts has to have annual resurfacing. This is why the PLA has not bothered to surface the Xinjiang-Tibet link that runs through Aksai Chin. One can do things like that but - as seen in that youtube clip one can't really drive at high speed on an unsurfaced road and the dust clouds created by a vehicle in front lead to zero visibility and unsafe driving conditions.

    Then there is the issue of snow clearance. Snow clearance is possible if the snow plough knows where the road is. If the plough driver does not know where the road is, then he can get lost in the drift and accumulation and the dozer will simply fall off the side of the road. This is a major problem in the clearance of deep snow everywhere in the world. Most countries with high snowfall (or very high sand accumulation) tend to have dozers deployed at regular intervals along a road. These dozers have all weather communication links and there is a good predictive model for weather conditions that allows the rapid deployment of the dozer before too much snow falls on the ground. This infrastructure is costly to develop and we have yet to see that idea really take off in India.

    Next there is the issue of avalanches/landslide. This is very common in the mountains, everywhere in the world. Again the only antidote to this is keeping dozers at regular intervals along the road. There are some avalanche limitation technologies that are available off the shelf. Lately there is a good amount of LIDAR tech that is being applied to avalanche prediction but this is in its infancy and maybe in ten years time we will off-the-shelf solutions that BRO can use. Until then, this is going to be difficult.

    Now one can put some brute force and get things done, but then there is a paradox that kicks in - road infrasture that India builds proximate to the mountainous border can easily become a route which China uses o invade Indian territory. If you look the road infrastructure in Ar. Pr. for example, the road conditions a few kilometers from the border are much better than road conditions close the order. In fact most of the bridges really close to the border are rope bridges - there are no pucca structures there.

    When George H W Bush first visited India in the 60s, the late Sri. Rameshwar Nath Kao personally accompanied him on a trip to the India-China border. Kaoji, the exceptional person that he was, knew all the load bearing weights of each bridge by heart and as the car that he and George HW was in, drove over the bridge, Sri. Kao would call out whether or not the bridge could support the weight of a Chinese tank.

  2. Contd from above.

    By keeping the infrastructure development close to the LAC poor, one creates a situation where neither India not the Chinese can effectively engage in military operations and is solely reliant on air mobility to achieve critical motion.

    Until recently where China lagged behind India in air-mobility - this worked to India's benefit. As time goes on, China will likely exceed India's air mobility - so this will not work to India's benefit.

    I think this is the simple answer to the question raised on BRF about "what stops India from building roads near the LAC?".

    I am of the opinion that air mobility and its suppression is critical to ensuring the viability of a conventional deterrence strategy in the LAC region.