India races to build border roads, bridges to match China
Ligen Eliyas deftly turns the excavator’s hydraulic arm to push a huge boulder into the Zanskar River below in a cloud of dust, clearing another bit of land for a strategic highway that India is hurriedly building near the Chinese border.
The construction site near the hamlet of Chilling in the Ladakh region is about 250 kilometres (150 miles) west of the area where Indian and Chinese troops are locked in the most serious confrontation in nearly 50 years.
But when ready, the road will provide the only year-round access to large parts of Ladakh, including the border zone. That will go some way to bringing India on par with China, which has a network of roads and helipads on its side of the border.
“It will become a lot easier for the army after this road is finished,” Eliyas said, with parts of his face and khaki uniform caked in fine stone dust.
The protracted standoff in the remote western Himalayan region erupted into a bloody hand-to-hand clash in June in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed and China suffered an unspecified number of casualties. The Asian giants fought a brief but bloody border war in 1962.
The 283-km (176-mile)-long Nimmu-Padam-Darcha (NPD) highway, where Eliyas is working, is expected to be completed in three years, officials said. It highlights the efforts by India, which have been redoubled after the latest tensions, to develop key infrastructure – roads, tunnels, bridges and airfields – along the undemarcated 3,500km (2,170 mile) border with China.
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