Wednesday, August 08, 2012

World's Most Dangerous Road - The Zoji-La

The Zogi Pass (Zogi-La)
According to this CNN article, The Zogi Pass (or the Zogi-La as it is known in Kashmir), is the 5th most dangerous road in the world.

I disagree. It should be atleast number 3. The 2 other roads mentioned as more dangerous are not really that dangerous. At no. 3 is "The Highway of Death" in Iraq. Well, that's not really a dangerous road. It was just something that got bombed during the Iraq war. And the road listed at no. 2 (The Road of Death, Bolivia) is no longer an active road as there is an alternative road available for travellers there.

The Zogi-la, on the other hand, is part of National Highway 1 linking Srinagar to Leh (Ladakh), and is the lifeline connecting these 2 places in north India.

During our recent trekking trip to Ladakh, we were forced to travel on this road as there was no other alternative. My first reaction when we hit the road was "WTF?". My brothers reaction was a bit more practical - but more on that later.

Once you cross Sonamarg (the starting point of the famous Amarnath Yatra), you immediately hit the Zogi Pass. The BRO (Border Roads Organization), which builds and maintains all the roads in Kashmir region has actually created 2 different routes on the Zogi. Our driver decided to take the top one.

Beginning of Zogi Pass, overlooking Sonamarg.
A zig-zag route that resembles a trekking path took our car straight up on the Zogi mountain. When my 8-year old niece first saw the above picture, her comment was "oh...pretty and colorful pebbles". I had to explain to her that those are not pebbles, but tents about 600 meters straight below in the valley.

The road (and I use the word "road" very loosely here), is always under maintenance. I assume this is because of the mountain itself. The mountain appears to be made up of loose gravel, and landslides on this road are not un-common. In fact, during winter time, the road is closed disconnecting all access from Srinagar to Leh.

We happened to reach the pass at the exact time some maintenance work was going on. We were calmly told by the supervisor that we were stuck for 2 hours till they complete their work for the day. Since the work was being carried out on the top road, the bottom road was also closed by default, due to the rocks falling on the bottom road.

Truck carrying construction workers and equipment.
The road seems to be hacked out of the mountain using crude tools, with loose rocks on one side, and a 600 meter straight drop on the other. There are no barriers for protection and no place to pass safely.

A huge boulder is shoved down the mountain.
I could only marvel at the steel nerves of the construction workers, as they delicately shifted huge rocks and gravel over the side of the mountain. Even a slightest mistake here would mean certain death for the operators of the cranes.

I was shivering as I watched the crane operator go right at the edge.

Work in progress on the Zogi-La.
While we patiently waited for the work to finish, my brother decided the best way to safely cross the pass was by walking. He packed his daybag and headed off while we sat in the car. I thought of joining him - but then, who would take the pictures?

We suddenly noticed some traffic on the lower route of the Zogi-La. The road is supposed to be closed, so it's not clear how they managed to get right under where the construction work was going on.

Cars on the lower route.
The workers frantically started waving everything they could to make them stop. Luckily they did, and they were directed by hand signals to go back, and come on the upper route. I have no idea how they managed to reverse on that narrow road. I was too scared to look down.

Eventually after 2 hours, the workers completed their work and cleared the path for us to pass. I closed my eyes as we navigated the pass. No pictures.

As we reached the end of the pass, we found my brother who had trekked for more than 2 hours and crossed the entire pass on foot. Perhaps its the safest way to cross the Zogi after all!.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What an experience!!! Waiting for the rest of the details. Congrats to you, Shawn & your bro Roy. (I know his name from your last year's post)

Roy was scared of heights before, right? Now he is doing just fine for this trip. Amazing.