Indian Railway’s Skyway: Eighth Wonder of the World?
Indian Railways has taken up a very challenging task of extending the mainland Railway networks to the Kashmir valley through some breathtakingly scenic routes and spots passing through the dizzy heights of Himalayan mountains. There are several scenic spots the world over but the Chenab Bridge surpasses all…the “Higher than Eiffel Tower” Skyway (or आकाशपथ/नभपथ या गगनपथ) over the Chenab river flowing underneath. It could become once in a lifetime experience of viewing and experiencing the nature in its purest form at the dizzy Himalayan heights for the tourists from all over the world over this spot. The construction of this bridge is complete and has already been inaugurated on 13 Aug 2022. This bridge is essentially for the Katra-Banihal railway track linking Vaishnodevi, a religious place of high sanctity, with Kashmir valley.
Any tourist to northern Europe makes it a point to visit the Eiffel Tower in France and climb over to its first or/and second floors 377 feet above the ground to view a large stretch of Paris city. Most if not all of them feel thrilled. There are lifts to carry them up and down although some prefer to climb through the staircase too. Seldom tourists are permitted to climb above the second floor, which is mainly for the technical and maintenance staff to make occasional visits to those heights and most of them have expressed of thrills of a lifetime at those heights.
Think of climbing even higher than the tip of the Eiffel Tower here in India and walking at those dizzy heights, over a very large stretch of 1.3 kilometer in the bare view of nature, with high velocity whistling winds lacing you, with the scenic beauty of the snow-covered Himalayan peaks all around. This is what the Indian Railway could offer to the world tourists at its Katra-Banihal stretch of the track over the Chenab river bridge. This bridge is hanging in free air at 1178 feet above the Chenab river bed, having over 1.3 kilometer stretch of length with walking spaces on either side of the track. Undoubtedly, it could become the Eighth Wonder of the World for which some other nations have also been trying for their varied structures but none have been accorded the status as yet. Surely, it could be a lifetime experience for anyone and everyone experiencing it.
The Eiffel Tower received a daily average of 17000 visitors in 2019, for their limited space viewership from the 1st or/and 2nd floors. Think of a Chenab Bridge Skywalk at ‘higher than the tip of Eifel Tower’ at around 1200 ft above the river bed, in totally open and breathtaking scenic nature for a stretch of over 1.3 Km. Being a rail-track, the tourist to this Skywalk could be allowed especially during the “non-traffic periods” for safety reasons. It will be a dream-come-true of a lifetime experience for the tourists with an everlasting memory. However, there is a catch whether the govt has planned to make it a tourist attraction. It must be, for no other spot the world over will be as thrilling as this one. M/S Afcons Infrastructure Ltd, an Indian Company along with South Korea's Ultra Engineering have designed and built the Chenab Bridge with unprecedented scientific considerations of safety. Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore and DRDO have rendered valuable inputs in the safe and blast-proof design. It is not known if the tourism element has been factored in.
All bridges have a weight carrying limit with a safety factor that usually ranges from 1.7 to 2. That means if the rail bridge is designed to carry a loaded train of 10,000 tons, with the safety factor, it can actually withstand 17,000 to 20,000 tons of weight without any problem. Hence, even if the ‘tourist load bearing’ has not been factored in the design, the bridge could still cater for the significant numbers of tourists. In order to doubly reassure the safety of the design, several standards incl Indian national standards have been supplemented with International standards such as British Standard (BS), International Union of Railways (UIC) Standard as well as the Euro Standard.
The author of this article is not sure if the Ministry of railways has catered for the tourist with related provisions/facilities in the Chenab Bridge design. Salal-A and Salal-B railway stations are on either side of this bridge. Whether these stations have gated entry for the Skywalks on either side of the Bridge with some sitting/resting benches, is not known. Is there any plan to extend a tourist road access to it in near future through Ramban or Dugga? Is there any plan to operate a light lift to carry the tourists from the roadhead or riverbed beneath to the Skywalk? Is the ministry of tourism planning to bring-up hotels in the vicinities of Salal A & B or the adjacent places? Is the ministry of Youth and Sports thinking of creating adventure sports of Mountain Trekking, Mountain & Bridge Climbing, Paragliding, Bungee Jumping etc? The record height of this bridge will make it unique and the best adventure spot in the world. If the tourists have to be permitted, either side of the bridge must have safety girdles to prevent accidental or suicidal fall. This bridge could have an immense scope of tourist facilities at the spot as well as in its vicinities incl adjacent to the two railway stations Salal A & B.
There is still a substantial time before the Katra-Banihal track is made operational. In this time and even beyond, the various types of tourist facilities and attractions could be set in. It goes without saying that this venture has great potential to bring India to the world map of tourism, creating the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ and above all a much sought-after destination of global tourism making India a well sought after destination. It is only hoped that Govt of India, Ministry of Railways, Tourism, hospitality, Adventure Sports and so on, jointly exploit this potential that will also provide jobs to thousands and bring huge revenue to the State.