Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Lowari Tunnel during Snowfall

Early Stages of Tunnel Excavation

Early Stages of Tunnel Excavation
Inside the Tunnel
Photo by the Author subject to Copy right


A boon for the people of Chitral

This is an excerpt from the booklet titled TRAVELOGUE TO SHANDOOR AND BEYOND by the author, which is under publication as a guide book in January 2011, for hiking and trekking to Shandoor and other valleys around Chitral.

On 07th July 2010, (Morning) We started at about from our hosts place in Bebiyoor a small hamlet just before Dir. This is the Chakkiatayan valley and lies at the base of the mountain called Kamriat in the local language.

As usual myself and Razzak (my Brother-in-law) along with Ishaq (handy man) got up early in the morning and had a Gup Shup (Tete–a-tete) with our host. As per routine we were delayed by the late rising of Zeeshu (my son). We had a sumptuous breakfast, loaded our vehicle and than we hit the road at about 10.15 a.m. for Dir onwards to CHITRAL. Our host Mr. Haji Aseelzada, was quite resource full in getting us a pass for the Lowari Tunnel which is still in the completion process. Getting the pass was easy, but to get the permit made from Lowari Tunnel Organization (L.T.O) was another hassle which consumed about 45 minutes of our driving time to the site office of L.T.O, and another 15 minutes to get the permit made. While the permit was being made I interacted with the staff of the L.T.O who told me that the tunnel is about 7.6 Kilo meter long and last year due to heavy snowfall it was partially opened for traffic in winters to give an easy access to CHITRAL valley.

The drive onwards to the base of Lowari Pass is very scenic and beautiful full of springs, brooks, waterfalls, cascades and innovations by the local’s using the gravitational force of the water to make spiraling and cirrus fountains of water here and there like a laser show in an Amusement park, which reminded me of the Salzburg, Castle in Austria where I lived in 1986 and the movie “Sound of Music” which was shot there in the late 80’s.

We passed through the Lowari Tunnel at the Height 10,300 feet otherwise we would have to climb about another 3000 feet through steep incline and another 3 hours of difficult dirt track road to the height of 1400 meters to the Lowari top and descent again to the other side of the mountain by 3000 feet in to the Dir valley.


Lowari Pass (or Lowari Top) (elevation 10,230 ft.) is a high mountain pass that connects Chitral valley with Dir valley in the KYBER PAKHTOON KHAWA province of Pakistan.

Lowari Top is a relatively low pass, by far the lowest pass to enter Chitral valley as compared to the rest of the passes all being above 12,000 to 15,000 feet.

Lowari Top is closed by snow from late November to late May every year. During this time, jeeps cannot cross so men must travel by foot. This is dangerous, as there are high mountains and ridges on each side of Lowari Top, and a deadly avalanche can come at any moment without warning.

Every winter many persons are killed by avalanches while crossing Lowari Top. Their bodies are buried under the snow and it is only when the summer comes and the snow melts that their bodies are found and their fate is learnt.

Nevertheless, Lowari Top remains popular because it is the shortest route from Chitral to Peshawar. The other alternative would be down the Kunar River to Jalalabad through hostile Afghan Territory or the much longer route across Shandoor Top to Gilgit.

Lowari Top crosses the Hindu Raj Mountains, a spur of the higher Hindu Kush range.

On the Chitral side of Lowari Top are the people of Ashret, who speak the Phalura language and were assigned by the Mehtar of Chitral to be the guardians of Lowari Top.

On the Dir side reside Gujjars, some of whom make their living as porters carrying loads across Lowari Top.

In 1954, the Mehtar of Chitral was killed when his airplane crashed into Lowari Top. Even today, PIA pilots exercise extra caution when they approach the clouds over the Lowari top and often turn back because of high winds and a peculiar fear engulfs them like the Bermuda triangle which is the nemesis of many seamen.

The word "Top" is believed not to be the English word "top" but a word from an ancient dialect no longer spoken there.

The Lowari Top is one of the four major mountain passes to enter Chitral. The others are the Dorah Pass from Badakshan in Afghanistan, Shandoor Top from Gilgit, and Broghil from the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan.

The Lowari Tunnel is currently being constructed beneath Lowari Pass by a Korean company. Completion was expected in October 2008, but due to technical difficulties and financial constraints the project could not be completed to date.

The interesting part is that the excavation part of the tunnel is complete but the civil works like the retaining walls, exhaust system, tunnel tubing, lighting and mettaling of the ground road surface remains to be completed.

My personal experience while traveling through the tunnel was that of awe and fear of the unknown coupled with thrill and excitement.

While traveling through the tunnel the air becomes biting cold with occasional seepage of water from the walls, pool and puddles of water on the tunnel bed from time to time make a splashing sound when the tyres of the vehicle cross them. Just for the heck of it and thrill, I asked RAZZAK to switch off the lights of our Jalopy for a few seconds and it gave us a spooky and asphyxiating experience. I myself took a picture of the tunnel which is quite memorable and will be cherished by me for all times to come.

It is quite an exhilarating and adventurous drive through the tunnel. Inside the tunnel it is very bumpy, uneven meandering and spooky drive as we were in pitch darkness with freezing cold air embracing our skin. It gave us the spooks as if count Dracula was about to impinge his fangs in our necks as a result some of us got goose bumps / pimples and made our hair stand on its end (minus me as I have stopped using a comb about six years back).

On our way we met about two vehicles which crossed us and about one vehicle which come from the other side: Well the short cut through the tunnel saved us about 1 ½ hours of driving time and a climb of more than 3000 feet, not to mention the fuel and wear and tear to the vehicle. What a relief it will be for the people of the area in terms of logistics and easy access when the tunnel will be completed.

The GOVERNMENT OF PAKISTAN and the GOVERNMENT OF KHYBER-PAKHTOON KWAH should pool their resources to complete this tunnel as early as possible so that it opens up venue of trade, transit and logistics for the people of the area.

What a boon it will be for tourism and short route to the WAKKHAN corridor and Tajikistan.

So keep your fingers crossed.

Dr. Babur Zahiruddin

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