The heights of bridges are usually measured in terms of the drop from the bridge to the lowest point below. The highest bridge I’ve been on was the Millau Viaduct, which is the highest in Europe. I had a vague memory that most of the world’s highest bridges are in China (8 of the top 10, as I verified later). So when our driver, Hem Kumar, insisted that he wanted to show us Asia’s second highest bridge I began to wonder what he meant.
We’d wanted to go to Rinchenpong, to see the statue of the ati-buddha in the monastery there, and to take a look at the view made famous in a painting by Nicholas Roerich. Hem Kumar insisted that the monastery was broken and old, and not worth seeing. The Family argued for a while but Hem Kumar prevailed.
The morning had started clear, and we had a view of Kabru at sunrise, although the peak of Kanchendzonga had been hidden by clouds. The day grew foggier as the sun rose. On our drive I tried to get some information on the Singshore bridge. Network connectivity while driving in the mountains is a little dodgy, but not impossible. So I managed to glean some information.
The bridge was completed in 1996. Wikimapia seems to have the most detailed information, and it claims that the gorge over which the bridge stands is 700 feet deep at places. This would make the bridge a little over 200 m high. The Highest Bridges Wiki claims that it cannot be more than 100 meters high, but gives no references. As a result, it currently ranks this as the 632nd highest bridge in the world, and far down in rankings even inside Asia. The highest 10 bridges in the world are over 300 meters in height, and 8 of them are in China. So even with a disputed height, the Singshore bridge cannot be the second highest in Asia in terms of deck heights. So how did this precise description: “second highest in Asia” come about?
The Singshore bridge lies between Dentam (altitude 1500 meters) and Uttarey (altitude 2300 meters) villages, and closer to Dentam. I would guess it is at an altitude of a little less than 2000 meters. So could this be one of the highest altitude bridge in Asia?
Searching for high altitude bridges led me to a site called Fun Trivia where a bid by the Sanchahe Bridge was disputed by a claim on behalf of the Bally Bridge. The page turned out to be completely wrong. Chasing links from this page to the Bally Bridge led to Kolkata, which is about as close to sea level as you can get. The other claimant, Sanchahe Bridge, turned out to be in Guizhou province in China. This is a mountainous province, but much lower than Nepal or Tibet. So I don’t think either of these count as remarkably high-altitude bridges.
Country-wise searches led me to the China-Nepal Friendship bridge, near Zhangmu in China (altitude 2300 meters), and the Liuwu bridge near Lhasa (altitude 3650 meters). Other bridges in Nepal are much lower in altitude, and one cannot find any information on other bridges in Tibet. So, the Singshore bridge could well have been the second ranking high-altitude bridge in Asia (and probably the world) when it was built. It is likely that now it is the third highest.
The bridge is a narrow strip of road suspended above a river far down. Cables descend from 36 meter high towers on either side to hold this in place. Only one car can pass at any time, and there’s a speed limit of 10 Kms/hour on the bridge. We got off the car and walked on to the bridge; this is allowed if you sign in a register. We felt the bridge swaying slightly as we walked on. Looking down, The Family and I thought that the deck height was more than 100 meters. The towers provide a convenient scale for such estimates.
Far below we could see another bridge, perhaps one of the many foot bridges which span rivers in the Himalayas and connect villages. A jeep rattled by us at high speed. Since the bridge is almost 200 meters long, a car travelling at the speed limit would take over a minute to cross it. This jeep was going at perhaps thrice to four times the speed limit. The bridge instantly started to sway. We saw fat stay cables anchoring the bridge to the sides, and they damped the vibrations fairly efficiently.
We walked to a tea room on the Uttarey side of the bridge. It was run by a lady whose two children mobbed us. Hem Kumar, for all his lack of information, had lots of children’s songs on his mobile. He’d told us about his daughter, and now said that the songs were her favourites. The children took his mobile and paged through the songs; he seemed pretty cool with that. We finished our tea, and went on to Uttarey.