Construction of India’s longest strategic tunnel almost over – All weather access to Lahaul-Spiti

Digging work for the strategic 8.8km tunnel at Rohtang pass in Himachal Pradesh, which will give all-weather access to the Lahaul-Spiti region, will be almost complete on Wednesday, after a delay of about three years.

The project, conceived in 1983, was launched in 2010 and has a completion date of 2019. Less than 4 metres are yet to be excavated in the middle of the tunnel, which starts at Dhundi in Kullu district and ends at Gufa Hotel, near Sissu, in Lahaul-Spiti district.

Both sides of the tunnel will be joined after the remaining portion is excavated. At least one metre will be excavated in presence of defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman at an official ceremony on October 24.

“Less than 4 metres of tunnelling is still to be done. It will take one or two more blasts to achieve the breakthrough, a moment which we are waiting for years,” a Border Roads Organisation (BRO) engineer said.

Both the portals of the tunnel, in Kullu and Lahaul districts, are on a right axis and will join without any fault and deviation, according to the engineer.

The Rohtang tunnel, expected to be opened in 2019, will be the longest tunnel in India.

The tunnel will cut the distance between Manali and Keylong, the district headquarters of the Lahual district, by 48km and vehicles will not have to cross the Rohtang pass.

The road to the tunnel will divert from existing Manali-Leh highway at Palchan, 9km from Manali, and will again join the highway near Gufa Hotel in Sissu.

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Tribals in the Lahaul valley will now be connected to the rest of the country during winter months. People would be allowed to cross the tunnel this winter season in cases of medical emergency, but the tunnel will open for general traffic after detailed work, like security points, fire safety, complete ventilation and telephone booths at regular intervals, is completed once the digging is done.

The Centre wants to construct three more tunnels along the Manali-Leh highway to make road access to remote areas possible during winter months too.

The Rohtang tunnel will provide all-year road connectivity to Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh, and the project is of immense importance for Indian Army as it will get easier access to areas near Pakistan and China. The tunnel will also boost tourism in the area.

Kargil war hero, Brigadier Khushal Thakur (Retd), said this is an important milestone for defence personnel. “I’ve personally experienced the
importance of year-round road connectivity during the Kargil war. Both Zojila pass of J&K and Rohtang pass of Himachal remain blocked in winters. This tunnel will not only cut the distance, but also provide all-weather connectivity. Three more tunnels are needed to make the Manali-Leh road an all-weather one, but the most crucial tunnel is almost done,” he said.

“We are eagerly waiting for the moment when we shall drive across the tunnel,” Lahaul Hoteliers Association president Bir Singh said, adding it will be a r draw for tourists to see the snow-covered Lahaul valley.

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