The Atal Rohtang Tunnel is Finally Built, and the Views Along the Highway Will Blow Your Mind!

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The Atal Rohtang Tunnel is Finally Built, and the Views Along the Highway Will Blow Your Mind!

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Good news has been rare in 2020. While we wait for a coronavirus vaccine and the economy to recover, positive news has arrived in the form of the Atal Rohtang Tunnel. The longest high-altitude tunnel took more than a decade to be built but is finally ready. It is named after former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Falling under the Rohtang pass, the newly built tunnel on the Manali-Leh highway presents some mesmerising visuals.

This could soon be a selfie spot, given the altitude and the breathtaking background.

It has been quite a journey to complete the construction work on such a difficult terrain.

The tunnel is 8.8 kms long and is built at an altitude of over 3,000 metres above sea level in the Pir Panjal ranges of Himachal Pradesh. It will connect Manali to Lahaul Valley throughout the year and will reduce the road length of Manali-Rohtang Pass Sarchu-Leh road by 46 kilometres.

The tunnel is also strategically crucial and will provide all-weather connectivity between Manali and Leh. It is of significance in the backdrop of tensions going on between Indian and Chinese troops along the Line of Actual Control. The tunnel will ensure connectivity throughout the year, including when there’s heavy snowfall that blocks the present route via Rohtang pass.

As reported by Gagandeep Singh Dhillon and Man Aman Singh Chhina in The Indian Express, not only does this tunnel ensure quick supplies, but also ensures that Army convoys can’t be held hostage by weather. “Yes, snowfall can still block the three passes further down the road to Leh, but we can try and keep those open. The very fact that we can now move beyond Rohtang without any fear of delay gives us a strategic edge,” a senior Army officer said.

The tunnel has been constructed by the Border Roads Organisation, India’s strategic infrastructure development agency. “Besides connecting the people of Lahaul to rest of India through the year the tunnel will aid the forward connectivity offering the security forces a major strategic advantage,” the government had said in a press release.

BRO officials say vehicles can travel up to 80 km per hour inside the tunnel. Up to 1,500 trucks and 3,000 cars are expected to use it daily when the situation gets to normal post-Covid-19 restrictions.

With the feasibility study being done between 1983-85 and the construction ending in 2020, it has been a long journey of almost four decades. Challenges included geography of the area, seepage from a brook and Covid-19. But after the combined efforts of 750 engineers, permanent technicians, and over 2,000 workers, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. And as per a BRO official, not a single casualty was reported during construction in all these years.

An engineering marvel, indeed.

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