The construction of Rohtang Tunnel begins on June 28. Once completed, it will provide an
all-weather route to Lahaul-Spiti and Ladakh, besides reducing the distance by 48 km, and
saving travel time by nearly four hours, writes Vijay Mohan
Rohtang Pass is open to vehicular traffic only during summers
It has taken 27
years from the inception of the idea to laying the first stone.
Conceived as far back as 1983 by former Prime Minister Rajiv
Gandhi, construction of the much-hyped Rohtang tunnel in
Himachal Pradesh is finally scheduled to commence on June 28
when UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi lays it foundation.
construction project received an impetus after the Kargil
conflict. It will provide an all-weather alternate route to
Ladakh through Himachal Pradesh via Manali and, of course, the
famous Rohtang Pass, after which it takes its name. At present,
the main route to this region is NH 1-A that reaches Jammu
Kashmir from Punjab and passes through Srinagar, Sonmarg and
Kargil up to Leh.
Located at an
altitude of more than 13,000 feet in the Pir Panjal range, 51 km
from Manali, Rohtang Pass remains snowbound in winters for
nearly six months, cutting off the tribal Lahaul-Spiti Valley in
Himachal as well as the strategically vital Ladakh region of
Jammu and Kashmir.
The terrain and
climate of the area pose serious problems in maintaining road
communication for more than four months at a stretch. The area
faces heavy snowfall, high-velocity winds and sub-zero
will check the vagaries of nature that deny movement of men and
machines during most part of the year. It is the most
challenging task that the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) will
undertake in its 50 years of existence. A laboratory of the
Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the Snow
and Research Studies Establishment (SASE), has been carrying out
preliminary investigations and feasibility studies. The DRDO
laboratory specialises in studies of snow physics, cold weather
engineering and allied subjects.
BRO men at work on the approach road to the Rohtang Tunnel portal.
Photos courtesy: Ministry of Defence
At 8.8 km and an
elevation of about 10,000 feet, the Rohtang Tunnel would neither
be the longest nor the highest in India or the world. Gotthard
Base Railway Tunnel, nearing completion in the Alps Mountains of
Switzerland, is 57 km long. Fenghuoshan Railway Tunnel, part of
the Qinghai-Tibet Railway line in China, touches 16,000 feet.
What, then, makes
Rohtang Tunnel unique as an engineering marvel is its main
characteristic, which is a combination of both its length and
altitude. According to the Ministry of Defence, when Rohtang
Tunnel is completed in 2015, it would be the world’s longest
tunnel at that altitude. In fact, it would be much longer than
the longest tunnels anywhere around the world at altitudes over
The nearest in
comparison to Rohtang Tunnel will be Anzob Road Tunnel in
Tajikistan (5-km-long at 10,100 feet), Khojak Rail Tunnel, built
by the British way back in 1891, near Quetta, in Pakistan (3.9
km at 11,700 feet) and Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel in the US (2.7
km, at 10,200 feet).
Rohtang Tunnel will not have the distinction of being the
longest rail or road tunnel in India. This honour will go to the
11-km-long Pir Panjal Railway Tunnel at Banihal in Jammu and
Kashmir, part of the Jammu-Srinagar railway line, which is due
to be completed next year.
As of now, the
longest tunnel in the country is the 6.5-km-long Karbude Tunnel
in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, forming part of the Konkan
Rohtang Tunnel was
first conceived in 1983 so as to develop the Manali-Sarchu-Leh
road as an all-weather alternate route for strategic
considerations. A preliminary study was conducted in 1984 in
consultation with the Geological Survey of India and the SASE.
feasibility study for the ambitious Rohtang Tunnel was approved
at a meeting of the Border Roads Development Board on January
14, 1987, which was presided over by Rajiv Gandhi himself. It
was planned that an access road leading to the actual tunnel
site would be constructed first.
On May 26, 2002,
former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee laid foundation stone
for the access road, costing Rs 180 crore. The access road to
the south portal tunnel site, on which as many as 18 avalanche
protection structures are being erected, was completed in 2005.
Committee on Security cleared the tunnel project in September
2009 at a cost of Rs 1,495 crore. Strabag-Afcons, a joint
venture between India’s Afcons Infrastructure Ltd and Strabag
SE of Austria, the world’s fourth largest construction
company, was awarded the construction contract through a global
At present, the
preparatory work and induction of resources are under progress.
The actual tunnelling work is expected to be completed by 2015.
An international firm SMEC International has been engaged as
consultants by the BRO for the Rohtang project.
design, according to the Defence Ministry, will be novel in many
ways. Due to its long distance and rarefied atmosphere at the
heights it will be located, the tunnel will incorporate
Semi-Transverse Ventilation System, where large fans would
separately circulate air in and out throughout the length of the
tunnel. The tunnel, with a horseshoe shaped cross-section, will
be 11.25 m wide at road-level, providing ample room for two-way
traffic and would cater to a maximum vehicular speed of 80
But the tunnel
alone might not be enough to make the Manali-Keylong-Leh highway
an all-weather road, as there are another two major snowbound
passes along the way, Baralacha La and Tanglang La. To overcome
this, the project envisages constructing a 292-km-long
all-weather road, Nimu-Padam-Darcha, via Shinkun la, traversing
the remote Zanskar region of J&K, estimated to cost an
additional Rs 286 crore.
Rohtang Tunnel will provide unhindered road access to the remote
regions of Lahaul-Spiti and Ladakh throughout the year, besides
reducing the distance by 48 km, and saving the travel time by
nearly four hours. It will open up new vistas of trade and
tourism and generate jobs for the local population.