Having overcome several Himalayan challenges, the 9.2-km-long Rohtang tunnel—the world’s longest for traffic—will get commissioned by the end of September. At 10,171 feet above sea level, the tunnel named after former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee lays down an alternative route to the strategically important Leh-Ladakh region, and will provide around-the-year connectivity to the remote Lahaul-Spiti district and Pangi valley, Chamba district, of Himachal Pradesh. The tunnel is beneath Rohtang La–a mountain pass at 13,059 feet leading to Lahaul-Spiti. The pass remaines snowed under and closed for almost six months every year, snapping all communications to the picturesque valleys. The two-lane tunnel will also reduce the travelling distance between Manali and Keylong, the district headquarters of Lahaul-Spiti.
“For at least six months following closure of Rohtang La in November, the entire population of Lahaul-Spiti used to live in isolation,” says the project chief engineer, Brigadier K.P. Purushothaman. “The only communication was through helicopter sorties operated for medical emergencies and supplies. Sometimes even helicopters could not fly for days due to the hostile winter. Many people of Lahaul-Spiti used to lock their homes and come to Manali before every winter, and return only after the Rohtang pass is reopened in May. Now they will have an all-weather road.” The brigadier adds that the tunnel’s south portal will showcase the finest of Kullu art and architecture, while the north portal will be done up with ethnic art by Lahaul natives, using local materials.