Working 24X7 to see light at the end of Rohtang tunnel

January 15th, 2012 - 2:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia Gandhi Manali (Himachal Pradesh), Jan 15 (IANS) Working deep below a mountain of snow in Arctic-like conditions, a team of dedicated men, including experts from Germany and Austria, are focussed on a challenging mission - completing the 8.8-km-long Rohtang tunnel, considered India’s most strategically important infrastructure project.

The Rs.1,495-crore ($290 million) Rohtang tunnel, when completed, will ensure all-weather connectivity to Keylong in Lahaul and Spiti district of this Himalayan state.

The men of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), an inter-services organisation under the defence ministry, are working round the clock, despite the continuous sub-zero conditions, to complete the project touted as an engineering marvel.

The tunnel is located at altitudes ranging between 3,053 m and 3,080 m and is beneath the snow marooned Rohtang Pass.

“Over 350 BRO men and 25 experts from Germany and Austria have been working day and night to excavate the tunnel,” the organisation’s Chief Engineer (Project Rohtang) P.K. Mahajan told IANS.

Of the 8.8-km-long horseshoe shaped tunnel, 1,762 m from the south portal and 755 m from the north portal - about 2.5 km - has been dug up since the work commenced in June 2010, he said, adding that “digging is the most challenging assignment”.

The project is scheduled to be completed by February 2015.

Work on the north portal that lies towards the Lahaul Valley has been stopped currently because of massive snowfall in the area. But work on the south portal towards Dhundi, 25 km from here, is on.

“Work on the north portal stopped completely Dec 8 and it’s likely to be resumed in April-May when the snow melts. By 2014, both portals will be joined,” Mahajan said.

Rohtang Pass (3,978 metres) in the Pir Panjal range, 51 km from here, is the gateway to Keylong, but it remains cut off from the rest of the country for over five months due to heavy snowfall. This time Rohtang closed in mid-December.

According to BRO official, some areas along Rohtang tunnel’s south portal are under four feet of snow and the minimum temperature is around minus 17 degrees Celsius.

Oxygen at the construction site is quite minimal and high velocity winds blow every afternoon.

“Inside the tunnel where digging is on, the minimum temperature remains six to seven degrees below the outside. We have set up portable insulated camps for the workers inside the tunnel,” he added.

Each labourer has been provided a special uniform - gum boots, helmet, ear plugs and a mask to cover their nose and mouth are must for them. A team of doctors accompanies them for handling any exigency.

And the workers feel proud to be associated with this strategically-important project.

“We pray every morning that we remain associated with this engineering marvel till the day of its completion,” Subhash Chand, a driller from Jharkhand, told IANS.

Foreman Vishnu Bhagwat from Bihar said yoga is the best exercise to keep oneself fit at such a high altitude.

“After duty hours, I concentrate on meditation and deep breathing exercises. It keeps me active. For days, we hardly see the sun’s rays. Eating jaggery helps to flush out dust from the body.”

The blasting sounds of heavy machinery is now part of their lives. A semi-transverse ventilation system has been installed to circulate air in and out throughout the tunnel length.

The tunnel, once ready, will be a boon for the cold deserts of Lahaul Valley, where over 20,000 people remain cut off from the rest of the country in winters owing to the closure of the Rohtang Pass.

Besides reducing the road distance by approximately 48 km and saving travel time of about four hours, the tunnel will open up new vistas of trade and tourism and generate jobs for the locals.

The Cabinet Committee on Security cleared the Rohtang tunnel project in September 2009.
The foundation stone was laid by Congress president Sonia Gandhi June 28, 2010.

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 tender.

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 designed to cater to a maximum vehicular speed of 80 km/hr.

But the Rohtang tunnel alone might not be enough to make the Manali-Keylong-Leh highway an all-weather road as there are two other major snowbound passes along the way - Baralacha La and Thaglang La.

To overcome this, the project envisages constructing a 292-km-long all-weather road, Nimu-Padam-Darcha, via Shinkunla Pass, traversing the remote Zanskar region of Jammu and Kashmir, estimated to cost an additional Rs.286 crore.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at

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