HIGH UNDERGROUND
Overdrive|November 2020
The Atal tunnel, a vital link high up in the Himalayas
BERTRAND D'SOUZA

Manali, a small town high up in the north of India in the state of Himachal Pradesh. It’s popular for being a tourist hotspot, though the principal income for the residents of this region comes from apples. It’s also well known for being the start point for the journey into Ladakh. Travelling the highway connecting Manali to Leh is one of the most sought after journeys in the world. Tourism for the general masses however, hasn’t reached the heights one could expect from a destination like Manali, because it has few claims to fame. One of those few tourist hotspots is the Rohtang pass. Situated at around 15,000 feet above sea level, this pass in the Pir Panjal mountain range is the most formidable pass on the Leh Manali highway. It is a vital link between the town of Manali and the Lahaul and Spiti valleys. Both the valleys have several villages and people residing in them are cut off from civilisation for nearly six months at a time, unless they make the significantly long journey around from the Kaza valley which in the winter months could be a four day journey. There is no access to food for these villagers, other than what is stored before winter, no medical facilities or any other support, nor are they able to sell their produce. Until Rohtang pass opens sometime in the month of May, the entire area is inaccessible. This also poses problems for the Indian army, who cannot deploy troops or supplies to some of their camps all year round further up in Ladakh. Tourists, however, visit the pass not to get a sense of how high the Himalayas are but to experience snow. The pass is open for just around four months every year. The rest of the year, snow accumulates almost fifteen feet high making access to the Lahaul and Spiti valley insurmountable. Even during the summer months the journey up to the pass isn’t an easy one. High altitudes, cold weather, avalanches, soil erosion, incessant traffic and ecological damage all pose myriad challenges. Hence a need for a vital link between the two valleys.

THE PLAN

In the early ‘80s a plan was forged to create an all-weather axis that would connect Manali to the Lahaul and Spiti valleys providing year round connectivity between these two regions. The initial plan was to upgrade the existing infrastructure, but given the harshness of the Rohtang pass and the road leading to it that was constantly threatened by natural conditions, a tunnel was proposed.

In 2000, the then-Prime Minister of India, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee made an announcement that work would commence on building a tunnel. The Rail India Technical and Economic Service (RITES) conducted the feasibility surveys necessary for the construction. Work began earnestly with surveyors trying to locate the ideal entry and exit points for a year-round connector. Work was slow given the natural conditions of the region. Heavy snow fall would impede progress for nearly six months each year making it hard to study the mountain and its characteristics.

Vajpayee laid down the foundation for the project that would come to be known as the Rohtang tunnel in 2002. The plan was to go through the mountain, under the Rohtang pass.India’s premier road construction engineers, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), was handed the principal task of building the tunnel. BRO partnered with Strabag-Afcons, a joint venture between India-based Afcons Infrastructure (a division of the Shapoorji Pallonji group) and Austria’s largest construction company, Strabag SE.

THE BORDER ROADS ORGANISATION

The BRO is single-handedly responsible for significant infrastructure works along India’s border areas. This includes the development and maintenance of roads in extremely remote regions along the borders of India, airfields, helipads, bridges and tunnels. The BRO has also conducted several operations of a similar nature in the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, Bhutan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Their task is enormous as a majority of the regions they build roads in are inhospitable. And yet, despite towering odds, the BRO has carved their way through the mountains, providing vital connectivity to far flung regions of the nation. BRO comprises of officers from the Border Roads Engineering Services (BRES) and an often heard name in the Himalayas, the General Reserve Engineers Force (GREF).

THE ROAD TO LAHUAL AND SPITI

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM OVERDRIVEView All

YOUNGER ADVENTURE

KTM’s youngest adventure offering, 250 Adventure launched in India at Rs 2.48 lakh, ex-showroom

1 min read
Overdrive
December 2020

NISSAN MAGNITE

The Magnite packs a punchy engine, plenty of features and a butch styling within the sub-4m constraints, at an expected price that sounds unreal

7 mins read
Overdrive
December 2020

METEOR 350 VS RIVALS NEW WINES IN OLD BOTTLES

The modern-retro genre promises new tech in old-school stying and this segment has heated up to an all-time high with the entry of two new 350s!

10+ mins read
Overdrive
December 2020

HONDA HORNET 2.0

The Hornet 2.0 is a big departure from the original, but it drifts too far away on the price chart too

4 mins read
Overdrive
December 2020

SUVs OF 2021

DON’T BUY A NEW CAR JUST YET! HERE’S EVERY NEW SUV HEADED YOUR WAY IN THE NEW YEAR, AND WHY IT MIGHT BE WORTH WAITING FOR THEM

10+ mins read
Overdrive
December 2020

Hyundai i20

Hyundai’s bestselling premium hatchback gets a raft of changes

9 mins read
Overdrive
December 2020

BMW G 310 GS VS KTM 390 ADVENTURE READY TO RUMBLE

More tech and appeal at a more attractive price - is the G 310 GS finally a threat to the 390 Adventure?

7 mins read
Overdrive
December 2020

AUDI Q2 VS BMW X1 VS VOLVO XC40 Humblebrag

You’re ready to enter the world of luxury SUVs. Which one fits best?

9 mins read
Overdrive
December 2020

2021 BMW X3 M

The X3 M is a first for BMW, and it’s everything you expect of a traditional M-car and then some!

7 mins read
Overdrive
December 2020

Harley-Davidson Confirms New Launches For India

Working with Hero MotoCorp to offer a seamless experience to existing and new customers

1 min read
Overdrive
December 2020
RELATED STORIES

YOGA & PEACE

DEEPAK CHOPRA speaks with DAAJI about the role Yoga has to play in bringing about world peace. This is an excerpt from their conversation broadcast on International Day of Peace, September 21, 2020. That documentary is available at https://heartfulness.org/en/international-day-of-peace/.

6 mins read
Heartfulness eMagazine
January 2021

Create the habit of meditation

CHIRAG KULKARNI, Co-Founder and CMO of Medly Pharmacies in the USA, speaks with RISHIKA SHARMA about creating a regular meditation practice, so as to make it a habit. He also shares how meditation has benefited both his personal and professional life.

7 mins read
Heartfulness eMagazine
January 2021

SHIA'S PRIVATE TEMPLE OF DOOM!

Indiana Jones gig derailed by abuse scandal

2 mins read
Globe
January 11, 2021

Let's Dish

"Food Raconteur” Ashok Nageshwaran wants to tell you a story.

2 mins read
DesignSTL
January/February 2021

THE MAKING OF A MODEL MINORITY

Indian Americans rarely stop to ask why our entrance into American society has been so rapid—or to consider what we have in common with other nonwhite Americans.

10+ mins read
The Atlantic
January - February 2021

Interconnectedness

In 2017, DR. VANDANA SHIVA spoke with KIM HUGHES about the sacredness of the Earth, the work she has been doing to bring awareness and change in the field of sustainable agriculture, and the importance of understanding our interconnectedness with Nature, and how we can change the way we eat.

8 mins read
Heartfulness eMagazine
December 2020

DIAMONDS - A Luxury Gem Steeped in Fact & Fable

The diamond is one fabled gemstone! For example, google “Hope Diamond” to see all the legends associated with just this one stone said to bring misfortune to its owners.

2 mins read
Rock&Gem Magazine
January 2021

Women's World

Brown Sugaa and Medusa

2 mins read
Born To Ride Southeast Magazine
December 2020

Women's World

Brown Sugaa and Medusa

2 mins read
Born To Ride Florida
December 2020

CHINA DEMANDS INDIA RESCIND APP BAN AMID BORDER TENSION

China on Wednesday demanded India rescind a ban on more Chinese mobile phone apps amid tension between Beijing and other governments over technology and security.

1 min read
Techlife News
November 28, 2020