MANALI (HIMACHAL PRADESH): 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 said. 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 on December 8 and it’s likely to be resumed in April-May when the snow melts. By 2014, both the 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.