The Solang valley in the Pir Panjal range has been decked up for Sonia Gandhi’s visit on Monday. The Congress chief will lay the foundation stone for an 8.82km tunnel through the Rohtang Pass, which means the pile of dead bodies in Persian.
Building the tunnel in this beautiful but treacherous terrain will be a challenge for the Border Roads Organisation (BRO).
Once completed in 2015, the passage will pave the way for year-round road accessibility to the Ladakh region by creating an all-weather link between Manali and Lahaul-Spiti Valley.
An inscription on black granite in Solang reads: “Foundation stone of Rohtang Tunnel laid by National Advisory Council Chairperson Sonia Gandhi on June 28, 2010.”
There will be a multi-faith prayer meeting before the inauguration of the project, expected to cost Rs 1,500 crore. Priests will pray for the accomplishment of what BRO officials term a “grave geological challenge”.
“It is in avalanche-prone area — an enemy which is ruthless and unpredictable,” an official said.
At a height of 13,300 feet, Rohtang, on the Manali-Keylong highway, is surrounded by snow-covered mountains and dotted with pine trees. “It is very dangerous because of the unpredictable snowstorms and blizzards. But people in huge numbers still visit Rohtang,” said Jagdish Chand, an eatery owner on the highway.
The BRO and DRDO have set up 18 avalanche monitoring sites on either side of the pass. “Snowstorms aside, the excavation for the tunnel is going to be tough because of the unpredictability about what lies beneath,” Lt Col Vinod Shukla of the BRO said. The kind of rocks the mountain carries in unknown.
The tunnel will be key to the army’s efforts to make the 475-km-long Manali-Keylong-Leh highway motorable round-the-year for access to forward areas in Ladakh bordering China and Pakistan. Its strategic value was reiterated after the Kargil war, when the Pakistan Army aimed at cutting off road access to the Ladakh and Siachen glaciers.