Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday inaugurated the strategically important all-weather Atal Tunnel, which reduces the distance between Manali and Leh by 46 km and the travel time by four to five hours, at Rohtang in Himachal Pradesh.
Modi was accompanied by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat.
Atal Tunnel, built by the Border Roads Organisation, is the longest highway tunnel in the world.
The 9.02-km tunnel connects Manali to Lahaul-Spiti valley throughout the year, the Prime Minister's Office has said, noting that the valley was earlier cut off for about six months every year due to heavy snowfall.
Himachal Pradesh: Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels from the South Portal of the Atal Tunnel at Rohtang to the North Portal of the tunnel located in Sissu, Lahaul Valley pic.twitter.com/igcX4mJ5eX— ANI (@ANI) October 3, 2020
Named after late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the tunnel is built with ultra-modern specifications in the Pir Panjal range of Himalayas at an altitude of 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) from the Mean Sea Level (MSL).
The south portal (SP) of Atal Tunnel is located at a distance of 25 km from Manali at an altitude of 3,060 metres, while the north portal (NP) of the tunnel is located near village Teling, Sissu, in Lahaul Valley at an altitude of 3,071 metres. It is a horse shoe shaped, single-tube double lane tunnel with a roadway of 8 metres and has an overhead clearance of 5.525 metres, officials said.
The tunnel, built at a cost of about Rs 3,300 crore, is extremely significant from the point of view of the country's defence, they said.
The BRO worked relentlessly to overcome major geological, terrain and weather challenges that included the most difficult stretch of the 587-metre Seri Nalah Fault Zone. The breakthrough from both ends was achieved on October 15, 2017.
The Vajpayee government had taken the decision to construct a strategic tunnel below the Rohtang Pass on June 3, 2000, and the foundation stone for the access road to the south portal of the tunnel was laid on May 26, 2002.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday visited the Atal tunnel in Rohtang, a day before its inauguration by the Indian Prime Minister. The historic decision to construct the tunnel was taken in 2000 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the PM.
Singh visited the tunnel along with Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jairam Thakur and reviewed the preparations for Saturday's event where Modi will dedicate it to the nation, the defence minister's office said in a series of tweets.