The opening of the 9.2 km long Atal Tunnel has proven to be life saving for local businessmen who depend on either tourism or trade of essential items.
The New Indian team travelled to the world’s longest Highway Tunnel above 10,000 feet to understand the impact the opening of the tunnel has had on the lives of the voters since its inauguration in 2020.
Talking about how the 9.2 km long tunnel has transformed the lives of locals, truck driver Saurabh Sharma said, “I am from a village 42 km away from Manali. Earlier Manali-Leh Highway was inaccessible in winters due to snowfall. But now that is not the case.”
Sharma who was transporting cauliflowers from his village to Manali further added that movement of ambulances and access to health facilities has also improved owing to the tunnel, thus saving many precious lives.
Another local Ram Singh Thakur said, “It’s easier now for tourists to directly go to Lahaul Spiti and then to Leh from there. This has improved tourism in the state.”
The flip side though is that now people are not making long stopovers in Solan Valley and directly going to Lahaul, said a local of Solan.
Construction of this tunnel has reduced the distance on Manali – Sarchu road by 46 km and travel time by four to five hours, providing all-weather connectivity on the Manali – Leh axis.
Rohit, a tourism photographer, earlier worked in Manali. He was able to shift base to the more lucrative Lahaul Spiti because of the tunnel. “The tunnel in itself is a tourist spot. People come here simply to experience traveling through the tunnel,” he said.
“We had heard about the painstaking conditions under which the tunnel was constructed and that’s why I wanted to visit it,” said Nikita, a tourist from Ahmedabad.
The tunnel has been constructed in extremely harsh and challenging terrain, wherein the temperatures in winters dipped to bone-chilling -25 degrees and often temperature inside the tunnel soared to nearly 45 degrees, making it difficult for engineers and workers to acclimatise.
Challenges like seepage of Seri Nala, leading to the flooding of the Atal Tunnel, along with high overburden and excessive snowfall were some of the major construction challenges that the BRO staff had to encounter.
Labourers from across the country come here for construction and maintenance work. They sweep off layers of snow collected around the tunnel.
There are CCTV cameras and an underground control room in Manali to keep a check on accidents or untoward incidents. “We are always ready to serve the people. Whenever an accident is reported, the Control Room is alerted through CCTV and rescue teams and ambulance are dispatched” said Prem, an official of Himachal Police who has been deputed to guard the North side of the tunnel.
The technical and engineering marvel was built by Border Roads Organisation. It became operational in 2020.