As Lahaulas, a tribal community of 35,000 people based in Lahaul-Spiti doze off to a comfortable sleep tonight, the nation will watch their dream come true on Saturday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the 9.02 km long Atal Rohtang Tunnel on October 3. The newly built Atal Tunnel is the world's longest tunnel at a height of 10,000 feet.
The Tunnel was the dream project of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who granted it approval in 2000.
As one walks down the market areas of Keylong, district headquarter of Lahaul-Spiti, one cannot help but notice visible signs of exuberance.
The tunnel which will provide an all-weather connectivity to the Lahaul-Spiti region, will reduce the distance between Manali and Keylong by 46 km. However, the most pertinent benefit of the tunnel is that it is going to end decade’s long isolation of the Lahaulas.
In the local dialect, Rohtang is also known as “a pile of bodies” because of life risks involved in crossing the mountain pass during winter months.
“You will wonder how much sacrifice and pain we have endured to wait for the Tunnel project. The Rohtang pass, one of world’s toughest passes in the Pir Panchal ranges, had seen countless deaths due to accidents because of snow-storms and avalanches. We used to walk a 40-feet high snowfall to reach Manali,” recalls Nawang Soman, a 52-year-old trader.
Crossing the height of 13,059 feet, during winters was not a simple challenge. Though, many a time people had to spend the night in the rock caves in order to escape snow storms. Crossing the Rohtang Pass after 12 noon was practically impossible and full of dangers.
“As a child, I once started walking with my uncle from Manali. There was at least 30-feet high snow on Rohtang Pass. We also had some mules carrying goods. A snow storm hit Rohtang Pass and we had an opportune escape as all of us took shelter inside a rock cave and spent the entire night there,” recollects Ramdev Kapoor, who retired recently from the state’s Public Relations department.
It’s in fact Kapoor’s father Tashi Dawa, a close friend of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who is remembered for convincing Vajpayee for sanctioning the tunnel.
Kapoor is going to be among the 15 passengers, who will board a special bus which Prime Minister Modi will flag off from the South Portal i.e. Manali.
“I have been getting a lot of phone calls from the media and also locals remembering my father's biggest contribution in making Vajpayee agree for the tunnel project. I wish he was alive to see this reality happening on the ground. My father died in 2012,” he says.
Tashi Dawa hailed from Tholang village and had come in contact with Vajpayee during a RSS camp in Baroda, Gujarat, in 1942. Dawa used to visit the former prime minister whenever he used to come to Prini village in Manali.
The 77-year old Sonam ,however, believes the strategic importance of the Tunnel, which Modi will inaugurate will give India an edge over its enemies in China and also Pakistan . “ Yeh to desh hit aur rashtriya suraksha ki baat hai (It's an issue of national security and country's sole interests ) We see India's position getting strengthened with the commissioning of the Tunnel ”
Though, he differs as who should get the real credit for the Tunnel but suggests that late Indira Gandhi ,former PM , should also get his due .She used to often visit Lahaul Spiti .Then forest minister Thakur Devi Singh Thakur had been pleading for the Tunnel .Late Indira Gandhi got a survey of the tunnel done .It's the result of that now Tunnel is ready .
Minister for forest and youth services and Sports Rakesh Pathania, who will receive Modi at North portal with local minister Dr Ram Lal Markanda,and others said a Rs 18 cr project will be submitted to the Prime Minister for promotion of adventure ports and winter games .
The area is going to see a major footfall of the tourists ,beside a socio-economic revolution . The strategic importance of the tunnel is already getting high attention as now forces and supplies can be routed from the Rohtang tunnel .