The Rohtang Tunnel connecting Manali to Keylong in Himachal Pradesh was opened to the public on 3rd October 2020. Named after India's former Prime Minister, Late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the single-tube Atal Tunnel has been certified as the 'World's Longest Highway Tunnel above 10,000 Feet' by the World Book of Records, UK.
The iconic tunnel is a part of the Eastern Pir Panjal Himalayan range, constructed on the Leh-Manali Highway, passing below the world-famous Rohtang Pass, at the height of 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level. The tunnel covers a total length of 9.02 km, with the South Portal located about 25km from Manali. At the same time, the North Portal opens up near Teling village in Sissu, Lahaul Valley, Himachal Pradesh.
The Atal Tunnel in Rohtang is indeed a piece of engineering marvel with the Border Security Force (BSF) of India, under the Ministry of Defence, involved in successfully completing the project. But besides the accolades and the awards for this incredible feat, the tunnel was constructed with the objective of increasing the accessibility of locals residing here.
Earlier, before the inauguration of the Tunnel, the standard route for people traveling between Manali and Lahaul and Valley passed through Gramphu. The total distance was 116 km, and the minimum time taken to cover this distance was between five and six hours when the weather was clear. The Atal Tunnel has been a blessing for tourists and locals as it has dramatically reduced the travel time. Manali to Atal Tunnel distance is about 24.4 km, which takes about 45 minutes to cover. Further, it takes about 15 minutes to cover the tunnel distance of 9.02 km. To reach Keylong from the North Portal of the Tunnel takes about 60 minutes as the distance is about 37 km. Thus, the total distance is reduced to 71 km, and the time is reduced by almost three to four hours as it takes not more than two hours to now reaching Keylong from Manali.
The other distinct advantage of the Atal Tunnel in Rohtang is that it offers all-weather connectivity in a region where earlier, the Leh-Manali Highway would remain closed for travel for six months. The entire Lahaul and Spiti Valley would be isolated from the rest of the nation during these six cold winter months. However, the Tunnel bypass has proved to be a game-changer as it keeps the remote region connected to the remaining parts of the state and the country throughout the year. Locals and tourists can now travel even during the harsh winter months to the Spiti Valley via the Tunnel as there are no risks of avalanches, traffic jams, or roadblocks. Similarly, supplies and goods can move to and from through the Tunnel uninterrupted throughout the year.
The government of India, along with the Ministry of Defence, has created the website https://marvels.bro.gov.in and dedicated it to the nation on 24th March 2022. The site offers details of the World's Longest Highway Tunnel with guided tours of the Tunnel for visitors.
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Places to Visit Near Atal Tunnel, Himachal Pradesh
While the fabulous piece of work by the engineers of BSF is a laudable and once-in-a-lifetime visit, there are other places worthy of visiting in and around the Tunnel too. These are some of the most picturesque places in India, surrounded by the mighty Himalayas.
1. Gondhala Fort
Built by Raja Man Singh, the king of Kullu, the Fort is about 11.2 km from Atal Tunnel. The 1700-constructed Fort is part of the region's rich cultural history. It is made from timber and stone. Of particular interest is the eight-storied tower built on the banks of the Chandra River.
About 14.4 km away from Atal Tunnel is the tiny hamlet of Koksar. It is about 19 km from Rohtang. The village acts as the gateway for people traveling from Manali to Lahaul Valley, with many local food stalls and one PWD guest house to stay for the night. It is located high on the Pir Panjal range and offers a fantastic panoramic view of the surrounding Himalayan range.
3. Sissu Helipad
The Helipad is now a place of interest ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi used it to inaugurate the Atal Tunnel. The place is about 11 km from the tunnel, with a small lake surrounding the Helipad. Tourists can indulge in boating activities amidst the scenic beauty of the Himalayan peaks here. You can also stopover to taste the local momos and Maggie.
4. Hampta Pass
Another exciting place and a popular trekking site near the Atal Tunnel is the Hampta Pass. The trek starts from Manali, passes through dense forests and gorgeous valleys, and takes about four days to complete. The Pass is approximately 19.4 km from the tunnel. You will appreciate the rich flora and fauna surrounding the Pass and the Chandratal Lake.
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5. Tandi Village
About 25.1 km away from Atal Tunnel and 10 km from Keylong is the Tandi Village, the meeting point of Chandra and Bhaga Rivers. The offbeat village is of particular interest to travelers by road because it is the only point along the Manali-Leh Highway where one can refuel their bikes and cars.
6. Deo Tibba
Your visit to the World's Longest Highway Tunnel is incomplete without a stopover at Deo Tibba, about 24.7 km from the tunnel. At an altitude of 6006 meters, it is one of the highest peaks in the Pir Panjal mountain range and is believed to be the meeting point of the gods. It is a popular trek too. Once you reach the peak, you can catch a glimpse of other towering peaks of the range like Dharamasura, Ali Ratni Tibba, Kullu Pumori, Papsura, and Devachan.
7. Kailash Manimahesh