Nestled amidst picturesque valley, snow capped mountains, lush-green meadows and tall trees, Jammu & Kashmir is an absolute visual treat. The road journey between Jammu and Srinagar leaves one spellbound. But the natural beauty apart, the route is also a difficult one with long, winding roads that tend to get blocked in inclement weather. But very soon people driving on this route will not only have their journey time cut by two hours, but will also experience the pleasure of driving through a world class technical marvel. The 9.2 km Chenani-Nashri tunnel near Udhampur will enhance the drivers’ pleasure many fold once it is opened to traffic.
Built between Udhampur and Ramban at an elevation of 1,200 metres on one of the most difficult terrains of the Himalayas, the Chenani-Nashri tunnel is not only the country’s longest road tunnel but also happens to be Asia’s longest bi-directional highways tunnel. An ideal example of ‘Make in India’ and ‘Skill India’ initiative of the Government of India, the tunnel is 9.2 km long with twin-tube all-weather passage. It forms part of the project for widening of the National Highway No-44 or the old NH-1A from Jammu to Srinagar.
The structure consists of 9 kms long main tunnel with two lanes. The diameter of the main tunnel is 13 metres. In addition to this there is a parallel escape tunnel for of 6 metre. The two tubes are connected to each other through 29 cross passages at regular intervals. There are two minor bridges on the south and north sides and 4-lane approach roads with Toll Plazas on both ends. The bi-directional tunnel has fully transverse ventilation system. There are inlets bringing fresh air at 8 metre intervals and outlet for exhaust every 100 metres. The tunnel also has fully-integrated control system with ventilation, communication, power supply, incident detection, SOS call box and fire fighting. Fitted with intelligent traffic mechanism, the tunnel has fully automatic smart control and no human intervention will be required for its operations. The tunnel is also equipped with advanced scanners to ward off any security threat. Experts say very few tunnels in the world have this kind of fully integrated tunnel control.
A well-equipped fully-computerised operation room has been set up for surveillance of vehicles inside the twin tubes. The maximum height limit permitted inside is 5 meters and for checking the height special sensors have been installed just before the toll points at both ends. Besides providing mobile network of telecom operators including Airtel, Idea and BSNL, 92.7 FM Radio channel facility is also functional inside the tunnel.
The Chenani Nashri tunnel is designed in such a fashion that it provides safe and all-weather route, resulting in a time savings of two hours for motorists travelling along the highway between Jammu and Srinagar that is prone to frequent and long traffic jams due to landslides, snow and sharp curves, breakdown of vehicles and accidents etc. It is also expected to result in a saving of fuel worth Rs 27 lakh per day on traffic projections. The tunnel will reduce the distance between Jammu and Srinagar by about 30 km. The project also precluded large-scale deforestation as tree cutting was not required.
The project is a “historic milestone”, contributing significantly to the programme and idea of ‘Make in India‘ and ‘Made in India’, as it has been constructed by an Indian company- IL&FS. The project has provided employment to over 2,000 unskilled and skilled youth of Jammu and Kashmir as 94 per cent of the work force was from the state, according to IL&FS. It will not only ensure preservation of environment in the Patnitop area and but will provide for better integration of people of the state by providing better connectivity. It will also give a major boost to the state economy.
On the anvil is another tunnel at Zojila pass, situated at an altitude of 11,578-ft on Srinagar-Kargil-Leh National Highway which remains closed during winters (December to April) due to heavy snowfall and avalanches cutting off Leh-Ladakh region from Kashmir. The project aims at providing much-needed all-weather connectivity between Kashmir valley and Ladakh. Among the driving delights that will then follow, would include the journey to Kailash-Mansarovar – the abode of Lord Shiva. Mammoth machinery has already been deployed to cut through the tough Himalayan rocks for this purpose. Once it is constructed, the tunnel will make this centre of pilgrimage more accessible.
Also, pilgrimage to Char Dham is likely to become a lot safer as work is underway on a new alignment for connecting the four abodes of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath in the Himalayas at an investment of about Rs 12,000 crore to provide all-weather connectivity.
With all these new and upcoming developments, not only is it going to be more safe and convenient to negotiate the arduous Himalayan roads, but the economy of the region is also going to start looking up with more employment opportunities and better infrastructure for trade.
*Author works for PTI as Chief Infrastructure Correspondent.