India opens Himalayan tunnel route to tense China border

(AFP): Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi today (Saturday) opened the Atal highway tunnel in the Himalaya region, which will drastically reduce the time needed to rush troops to the country’s remote Chinese border.

According to details, the tunnel traverses India’s northern Himachal Pradesh state and lies on one of two main routes for troops headed to border areas in Ladakh.

The $400-million, nine-kilometre tunnel will cut the journey by about 50km and four hours, enabling travellers to bypass a tricky route across a landslide-prone Himalayan pass.

The tunnel, at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres (10,000 feet), has been hailed as a feat of engineering. The tunnel’s foundation stone was laid by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi on June 28, 2010, in the Solang Valley near Manali.

A decade in the making, freezing temperatures and the challenging terrain meant construction work could only be carried out for about six months each year.

Addressing the inauguration ceremony, Modi said, “We have put our entire energy in developing our border infrastructure. The country hasn’t seen roads, bridges and tunnels built at this scale.”

“Besides locals, this infrastructure will also hugely benefit the men and women in our army,” Modi added. He also expressed hope that such projects will promote tourism and spur economic activity.

Sanjay Kundu, the police chief of Himachal Pradesh, recently proposed better roads and mobile connectivity as well as even arms training for the state’s border villages.

Nearly, 20 Indian and an unspecified number of Chinese troops were killed in June during a deadly clash in Ladakh, which shares a disputed boundary with China’s restive Xinjiang and Tibet regions.

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