Se La tunnel opened with “breakthrough blast”, connects Tawang to West Kameng in Arunachal - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 14 October 2021

Se La tunnel opened with “breakthrough blast”, connects Tawang to West Kameng in Arunachal

A photograph I took while driving over the Se La pass in winter (Note: This is a colour photograph!)


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 15th Oct 21


At a Border Roads Organisation (BRO) event in New Delhi on Thursday, 14 October 2021,  Defence Minister Rajnath Singh presided virtually over the “breakthrough blast” of the main tube of Sela Tunnel, which will connect the Dirang valley to the Tawang bowl, in Arunachal Pradesh.


Perched at an altitude of 13,800 ft, Se La pass connects the Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh to the rest of the country, via the 317 km long Balipara-Charduar-Tawang road. China has long had its eye on Tawang, which is a monastery town deeply revered by the local, Buddhist Monpa ethnic group.


The two new tunnels being built will allow motor traffic to cross the Se La ridgeline at a lower altitude, where snowfall is less heavy. The tunnel will reduce travel time and provide all weather connectivity to Tawang. 


Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation stone of the Sela Tunnel project in 2019.


The breakthrough blast of the main tube of the tunnel today marks a major landmark in its excavation. Meanwhile, work on the 980-metre long second tunnel of the project has already crossed the 700-metre mark.


Upon completion, the 1.5 kilometre tunnel will be one of the world’s longest bi-lane road tunnels at that altitude. This tunnel has been constructed using the latest New Austrian Tunnelling Method, and is located much below the snow line. This will allow all weather travel to and from Tawang, without the challenges of snow clearance. For the people of Tawang as it will reduce travel time and ensure speedier movement.


In another linked event, Rajnath Singh inaugurated the “India @75 BRO Motorcycle Expedition” as a tribute to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the service of the nation. 


Seventy five motorcycle riders from the BRO, will cover approximately 20,000 kilometres over the next 75 days. En route, they will interact with local people, school children, gallantry award winners, ex-servicemen and Veer Naris (widows of soldiers who were killed during the course of their duties). They will conduct medical camps and raise awareness about the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and road safety.


Speaking on this occasion, Rajnath Singh commended the BRO for its contribution to the progress of the nation by constructing roads, bridges, tunnels and airfields at record altitudes under extreme weather conditions and making remote areas visible on connectivity maps. 


He said the BRO’s efforts to strengthen border infrastructure have enhanced the army’s operational readiness, encouraged tourism in far-flung areas and generated employment for local population. 


“This state-of-the-art tunnel will prove to be a lifeline for not just Tawang but the entire state,” he added.


Rajnath also mentioned the construction of Atal Tunnel, which bypasses the Rohtang Pass in connecting Manali district with Kinnaur. The Atal Tunnel, named after former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, is the world’s longest highway tunnel at over 10,000 feet.


The BRO also broke a world record recently by constructing a road over the 19,300 feet-high Umlingla Pass in Eastern Ladakh, making it the highest motorable pass in the world. 


Shri Rajnath Singh called for reaching out to general public for promotion of such activities, emphasising that these can play a big role in encouraging tourism, generating employment and strengthening local economy. He assured all possible cooperation of the Government to achieve this objective. 


The expedition is co-sponsored by Hero MotoCorp and Bharat Petroleum Limited. They are providing adventure motorcycles, protective gears, jackets, fast-moving spares and technical and logistical assistance.


  1. We should concentrate on developing our infrastructure and capabilities and fret less on another countries progress. Once we become a developed nation militarily and economically, the string of Pearls strategy and BRI initiative will have little impact on us. Our ambivalent neighbor's would think a hundred times on how to be engaged with us instead of playing hide and seek with us. Also the money we spend on our development is money well spent and spent sensibly were payoffs will be humungous.

  2. Searching the net, it appears that the Sela Pass is at 13,700 ft. How come the tunnel is also at the same height? Can this be clarified?

    1. Good point, Biswajit. But read the third paragraph again. It says:

      "The two new tunnels being built will allow motor traffic to cross the Se La ridgeline at a lower altitude, where snowfall is less heavy."


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