Manali-Leh highway to shut June 28



Shimla: The Manali-Leh highway will be closed June 28 when United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi visits Himachal Pradesh's Kullu district, an official said on Thursday.

"Sonia Gandhi is coming to lay the foundation stone of Rohtang Tunnel in the Solang Valley," Deputy Commissioner BM Nanta told a news agency on telephone from Kullu town.

He said no vehicle bound for Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir and Keylong in Lahaul and Spiti district would be allowed beyond Kothi, about 30 km from Manali.

The National Highway 21 that passes through Rohtang Pass, 52 km from Manali, is a major attraction for tourists.

"Every Tuesday, the Rohtang Pass is closed for tourists for nine hours from 9 a.m. due to widening work. But this time we have decided to close it one day in advance. It will remain open Tuesday," he added.

Defence Minister AK Antony, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and his Jammu and Kashmir counterpart Omar Abdullah will also be present during the stone-laying ceremony.

Rohtang Tunnel is expected to be the world's longest tunnel at over 13,000 ft. It has been constructed at a cost of Rs 1,495 crore.

It will pave the way for round-the-year road access to the Lahaul Valley in Lahaul and Spiti, which otherwise remains cut off by snow for half of the year.

The tunnel is expected to be ready by 2015 and will serve as a nerve centre for the Indian Army to carry supplies to Ladakh.

Gandhi will fly to the Solang Valley, 275 km from Shimla, at around 11 am to lay the foundation stone for the tunnel. She will also address a public rally.

IANS