Audi Q8: Atal Tunnel vs Rotang Cross

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After being 20 years within the making, the Atal Tunnel in Himachal Pradesh is lastly open. We shoot off in two very totally different Audi Q8s to distinction this spanking new route with the legendary outdated one which runs through the Rohtang Cross.

Printed On Jan 26, 2021 08:00:00 AM

We’re in Manali, Himachal Pradesh and we’re heading northwards this positive October’s day. However at present it’s not concerning the vacation spot however the journey itself…the journey that simply acquired rather a lot shorter with the opening of the much-talked about Atal Tunnel, the world’s longest tunnel above 10,000 ft. What we need to know is precisely how a lot shorter the route has change into in, each, distance and time. On this mission is Rahul who’ll be driving from Manali to Sissu on the Leh freeway through the Atal Tunnel in an Audi Q8. Nikhil, then again, shall be taking the older and longer route through the famed Rohtang Cross within the Q8’s evil twin, the 600hp Audi RS Q8. 

Gents, begin your engines. 

The Q8s half methods at Palchan. It’s straight for the Atal Tunnel and proper for the Rohtang Cross.

1 PM at Manali – Rahul

Ordinarily, a drive to Rohtang entails a pre-dawn departure to beat the mad rush of vacationer visitors that scrambles its approach up the route. Time it flawed and also you’re setting your self up for a horrid journey. Issues, nevertheless, are very totally different at present. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant there are, sadly, only a few vacationers on the town. The one plus is that visitors is minimal, and this has allowed for a fashionably late departure post-brunch. Would possibly I counsel some native trout? Our two-Q8 convoy sails out of the city centre and shortly sufficient we’re on the Leh-Manali freeway.  


1:30 PM at Palchan – Nikhil

I’ve been tailing Rahul’s Q8 thus far however that is the place we half methods. Rahul carries on straight onto the Solang Valley Bridge and I flip proper in direction of the street to Rohtang. It’s a really nondescript entrance to such a historic route, I can inform you that. The very first part of street is narrower than your common supermodel’s waist and to compound issues there are a number of overloaded Bolero Pik-Ups parked on the facet which are inadvertently enjoying width restrictor right here. The RS Q8’s tremendous cool augmented actuality 3D digital camera is summoned to assist ease my approach out however this isn’t the beginning I’d hoped for.   

Vibrant autumnal colors greet Nikhil and the RS Q8 on the preliminary little bit of the climb to Rohtang.

1:35 PM AT Solang Valley Sports activities Middle – Rahul

Tourism is likely one of the sectors worst hit by the pandemic and it actually is unhappy to see Solang, a spot normally bustling with vacationers, so empty at present. Possibly Nikhil and I can come again for an ATV experience later in our journey. Or go paragliding. For now, I’m very content material within the Q8. It rides nicely, steers with grace, and on this drive I’m actually taking to the three.0-litre V6 petrol engine’s genteel nature. 

It’s a picturesque drive to the Atal Tunnel. It helps that the roads are tremendous clean, too.

1:52 PM at Gullaba Verify Submit – Nikhil

Standing replace. That frown is now the wrong way up! The previous few kilometres have been good. For one, there’s no visitors! It’s like I’ve all the street to myself, which is surreal on what’s a notoriously busy route. The street can also be in surprisingly fine condition, save for the odd dangerous patch that the RS Q8 comfortably takes in its stride. That is nonetheless not a journey for the faint-hearted as you wind your approach up the mountain pretty shortly. Over the climb and hairpins which have made up this leg, I’ve managed to work up a positive rhythm with the Audi RS Q8. I like how cosseting it’s over the tough stuff and the way explosively fast it may be when the situations enable.  

And did I point out the technicolour setting itself? The solar’s shining vibrant, the sky’s blue and the inexperienced and yellow autumnal hues are simply magical. I’ve rolled again the RS Q8’s panoramic sunroof display for the total impact. I attain the Gullaba examine publish with a giant grin plastered on my face. Unbelievably, mine’s the one automotive right here. In peak vacationer season, it’s a significant bottleneck that may see autos backed up for kilometres on finish. Allow paper checked (you want one to drive to Rohtang), off I’m going.

1:55 PM at South Portal, Atal Tunnel – Rahul

It’s an expectedly scenic drive up with fir timber lining all the route, and majestic views of the mountain vary. I’m additionally joyful to inform you that the street is tremendous clean, well-marked and options guardrails for added safety. Now, for the principle occasion – the Atal Tunnel. There’s an understandably heavy presence of safety personnel exterior however as I be taught, their job description additionally contains retaining a watch out for overzealous vacationers. Selfie-crazed guests had been behind some accidents contained in the tunnel mere days after it opened.

Welcome to the Atal Tunnel. The tunnel’s South Portal is the Q8 and Rahul’s level of entry.

Ceremonial gate on the South Portal crossed, in we go! Wow! The entry’s lit up like a stadium! That is such a departure from the dingy mountain tunnels we’re accustomed to. The Q8’s Matrix LED headlamps must work half as exhausting inside this tunnel, I’m positive. Of the opposite issues, I like that every one signage is clearly marked. Velocity limits, emergency telephone areas…it’s all in clear sight. It’s additionally good to know there’s a secondary escape tunnel below the principle tunnel that can be utilized in case of an evacuation. Additionally, ought to the air high quality contained in the tunnel deteriorate, contemporary air may be pumped in from both finish. I don’t suggest opening your window and driving by means of, although. The fumes from outdated vans linger on for a while.  

Nonetheless, the primary impression is that this might be a tunnel in Europe – it’s constructed to such a excessive commonplace.

Manali to Sissu through Europe? The Atal Tunnel is engineered to a world-class commonplace.

2:05 PM at North Portal, Atal Tunnel – Rahul

Isn’t it staggering to know that there’s about 2 km of mountain above the tunnel roof? Simply consider the size of the job of chopping by means of pure mountain. And bear in mind, this isn’t probably the most hospitable of areas to work in with winter temperatures dipping nicely beneath freezing. The BRO or Border Roads Organisation are champs at road-building and are the unsung heroes of the Atal Tunnel. 

Finish to finish, the Atal Tunnel is 9.02km lengthy and is nearly arrow straight all through. It’s a place the place you may theoretically, and I’m emphasizing on theoretically, max out your automotive. That’s 250kph on the Q8 55 TFSI I’m in and 305kph on the RS Q8 Nikhil’s driving. However don’t get any concepts as a result of there are strict velocity limits of 40kph and 60kph within the tunnel, and also you’re all the time below watch. That is the final place the place you need to be on the flawed facet of the legislation. Additionally, there’s no overtaking within the Atal Tunnel and also you drive in a single file. It nonetheless beats the slim roads and abdomen churning climb up the Rohtang Cross, although. 

I see gentle on the finish of the tunnel. It’s taken me about 10 minutes to cowl the Atal Tunnel. And identical to that I’m within the Lahaul valley. That is a minimum of time journey! 

9.02km and 10 minutes later you enter a special world. The surroundings adjustments dramatically.

2:12 PM at Chumbak Mod – Nikhil

The route simply acquired much more severe. We’re above the tree line and filling my windscreen now are the intimidating mountains that we have to snake our approach up. It appears like an extended technique to the highest. Fortunately, there’s no melting snow or rain to cope with at present however landslides aren’t unusual even at the moment of the yr. The ominous boulders scattered on the mountainside don’t put me comfortable.


The street has deteriorated too and the climb’s a lot steeper now. The story goes that the gradual progress up had individuals imagine their autos had been being held again by a magnetic power, incomes this part the title Chumbak Mod. Fortunately, a scarcity of energy is the very last thing I would like to fret about. It helps to have a 600hp and 800Nm, 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine powering your automobile! It suffices to say, the elevation adjustments go by unnoticed. 

The Rohtang Cross route isn’t for the faint-hearted. Views like this do make it value it.

2:14 PM at Sissu Helipad – Rahul

It’s a special world on the North Portal facet of the Atal Tunnel. The distinction is stark. The mountains are barren and vegetation is minimal. There’s such a visible disconnect between the landscapes on the 2 sides of the tunnel that it’s exhausting to imagine they’re simply separated by a brief drive now. 

That’s when the magnitude of what the Atal Tunnel achieves for the individuals of Lahaul-Spiti hits me. It’s greater than a street; that is truly a year-round lifeline for the locals right here who had been beforehand lower off from the remainder of the world owing to the cruel snowfall in winter. The Atal Tunnel would have additionally tremendously eased the motion of males and supplies to ahead army positions. These mile-long army truck convoys on the Rohtang route would possibly now be a factor of the previous. 

Quickly, I attain our designated end-point. The await Nikhil begins….

2:37 PM at Rani Nallah – Nikhil

I’ve accomplished the journey as much as Rohtang earlier than and know that the going will get more durable the upper you go. However by no means have I ascended as fast as I’ve managed to at present. This isn’t totally right down to the dearth of visitors or how the RS Q8 shrugs off petty issues like gravity. The street up itself is in one of the best situation I’ve ever seen it. A lot of it has been freshly surfaced and the nice sections are literally longer than the dangerous ones. This era of late October can also be the candy spot by way of climate. It’s nicely previous the summer season and monsoon months the place the melting snow and rain water, respectively, create a nightmarish slush and legendary visitors jams at Rani Nallah. The sunshine movie of white on the mountain tops at present suggests there’s been contemporary snowstorm but it surely’s not out of the atypical. The Met division’s forecasts present the true heavy winter snow, that can power the Cross’ annual closure, continues to be a very good fortnight or extra away. 

I’ve to remind myself to not get carried away, although. We’re nonetheless excessive up and issues can go very flawed, in a short time. That ‘Rohtang’ interprets to pile of useless our bodies (the extremities of temperature and altitude have claimed a whole lot of lives over the ages) is a sobering thought that stays with me.

2:40 PM at Sissu Helipad – Rahul

Nikhil’s telephone is out of protection so I don’t anticipate him to be wherever shut. I’d as nicely use the time nicely (out comes the DSLR digital camera!).

Rahul got here ready for an extended wait and indulges in some images to kill time.

2:47 PM at Rohtang Cross – Nikhil

In lower than 2 hours, the RS Q8 and I’ve climbed from 6,700 ft at Manali to 13,058 ft on the summit of the Rohtang Cross. What takes my breath away on the final little bit of the climb isn’t the speedy ascent or comparatively low oxygen at this excessive altitude, reasonably, it’s the attractive view. Glistening within the afternoon solar, the white mountains within the distance look magnificent and ready to be captured for a postcard. Rahul is perhaps on the quicker route however I’m now sure I’m on the extra scenic one. 


The Rohtang Cross high is normally a excessive altitude mela with 1000’s, and I imply 1000’s, of vacationers. As we speak, there’s only a handful. Unreal. I’m in half a thoughts to cease for a chai and cup noodles (consolation meals up right here) however I decide towards it. I’ve made superb progress thus far and need to see how this pans out. Ahem! I’m additionally fairly snug on my heated seat, thanks very a lot. The fluttering prayer flags counsel it’d be rather a lot colder on the skin than the 9 diploma Celsius indicated on the RS Q8’s show. 

It’s a ceremonial fly-by on the Rohtang Cross. We’re at 13,000ft right here.

3:04 PM at Khoksar – Nikhil

I do a double take after I see the street that leads us down from Rohtang. Far faraway from the patchy path I bear in mind it to be, the redone street is simply good. Impeccably surfaced and even clearly marked, it’s nearly poetic how this ribbon of black cuts contrasts the white backdrop. I sense a possibility to make up time so it’s all programs dialed as much as 11. What a street! What a automotive! The RS Q8 makes use of brute power to shrink the space between the hairpins after which seemingly shrinks itself in 
the corners. 4-wheel steering, energetic anti-roll bars and a torque vectoring rear differential come into play to make the large Audi really feel smaller and lighter than its measurement and weight (it’s 5m lengthy and ideas the scales at 2.3 tonnes) would have you ever anticipate. The bassy roar from the V8 supplies a deeply satisfying soundtrack.

The massive Audi additionally manages the unfinished sections of the route additional down with out stress. I don’t have a difficulty with clearance even with the suspension at a low peak although I do take it straightforward with the tyres. Discovering a alternative 295/35 ZR23 tyre on this neck of the woods could be a tall ask, I’d assume.

Over the short descent, the panorama transitions dramatically, and there’s a return of some greenery by the point I arrive on the Khoksar Verify Submit. 

Comfortable on the dangerous patches, the 600hp RS Q8 feels ballistic on the nice ones. It’s a mega software to shrink distances.

3:15 PM at Chandra Bridge – Nikhil 

The Chandra river that flows alongside is now giving us firm however what I’m caught off-guard by is the speedy drop in gentle. The huge mountains round solid such massive shadows, it’s like somebody’s quick forwarded us to the night. Quickly sufficient, I’m on the Atal Tunnel junction the place the brand new Chandra Bridge meets the Leh-Manali Freeway. From my vantage level some 300 metres away, the North Portal of the tunnel appears not more than a small opening drilled into this mass of mountain. I can’t wait to listen to what Rahul has to say about his journey. I don’t suppose I’ll be taking for much longer.  

That is the place outdated and new routes meet. The mountains solid such massive shadows, it’s such as you’re quick forwarded to the night.

3:25 PM at Sissu – Nikhil

I see the crimson Q8, and I believe Rahul sees me too. I’m positive he’s going to brag however my journey was particular in its personal approach…..

Rahul – You’re lastly right here! It’s been 1 hour and 10 minutes since I arrived.

Nikhil – You reached that lengthy again?! What’s your journey studying?

Rahul – 40km. And yours?

Nikhil – 86km.

Rahul – Wow! A straight saving of 46km and over an hour in time! 

Nikhil – Have you learnt what, Rahul? That is the least time I may have presumably taken. The climate was good, the street was one of the best I’ve ever seen it, there was barely any visitors…and, in fact, I had the RS Q8. Think about pre-COVID ranges of visitors and we’re taking a look at a further hour of driving time at a naked minimal. The unpredictable climate and ever-changing driving situations can even gradual progress by as a lot as a number of hours. I’d consider my drive time at present as a greatest case state of affairs.

Whereas Rahul and Nikhil discuss of their experiences, the shining Q8 and the dust-covered RS Q8 seize the essence of the routes they’ve come by.

Anyway, how was the Atal Tunnel?

Rahul – Oh, it’s simply unbelievable. It’s like being in a tube that connects level A to level B in a straight line. The journey inside took all of 10 minutes – that’s unbelievable! And I’m speaking as a vacationer. I can’t think about how this adjustments issues for the residents of this area. The tunnel itself is beautifully engineered and one thing that all of us needs to be pleased with.   

Nikhil – However, hey, Rahul, you’ve come through the Atal Tunnel now and have accomplished the Rohtang route umpteen instances earlier than. Which route would you are taking? 

Rahul – Effectively, there’s a whole lot of historical past to the Rohtang Cross. I’ve personally accomplished the route on a motorbike, in a automotive, as a vacationer and even a rally participant and have some fond recollections there. It’s a street to get you out of your consolation zone. I’d say it’s not less than value a go to as soon as. But when it is a route you frequent or are touring onwards to Leh, the Atal Tunnel is a no brainer. 

Nikhil – And that will get you pondering, proper? The Rohtang Cross route has been an integral a part of a few of our most epic street journeys through the years however swiftly, scaling its peak and braving the weather simply appears so pointless. In a approach, as a lot as it is a celebration of the Atal Tunnel, it’s nearly a farewell to the Rohtang Cross route. 

Rahul – So, now that it’s time to move again will you come again my approach or the freeway?

Nikhil – (laughs) I’ve come the great distance round. Let’s take the shortcut residence. 

Particular because of the BRO for serving to make this function potential.


Q&A – Colonel Parikshit Mehra, Mission Director, Atal Tunnel in dialog with Hormazd Sorabjee

What had been the challenges BRO confronted when setting up  the Atal Tunnel and what was probably the most tough half? 

Atal Tunnel is the longest tunnel constructed at an altitude above 10,000 ft. The tunnel has been excavated from simply two ends (Portals) with no different entry in type of adits or shafts. The North Portal was not accessible for round seven months in a yr as a result of closure of Rohtang Cross. Although work continued by means of the yr from the  South Portal, the winter months had been tough on account of ever-looming avalanche threats on the method street and snow accumulation on the portal location.

 The truth that the tunnel has nearly 2 km of mountain above it meant that advanced help programs needed to be designed to counteract the stresses on the tunnel boundary. 

Nonetheless, whereas the entire above challenges had been being met the tunnel workforce encountered the Seri Nala Fault Zone, the longest shear zone encountered by any freeway tunnel on this planet. The 600 m excavation throughout Seri Nala took Border Roads Organisation 4 years to cross whereas the remainder of the 9.02 km tunnel was additionally excavated in the identical time. The very best consultants on this planet had not seen tunnelling geological situations as tough because the the Seri Nala. In these 4 years, the venture engineers developed progressive approaches for such poor geological situations and below the management of BRO the fault zone was crossed with out altering the alignment. India has arrived on this planet of tunnelling with the accomplishment of Atal Tunnel.

What are the elements that decided the precise location of the tunnel?

The thought was to assemble a tunnel in such a style to trigger minimal disturbance to the prevailing freeway which is the one hyperlink to Leh on this area. Therefore, the method street to the South Portal was developed inside Solang valley and North Portal was deliberate and constructed on the house facet of the Chandra river forward of Khoksar.

Why a concrete floor and never common bitumen or tarmac ?

The Seri Nala water is being channelled from behind the tunnel concrete to the principle drain of the tunnel. In monsoons months the overburdened materials will get saturated, price of ingress will increase manifold and seepage on to the using floor may be anticipated. Therefore, a inflexible concrete pavement was executed.Inflexible pavements have a better life cycle and the peak of the floor isn’t elevated like in case of bitumen surfaces. It will be sure that vertical clearance is not going to be compromised. 

How will you utilize the expertise gained in setting up the Atal tunnel with different tunnel tasks?

Border Roads Organisation has been conducting lessons on tunnelling together with these experiences for its personal engineers and likewise for engineering schools. Nationwide degree seminars are being deliberate for premier engineering institutes. In reality, a international outreach can also be deliberate to share the experiences gained and achievements made.  

I’ve personally revealed quite a few technical papers and lot of engineers throughout the nation have entry to extra such materials. 

This tunnel is unquestionably going to be a harbinger for different tunnels to come back up within the nation.  


Additionally see:

Atal Tunnel in an Audi RS Q8 video

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