Running through time, the British-era 39-km Parwanoo-Solan highway, later connected with the Himachal Pradesh capital, was finally inaugurated virtually on Thursday by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari after much delays largely owing to landslips from the highly fragile hill strata that had been excavated for the highway widening.Now it will reduce the travel time by half an hour between Parwanoo-Solan with an outlay of Rs 1,303 crore and makes the motorists to drive for pleasure, but bypass the history.Travellers to the erstwhile summer capital of British India, taking the highway, will bypass old towns of Parwanoo, Kumarhatti, Barog and Kandaghat.It's better to travel than to arrive maxim may no longer apply with the reduced charm of the journey uphill on the highway that goes on and on.Missing landmarks, such as railway crossings along the British-era narrow gauge Unesco World Heritage tag Kalka-Shimla rail track, the bazaars of Dharampur and Barog and the statue of Rani Jhansi at Chambaghat will also mark their travel.Meandering their way through the hills, the travelers otherwise will be greeted by new man-made landmarks such as 3D paintings on breast walls, greenbelts and bus stops along the highway.The journey may not be taxing on the four-lane highway due to reduced traffic jams, but will cost the commuters dear. They will have to pay toll tax of Rs 55 per private vehicle between Parwanoo and Solan.
Officials admit to IANS that the maximum damage to the highway during excavation was on a 30-km stretch between Parwanoo and Kumarhatti where over 20km was either badly damaged or piled repeatedly with boulders and muck due to frequent landslides, mainly in the monsoon.Often, when the highway widening was in progress by cutting the hills vertically, the motorists fear a threat to life from the falling debris.Even the executing agency, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), for the project -- which aims to cut travel time between Chandigarh and the Himachal capital Shimla by shortening the distance by 17km -- does not know what to do with the falling boulders and muck.Last year, too, the Parwanoo and Solan stretch was damaged by landslips during the monsoon and had to be rebuilt.Also a staggering 23,785 trees were cut for the road widening from Parwanoo to Solan, official records say.The work on the project was started on September 21, 2015, and was scheduled to be over by March 21, 2018.However, the smooth journey between Parwanoo and the state capital is still a distant dream.Now the widening of the four-laning of a 22-km-long stretch between Chambaghat and Kaithlighat is scheduled. Then work will begin on the last stretch between Kaithlighat and beyond Shimla till Dhalli.Also, the work on constructing a 460-metre tunnel and 368-metre flyover in Kandaghat are in progress.The 936-m one-way-tunnel on the Barog bypass is already motorable. Constructed with an outlay of Rs 100 crore, it reduces the travelling distance on the highway by 3.5 km.The tunnel provides one-way connectivity to the motorists coming from Shimla.
For the first time two tunnels will come up on the Parwanoo-Shimla highway. Earlier, there are tunnels on the Kalka-Shimla rail line only and they are numbered 102.There is also a proposal to construct shopping malls along the Parwanoo-Shimla highway, say state government officials.Driving uphill to the Kasauli hills is pleasurable these days, remarked Navtej Cheema, a motorist from Chandigarh."When the highway widening was in progress, it was literally a nightmare. Almost every day one comes to know of incidents of landslips and falling rocks hitting the vehicles," Cheema told IANS.Going nostalgic, he said with the construction of a railway over bridge near Sanwara they are missing a British-era landmark."The passing of the road along with the rail tunnel near Sanwara was reminder of Hindi yesteryears lyric 'Mere Sapno Ki Rani' in which Rajesh Khanna drives jeep along with the slow moving toy train of Darjeeling," he said.Old-timers recall that the crossing of the highway on the rail track was once the famous selfie point for the tourists.Official sources told IANS that the four-laning of the 88-km stretch that connects Shimla and Parwanoo -- on the Haryana-Himachal border -- would cost Rs 2,730 crore as per initial estimates.As per history, the work on the Hindustan-Tibet Road from Kalka to Shimla via Parwanoo started by British India in 1850. A 'mail wagon' drawn by horses began running up to Shimla by 1860's. Motor cars had started plying on the Kalka-Shimla section by 1935.