How SELA TUNNEL will benefit Tawang

  • What was travelling to Sela Pass/Tawang in 2001 like? What are benefits of the Sela Tunnel? What would drivers would be nostalgic about now? Author HVK is an India road travel expert.


"Undeveloped Borders Are More Safe Than Developed Borders, So India Didn't Develop The Border With China…”, said a former Defence Minister of India, insinuating that if India built good roads in the North East, the enemy would easily annex India, and hence, it is better that there are no good roads!


But for Sela, maybe the Chinese would have perhaps reached Shillong itself in 1962 instead of retreating from Tezpur.


When I first drove to Tawang way back in the year 2001, the signage en route to Bumla was intriguing: Lhasa 500 kms, Peking 4,306 kms, but Bombay was nearly 5,000 kms away – that is how distant the Rest of India was for this town that stood at the trijunction of India, Bhutan and Tibet. 

Board showing distances. Courtesy author. 

It told you how fragile and precarious was Bharat’s hold on its borders with Tibet in the region earlier referred to as the North East Frontier Agency, a region where China refuses to acknowledge the McMahon Line and whose territories they claim as their own.  


It was a different universe once you turned your back on the Brahmaputra flood plains at Tezpur. They told me, driving to Tawang 300 kms away is a 2-day affair. The roads were akin to mud wrestling pits. Included in the essential “survival” kit were kerosene stoves, potatoes, rice, etc. to cook on the road if and when the landslides occurred (happened frequently), causing delays. 


During the winter, snowfall closed down the road for days on end. As I neared the 14,000 feet high Sela, the oncoming army Gypsy stopped me; the Commanding Officer was curious to know why me, a tourist from Bombay (now Mumbai), would want to come up to this wretched place.


When you eventually reached Tawang, you are made to feel like a hero who had performed the 12 Labours of Heracles.


The road journey to Tawang commences at Tezpur, cuts through the Nameri jungles and then starts rapidly climbing up to the Tenga Valley. This is an extremely rainy region, where the Nechiphu Tunnel (opened last year) helps you bypass some steep, treacherous landslide-prone muddy sections of road.


See video of Nechiphu Tunnel 4.56 minutes


After you brave the chill of Bomdila, you descended into the salubrious Dirang Valley. The steep climb to Sela starts after Sapper, one of the many army bases enroute. These bases deal with the logistics, supply and troop deployment for the never-ending vigil on India’s border with Tibet. The Sela is the formidable 14,000 feet high pass you have to cross to reach Tawang; there is no other way. The Sela Pass is torn by the ravages of the weather, and snow-bound in winter, when traffic is disrupted frequently. For anyone on this road, the question on their lips always was: Is Sela OK today? Is it open? Do you expect any disruptions? With the Sela Tunnel such questions would no longer be asked.


Album Drive to Tawang- see pictures of Bomdila and Dirang


For the last 8 – 10 years, the BRO has been expanding road infrastructure in the border areas and the Sela and Nechiphu Tunnels will probably reduce travel time by 1 – 2 hours, besides assuring hassle-free access to Tawang. 

Sela Pass 13700 feet. September 2013. 

On March 9, 2024, the Sela twin tunnels were inaugurated. The new Tunnel is located between the Sapper Army Camp and the town of Jang. It burrows its way under Sela, is wide enough for even battle tank platoons to drive through comfortably. The frequent landslides will be a thing of the past, and snowfall will no more close down the road.


To see video on making of tunnel 3.45 minutes


Why is a tunnel like Sela Tunnel required? How does one justify the massive investments? What are the logistical & social benefits?


1. Avoid steep road climbs thereby reducing driving challenges. 

2. The all weather road will infuse confidence that there will be minimal disruptions in the journey. 

3. Spur the local economy bringing them closer to mainstream markets, universalising access to education, medical facilities and other social infrastructure. 

4. Reduce motoring costs. 

5. Increasing deterrent against the enemy at Bharat’s borders. From a military perspective, the border with Tibet is much more accessible now; it is possible to move troops, machinery and arms quicker to potential areas of conflict. 

6. Tourists will find the task of reaching popular destinations like Tawang less daunting a task, and their fears of being stranded en route or at Tawang a distant memory. Taxi drivers will do more trips and earn more money.


According to Yankee Homestay in Tawang the Sela Tunnel will reduce travelling time and uncertainty for tourists who came to Tawang. It would also reduce prices of groceries during winters because stocks from plains shall reach. 


A school officer from Assam who travels to Tawang often says the tunnel will provide, “All weather and risk free journey (otherwise there used to be days when we could not cross Sela Pass due to snowfall and icy roads).”

View of drive down from Sela Pass. September 2013. 

But ardent motorists will recall with nostalgia the flow of adrenalin in driving up the tricky hairpin roads – with deep valleys – and the sensation of driving above the clouds. We will miss the biting cold and searing winds atop Sela, and more so the ink-blue waters of the Sela Lake, which turned white, frozen in the winter. For many, Sela was also the place where they experienced snowfall for the first time in their lives. 

Sela Lake. Courtesy author. 

Roads not only bridge distances, help safeguard borders, but also help local economies scale new heights in productivity and access to markets and social infrastructure. The Sela Tunnel is one of many initiatives that are transforming India’s North East and bringing them closer to the Rest of India like never before.


The significant achievements culminating with this Sela Tunnel shall be a great boost too to Bharat’s confidence and capabilities, and will hopefully ensure that we will never again face the humiliation of 1962.


Author H V Kumar     runs a very popular Facebook page on road travel. “There is nobody as expert as HV Kumar (HVK) on knowledge about Indian Highways and Automotive Transport. The magnitude and the detailing of precious and up to date information he has is mind boggling and absolutely unmatched.” To access FB page click HERE


To read all articles by author


Also see albums

1. Sela Pass

2. Drive to Tawang

3. Jaswantgarh Memorial is 18 kms from Sela Pass

4. Sela Tunnel – Key strategic infrastructure near LAC


Editor Notes – Phone number of Yankee Homestay in Tawang 91 82569 58949. 

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