The old-timers of Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram districts could me familiar with the Varkala tunnel. But the new generation may not know the tale and significance of the 150-year-old tunnel.
The tunnel, in the Varkala municipality in Thiruvananthapuram district, is built under a huge rock. The tunnel comprises two passages, namely, Sivagiri passage and Chilakkoor passage.
One is 722 metre long and the other 350 m. The passages, also known as Varkala Thuruthu, were built by the British. It was built under the supervision of the then Dewan of Travancore Sir T Madhava Rao. The construction started by mid-1860 and took 14 years to complete. It was part of the TS Canal or the Travancore State Canal, a major inland waterway of the early 20th century Kerala.
Before Kerala became a state and later part of the Indian union, the canal was used to transport of men and material from Thiruvananthapuram to Kollam.
Of late, the tunnel came to disrepair and it got blocked due to falling debris and earth. Now, the government is taking steps to revive the tunnel.
In the 350-m Chilakkoor stretch, dredging work had been undertaken. Sludge is being removed too.
Next September, the work on the canal would be completed and a boat service would be started. The inside would be reinforced with concrete. Painting and maintenance would be taken up subsequently.
The work on renovation of the Sivagiri tunnel is also expected to start soon. The tunnel is part of the 58-km long canal which opens out into the Ashtamudi after coursing through Akkulam, Kadinamkulam, Chirayinkeezhu, Anchuthengu, and Nadayara.
The work is being taken up with renewed vigour after earlier attempts as early as in 2014 to revive it, had reached nowhere.
In 2016, the state government had sought the help of Metroman E. Sreedharan to revive the tunnel. In 2006, the then Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan had undertaken a boat ride in the canal to make a first-hand assessment.
The Varkala canal, on completion, will be part of the larger Kovalam-Kollam-Kottappuram-Kasaragod inland waterway project. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had stated that the project would be completed by 2020.