The smoothest roads in the Himalayas
In a series of drives across the country putting together the anniversary issue, I've realised two things. First is that Mumbai, the city I reside in, has the worst roads to be found anywhere in the country. For the financial capital of India the roads look more like this city was the boondocks of the nation. It's a city that has been at the mercy of various politicians and corporators who for personal gain have used infrastructure development as a tool to line their deep pockets.
Second there are no better builders of roads in India than the BRO or the Border Roads Organisation. This month I have driven on roads they have built as far east as Andaman and as far north as Ladakh. In fact before I got to Andaman I did not have the slightest inkling they built roads that far away from the mainland. This organisation is easily the best at connecting dots on a map found in remote, inhospitable and often inaccessible regions. Their work is widespread reaching not just the borders of our country but also aiding foreign nations build networks within their borders as well. And this happens principally because a majority if not all of the work is related to the defence sector. The army calls the shots in these regions and they are the ones who specify the kind of network required.
So if I had to relate those two observations, the conclusion is simple, get the defence sector to specify the type of roads this nation needs and ensure they are the ones running QC. I guarantee this country would drive much smoother than it does right now.
After the drive through Ladakh, I'm completely convinced that some of the roads in those regions are in my opinion better than what I have seen or driven on globally. I'd even go as far and say that there is no finer road than the stretch between Leh and Kargil anywhere in the world. The surface quality is almost blemishless, the linearity and smoothness of the curves impeccable, the gradients sensational and of course amidst all that scenic beauty and the thrill of knowing just how close to the edge you could be sometimes, it's hard to find a road in all of India that could compare to this. And to think these roads are also all made of bitumen, not concrete or the ridiculous paver blocks that have ruined my city.
This road connecting Leh to Kargil is nirvana! Ask any petrolhead who's been there and watch as their eyes close in rapture.
All of the Himalayan roads are marvels of engineering given the kind of challenges that crop up every year. Forget the altitude, just the immensity of those mountains and the landslides they create to completely eradicate months of work chills the blood. Browsing through the hundreds of images shot by Suresh and Varun for the IQD showed us just how precarious and insignificant mankind is in the face of those mountains. One landslide and everything in its path gets chewed up like taffy. Then there is the snow and the resultant melt in the summer months which washes out the surface beneath the roads. On the IQD we passed through several water crossings and then reached one just before the camping grounds at Pangong where the flow was so strong it spilt over a rock and formed a wall of water nearly seven feet high. As it ran down that mountainside, it carried along with it boulders the size of Nepal which kept crashing on to the road chipping away at it slowly. Ensuring connectivity in these situations is a huge challenge. Yet, every year that I go back to Ladakh I still see either some semblance of a road or more often these days a fantastic ribbon of tarmac stretching for miles. I have to hand it to the BRO, they certainly know the importance of a road and the role it plays in developing a nation.
The BRO also constructs roads for the defense sector in Rajasthan, the North East, Gujarat and Andaman. These are some of the most incredible roads I've ever had the pleasure of driving on and it's a must on your bucket list if driving or riding is your thing. You just have to go there and experience these roads to believe them.
And here is the icing on top of it all, for using these incredible roads no one who travels on them has ever paid a single rupee in toll.