He was ridiculed in 1959 when he started hewing a way through the Gahlaur Ghati hills of Bihar’s Gaya district, some 150 km from Patna. It would take 22
years for Dashrath Manjhi to finish his 360ft-long, 30ft-wide road — little wonder, for he worked alone, his sole tools his chisel,hammer and shovel. What was once a precarious passage just a foot wide is now an avenue that can accommodate cyclists and motorcyclists and is used by the people of nearly 60 villages with great ease. The road has also reduced the distance between Gaya’s Atri and Vazirganj subdivisions from 50km to just 10km. Children from Manjhi’s own Gahlaur and other nearby villages no longer have to walk eight kilometres one way to attend school — they can now study at a school just three km away.
Before Manjhi’s road, the hill kept the villages of the region in isolation, forcing the villagers to make an arduous and dangerous trek just to reach the nearest market town, or even their own fields. In 1959, Manjhi recounted, this resulted in a family tragedy on the treacherous slope. “My wife, Faguni Devi, was seriously injured while crossing the hill to bring me water; I worked then on a farm across the hills. That was the day I decided to carve out a proper road through this hill,” he told us. The mission he had set himself meant that he had to drop his wage-earning daily work — his family suffered and he himself often went without food. But his wife was not to see the fruits of his labour — a short while later, she fell ill and died as Manjhi could not get her to the hospital in time. “My love for my wife was the initial spark that ignited in me the desire to carve out a road. But what kept me working without fear or worry all those years was the desire to see thousands of villagers crossing the hill with ease whenever they wanted,” Manjhi said. “Though most villagers taunted me at first, there were quite a few who lent me support later by giving me food and helping me buy my tools.” Today, the villagers have nothing but gratitude for Gaya’s mountain man, known almost universally now as Sadhuji.