Force Magazine

Road to Mana

Landslides and avalanches are part of life for ITBP forces posted on the border in Uttarakhand

By Dilip Kumar Mekala

Rishikesh/Joshimath/Mana: On July 20, at around 12.30 pm, this correspondent was stuck in an unusual situation. Few kilometers away from the planned destination of Mana (the last Indian village) in Uttarakhand, the road was cut off. At first sight, the scene was rather alarming. There was a massive chunk of snow that was washed down from the mountain and it brought rocks and sand along with it, completely blocking the road. Since it was in the afternoon and the temperature was shooting up to 18 degrees Centigrade, the residual snow in the mountains was fast melting, and as such water gushing down was hindering the efforts of a few good men trying to clear up the road. As the temperature soared, the situation threatened to worsen.

ITBP soldiers are trained in various kinds of skiing such as Alpine skiing and Nordic skiing (cross country)

“This is an avalanche prone area in winters, and vulnerable to landslides in summer months”, said one person involved in the road clearing work. “This could take all day. I suggest you be prepared to go back, just in case”, he added. Going back was certainly not an option for this journalist who travelled for two days from Delhi to reach that point, only to get stuck just a couple of kilometres away from Mana. One option was to leave the vehicle behind and simply cross the landslide area on foot to reach the destination. But the strong flow of water didn’t make it possible for anyone to cross.

By 2 pm, the efforts to clear the road picked up pace. Two bulldozers from General Reserve Engineering Force (GREF) were hard at work. GREF, which comes under the ministry of surface and transport, is an execution force of Border Roads Organisation (BRO) that is constantly working to repair roads in the rocky hills of Uttarakhand. The challenges for those engineering service officers in GREF (and BRO) are enormous as they have to deal with landslides on a daily basis. The GREF has a team of civil, electrical and mechanical engineers.

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