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The man who singlehandedly carved a road through a mountain (wikipedia.org)
483 points by wr1472 on Sept 22, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 96 comments

I wish I could find a satellite map of the road cut into the mountain, I'm having a hard time appreciating how this path was able to cut 67 km out of the journey.

It's linked from the Wikipedia article. https://maps.google.com/maps?q=24.877093,85.242956&t=h&#...

Another link in the article pointed to Topomapper which had the best map, in my opinion - an old Yahoo! map. (If you also want to find Atri, it's on the OSM and Bing maps).


So it is. Doh, I just spent 15 minutes tracking it down (and I didn't quite get it right - there's another cutting through the same ridge a bit south west which I guess is newer). Here [1] is a 3D diagram in a video (not English) about it, with the nearest town labelled Vazirganj. It's Wazirganj on Google maps, south of the cutting, so Gahlour must be the small village to the north west.

[1] http://youtu.be/3E84EIKlY4g?t=3m8s

I had some time to kill so I downloaded Google Earth but still wasn't able to find the village "Gahlour". However, I was able to verify that the distance from the mentioned coordinate and "Wazirganj" is indeed ~8Km as stated by Wikipedia.

Google Earth screenshot for those obsessed by this story too: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/2336184/24.877093%2C85.242956.jpg

Terrain mode shows it more clearly: https://maps.google.com/maps?q=24.877093,85.242956&ll=24...

(you'll want to view all of the maps linked to in this sub-thread)

Okay, I give up. I can't figure out where the original 75km came from looking at the google map.

Here you can see a long road around the mountain http://www.topomapper.com/index.html?lat=24.87709&lon=85... (thanks, sesqu)

Title is misleading. In your second link, it could be seen that Dashrath Manjhi carved using two hands.

Hands are people who work with their hands; thus "hired hands" are hired workers, or hired sailors. These uses have existed for over 300 years.

There is one person working, thus a single hand. (Albeit that single hand has two hands.)

Hahaha, good one :)

Some people just don't have a sense of humour... but they surely aren't lacking the downvote rights.

The comment above added nothing to the discussion and should be downvoted, just like yours.

And yours?

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." --George Bernard Shaw

<pedant> I've always disliked this quote. One, it's a false dilemma. Two, it could just as easily apply to criminals as it could to innovators, but I wouldn't call that "progress."

I will grant that if the quote applies anywhere it applies here. </pedant>

All progress depends on the unreasonable man. However, not all unreasonable men are responsible for progress.

Everything you can say about an entrepreneur, you can say about a talented criminal.

Only difference is the direction of effort.

There is a famous Chinese four character idiom about exactly this scenario: 愚公移山 (Yu gong yi shan), or "the foolish old man moves the mountain". Here's a link to the (short) translation of this story: http://english.cri.cn/4426/2007/01/15/167@185195.htm . I particularly like the role of the "wise man " in this story, who is actually the naysayer here. The names of the people in the story illustrate the common perception of these two roles: the old man YuGong's name means "foolish old man", and "Zhi Sou" means "wise old man". Who's the foolish one after all?

Great story. I was a little disappointed that in the end god actually moved the mountain. I can see religious people missing the entire point of the story.

This is the literal deus ex machina.

On a similar note, few months ago I posted https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3827675 (Indian Man Single-Handedly Plants a 1,360 Acre Forest)

So everybody agreed this was a good idea and that the road was necessary, yet nobody bothered to help this guy? He's a very self-driven guy.

agreed - wish someone would have built a public works project around him, and built that road in a year instead of his entire life...

We are talking about a remote village in india's most corrupt region. He was lucky no government official asked for bribe.

Yep. Every person who knows India would find it incredible too until they see that it happened in Bihar.

It's sort of like Florida for Americans, except imagine that Florida was still under feudalism.

No analogy exist in the known western world. To do so would be an injustice to the word 'corruption'. In fact there is so much corruption in india, we should invent the new word for it, more like "Slow Cannibalism".

How about corrosion? It implies the society is being more or less eaten away by a corrupting influence.

That is India for you!

Here he is standing next to his road: http://s3.hubimg.com/u/3993454_f520.jpg

And a video about this original Minecraft player: http://gktalk.blogspot.de/2011/08/man-from-gahlour-dashrath-...

An english captioned version of the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z57-0Pb4IZw

You want to have TWO videos running in parallel because the captions cover the whole video at times.

Also, I noticed that he's wearing some sort of white "bandana" with writings, can anyone care to translate it if it's readable enough from one of the pictures posted above?

--- Improved phrasing.

Part of the writing on his head gear seems to be his name. You can clearly see "Dashrath" in Hindi(His name is Dashrath Manji). I suspect the rest of the writing is a concise description of his achievement, including the dimensions of the road.

Wow a real-life John Henry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Henry_%28folklore%29

(though I suppose the legend is based on amazing real workers)

John Henry is based on a real man, though his story has been embellished with time, and some of the details are uncertain. Most historians, at least in WV, have little doubt that he did exist.

If you look at the Wikipedia page on Tall Tales, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tall_tale, it even has him marked as being based on a historical indivdual.

Another nice fiction with a similar theme: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitzcarraldo

Reminds me a bit of this tunnel, though it had a rather different motivation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burro_Schmidt_Tunnel

Also similar, but by a group of people: http://www.ssqq.com/archive/vinlin27a.htm (it will not win the 'best site design' or 'best written story' awards, but that site surely does have some gripping content)

(that road featured in BBC's Top Gear about a year ago)

Also interesting village subway by Леонид Мулярчик from Russia, 20 years of elder man's work :




Hand made everything: tunnelling shield, waterproofing, electricity supply and stairs at entrance halls. More than 200 metres of tunnels, including fire-safety tunnel. All grunt removed by shovel and handmade conveyer belt. Guy ever installed security cams and cash register. Only cars and rails remained to make before he died a month after heart attack from visits of journalists. Also he wanted to place water supply and canalization pipes in subway but can not to win over authorities.

That reminds me of my neighbour's wife who on a rainy evening dug a new driveway, with a shovel.

This was a bungalow and on one side was their driveway and on the other was the lawn. She dug back ten meters and down about three meters, by hand, with a shovel, in the rain.

Yes my neighbours are crazy.

She probably planned to do it like that, rain softens the dirt.

I used to use this theory. I now prefer summer, sun and rock hard clay (had to sledge hammer the spade in for the first few cm). Why? Because the destruction you cause tramping clay everywhere is terrible - 2 or 3 kgs stays attached to you and you can't even shake it off the spade. No one who digs clay (as opposed to soil/sand where I don't really have an opinion) would choose to do it in the wet. My 2c. Now I'll go back (quite literally) to finishing this trench before the rain arrives.

I doubt it, they did everything at night.

Kids all milking the government. One daughter with a tube in her nose yet she and her four kids from four men go with her new husband #5 and collect old bikes which they pile up in their Habitat for Humanity free home.

The wife on disability too and morbidly obese supposedly with back problems dead lifting entire BBQs (junk) into the back of a pickup truck.

The father an ex postal worker encouraged to retire after smashing a windows at work (where everyone hated him).

Renting their house but living in an RV on the street, engine blew so they now live in a motel.

I counted 15 cars in their yard, one in working condition, and their have more at their country "compound".

On and on and on.

Watch the movie The Burbs, it could have been filmed next door to me.

This question on Quora has a reference to many such other stories (including this one) http://www.quora.com/What-are-the-most-gripping-stories-in-h...

I admire his persistence and good will. But more importantly this shows how India sucks at having a procedure for its people to request basic needs!

Remember this story when someone goes on and tells you that something can't be done.

This reminds me of that Chinese guy who built stairs up and down a mountain for his wife. Dedication, true dedication.

I wonder how much it would have cost to do this with mining/tunnelling/etc. modern equipment. And whether it would have been cheaper to pay him $10/hr for 22 years of work, or whether the 'modern' way would have cost more.

$10/h is way too much, India's nominal per-capita income is $1219 ($3.33/day) and its poverty threshold (below which a quarter of the population lives) is 40 cents a day. And this is for the mid-00s, not for 1960.

A "normal" pay would probably have been closer to half a dollar to a dollar per day (if even that), 300 days a year or so. So we're talking $3000~$6000 total, tops.

This is basically a big straight trench, so you could probably have done it in a few days or weeks with an excavator. An excavator rental costs between 800 and 3000 a week depending on the excavator class (size and engine power, minis in the 15-40hp range will be at the lower end, the stuff you can see on construction sites will usually be in the 150hp range and closer to the higher third, I'm excluding the ridiculous stuff such as the CAT 6090 or the baggers which make sense in neither scale nor cost for this comparison)

So the purely monetary cost would probably be about the same if you had an excavator close-by which you could rent (and you were a skilled operator).

edit: actually for that kind of works you'd probably use a backhoe loader rather than a straight excavator, but the costs should be in the same range

edit 2: but to answer the question as asked, it would be way cheaper to use even a full-blown set of heavy earth-movers (and crew) than to pay the guy $10/h, 10h/day, 300 days/year for 22 years (which would cost $660k)

I think you might be underestimating the costs of doing it commercially.

Judging from the photos, The mountain looks like one big rock. You would surely need a hydraulic breaker on your backhoe, and the maintenance that would go with it for so much work. Also, it looks like it would be hard to get a backhoe on top of that steep mountain.

I would have thought for something like this, drilling deep holes and shoving in some TNT would be the way to go in order to reduce the solid rock to rubble.

> edit 2: but to answer the question as asked, it would be way cheaper to use even a full-blown set of heavy earth-movers (and crew) than to pay the guy $10/h, 10h/day, 300 days/year for 22 years (which would cost $660k)

Not to mention the lives that could have been saved if the road was built faster with heavy machinery. I wonder how many people died waiting for that road to be built.

If there was no will to build it, then how much longer would it take for the road to be built? How many lives is that road saving now that it might not have if he hadn't built it?

The glass is half full, too, ya know.

If there was no one to build the road, then no one would've built it. It took a personal crisis, self-sacrifice and dedication to carve the road out of the mountain.

He probably saved a lot of lives after it was built, even one life would have been worth his efforts. I was just talking about opportunity costs and if some had helped him, less people would have died/suffered while the road was being built. If heavy machinery was involved, less people would've died waiting or suffered less traveling the long way to medical care.

Oh, I misunderstood your post. You're lamenting that it wasn't done faster - which is true. I thought you were leveling a hacker-ish attack that it was a waste of effort and could have done faster and cheaper, and that the man shouldn't have wasted so many years on something that could have been done trivially. My bad.

"300 days/year"

Why does he get 65 days off a year? This is not North America, Europe or industrialized Asia. Most of day labourers I've spoken to in Asia consider themselves lucky if they get two or three days off a month. At that low level, for most of us, they lose a precious few days of work which is often vital for them to have enough money to eat that day.

> Why does he get 65 days off a year?

Because it's easier to multiply by 300 than by any 340

> Why does he get 65 days off a year?

Because why not (and I know india has quite a lot of religious celebrations which may or may not have holidays attached).

also, sundays alone is 54 days off.

The average US worker apparently takes about 20 days of holiday per year, out of an offered 25, and apparently it is more or less the same for Indians.




Weekends alone are 104 days, in case you forgot about them.

Fair point, but India has a legal maximum of 48 hours a week, though it does not appear to be enforced much and it seems quite hard to find any figures.

Everything I can find seems to indicate that the average US worker does not have a lot of leisure time in comparison to most countries, and also that average working hours does not seem to have a particularly strong correlation with the average wealth of the citizens.

Indians probably do work longer hours on average, but I don't think the gap is that large from what I can tell, though the statistics vary wildly. Forbes for instance has figures that seem to be much lower than other estimates and they claim an average of 25 hours a week for people from the US.




Wages in India are irrelevant, as long as the comparison is made within the same market. The question is one of purchasing-power parity rather than absolute value.

Purchasing-power parity is an approximation, it doesn't take into account the fact that relative prices can be very different depending on the country. E.g., suppose day labourers get paid $15 an hour in developed country X, but only $1.5/h in India. In general you cannot extrapolate that heavy machinery that costs $15000 a week in X will cost only $1500 in India.

With the low average pay in India, how did he afford to do it. Did he have his expenses paid by someone else? Food, housing, equipment and (maybe?) power/water. Those costs, while potentially small where he lives, have to add up over decades.

It would be way more expensive with modern equipment because all of the politicians would need to get paid, years of debate, massive overcharging for the crew, equipment. Probably kick-backs to various parties. Opening ceremony where politicians cut the ribbon and take all the credit, etc.

Are you serious? Do you have any doubt modern machinery is faster and cheaper?

40 hours/week * 50 week/year * 20 years * 10 $/hour= = 400000$

Wondering: how many years would it have taken to petition the govt to make the road?

Saw this on metafiltet yesterday, a testament to the human spirit.

It would have been easier to just build an hospital in his town..

What is a hospital with no doctors good for?

I have to admit though, that my first thought on the story was: "Why build the road? Just move to the city!"

In this case, I admire the endurance of this man and pity the destiny of his wife. But in general, the process of bringing more and more infrastructure to ever more remote place is what destroys the natural environment of this planet. I strongly believe in the efficiency of density and scale and that humanity should limit them self to cities. Leave the rest of the planet to other species!

I don't like this sarcasm. If it wasn't, building a hospital has a lot more to do than to just build a building!

Someone's been reading the Quora newsletter.

I would have used dynamite, but to each his own.

I am sure that every poor person in India has the spare money to buy dynamite, the expertise to use it, access to it and the legal permissions. /sarcasm

Why do some people try to denigrate something which is wonderful with smart alecky comments.

yes what this person did was wonderful, but it shouldn't blind us away from what the govt. should have done in the first place. He did the work of an entire department under the Bihar state govt. It is kind of annoying that how the govt. didn't even realize it was their job. It makes me think it didn't because they honored him with a state funeral. They should have established a procedure and let the public know that its their job to do such things and how the public should approach them, instead of just making him a hero; making him just a hero implicitly says that acts like that are _encouraged_.

I originally come from same region this story is about and currently as we stand Bihar is one of the poorest states in India. Much of road work in Gaya district happens courtesy of Japanese govt. funds (Gaya is a popular Buddhist tourist attraction).

Now back in 1960 I can only imagine the chaos the country was in. We just got independence. State and central govts are just figuring out, how to run a country. How to channel funds where the need is most. There is whole bureaucratic and panchayat system which is still being established. Also a state funeral after 47 years hardly can mean anything other than the deed was well done.

Having said all of above, Bihar is still a poor state. Current state govt. is trying but I wouldn't be surprised if similar things happen again. It is not very unusual for entire river bridges to be washed away during some rain and villages to be cut off from rest of the world (even now).

Thank you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate having your local viewpoint!

Of course that's not possible when dynamite isn't available (either by cost or by regulation). Given that the entire village benefits, one always wonders about other people helping out (or not). And of course it is a testament to people just doing what they set out to do, regardless of the personal cost.

I'm reminded of a more modern context in the shape of the Craigslist/Padmapper debate, one guy may have built a new Craigslist right now and is out there signing up people one or two at a time to post on it, and in 20 years that person may carve a new path into classified listings. But who really thinks about embarking on tech projects these days which might take 20 years?

Not a Fight Club fiend, eh?

Is this even relevant to hacker news? I mean I could see that technically he is "hacking" through a mountain, but really?

You are missing the point.

A lot of hacker news is about accomplishing goals that others would tell you is impossible or not worthwhile. This article is meant to inspire to you to keep dreaming. It's one thing to climb a mountain for someone, its a whole other feat of accomplishment to carve a hole through one. The determination this guy had should be taken as a lesson; not in hacking, but in attitude and life and then applied to hacking.

Personally, I find this to be quite inspirational, especially when compared to entrepreneurial endeavors.

While the comparison is mostly metaphorical, often metaphors are more on point than any 1:1 comparison.

man, fuck metaphors, this was awesome. No further justification needed for sharing.

Plus, it's Saturday ;p

Duh, Minecraft.

I did that once as well in Minecraft.

How many points do I need to get downvoting rights?

I passed 500 a couple weeks ago and that's when I got downvoting. I've limited my down votes to comments that were inappropriate or offensive. For a comment like this isn't a lack of up votes enough?

I think you're too nice. Downvote things that made you regret taking the time to read it; flag anything horribly offensive, stupid, etc. It's the only way to keep the community healthy - http://lesswrong.com/lw/c1/wellkept_gardens_die_by_pacifism/.

Squelching all humor, on the other hand, is not a way to keep a community healthy. This just makes it seem humorless and unwelcoming.

Okay ... I guess I have to come clean and admit that the comment did make me smile. In part it was because when I read the headline the first thing I wondered was how many of the comments would mention minecraft.

2 year ago it was 500: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1853529

It may have been increased since (2 years before it was 50: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=438936)

It's still 500

Minecraft is a game (If anybody is not clear, why it's downvoted)

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