…“Life is not easy,” he confesses, “but when people come from far away to talk to me about my work, I get a deep sense of satisfaction.”
“If one day the Land Rover disappears, the part of Manibangjang will disappear with it.” …
In 2004, drivers formed the Singalila Land Rover Owners Association, with Chandan Pradhan as president. I met him in the family room behind his grocery store.
He told me that the main purpose of setting up the association is to benefit the drivers. For example, when one of the drivers gets sick or needs medical treatment, all the other members will raise money together and loan him interest-free.
The association has developed a fair money-making mechanism for 42 members: all drivers are listed as one round, and everyone queues up to transport goods up the mountain in turn, and each person can start a new round after completing one round. The partnership worked—now, all the drivers’ kids went to school.
“It’s not just money for the children’s schooling, but also money for gifts for the wife. These old Land Rovers make everything possible,” Chandan said, although the local government has proposed banning them because they don’t meet modern emission standards. These old cars hit the road, but Changdan believes that there is room for change based on some strong support from “higher levels”.
Even the local border police enlist these Land Rovers to resupply outposts. Because in terms of safety and reliability, they are irreplaceable.
Chandan is the president of the local drivers association. The association is dedicated to the welfare of drivers.
The government also proposed a plan to repair all the remaining sections of the road, so that some small-displacement vehicles can also drive up the mountain to Sundakpu. But as far as I know, the program is not well received by the locals. Dawa Tenzin is one of the youngest Land Rover drivers in Manipanjang.
He is a well-spoken college graduate, but he chose to return to his hometown to follow in his father’s footsteps. “It’s true that most of the remote villages in India are trying to build better roads, but the road to Sundakpur should retain its challenging original look,” Tenzing said.
“People come here for the adventure, and this rugged mountain road is a big part of the adventure. If it’s fixed so that even a hatchback can go through it, more tourists will come here .While more tourists means more money, it also means more pollution, noise and trash. The town loses its charm. The road must remain difficult because otherwise If you do, these Land Rovers will disappear. At that time, a part of Manipanjan will also disappear.”
I have to agree with him. During the three days I stayed here, I really saw how the Land Rover Series 1 changed the fate of this small town. Like other small towns in the Himalayas, it might have been forgotten in obscurity. It is the Land Rover Series 1 that gives the Manibangjang its special allure.
Tenzin hoped that this mountain road would continue its original style in order to protect the unique characteristics of this small town.
Text: OUSEPH CHACKO
Image: SAM BARKER