India

In pictures: Building India's high roads

India's Ladakh region lies in the midst of the Himalayas and is accessed through a network of high altitude roads.

These roads are used mostly by the military to ferry supplies to and from their numerous bases that are spread around the region.

Building mountain roads in Ladakh, known as the land of high passes, is a test of endurance and a constant battle against exhaustion.

The air is thin and oxygen levels are extremely low, making manual labour difficult and potentially hazardous. Between 1987 and 2002, more than 119 workers have died and many more have been severely injured while building roads here.

Photographers Arko Datto and Rahul Dhankani chronicle the lives of people who work on some of the world's highest roads.

Image copyright Rahul dhankani

Temperatures frequently drop below freezing and the remote region is cut off from the rest of the world for almost seven months of the year, lying buried beneath several feet of snow.

Image copyright Arko datto

At this camp for road workers, migrant labourers from the far-flung states of West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand stay during the summer months, working on stretches of road. The camp is located at 16,000ft (5,000m) above sea level. Even in the summer, night-time temperatures drop below freezing and snowfall is common.

Image copyright Rahul Dhankani

Workers are provided accommodation in makeshift camps. The canvas tents prove to be severely inadequate against the chilly Himalayan winds.

Image copyright Rahul Dhankani

Workers travel to and from their camps in open trucks along with construction materials.

Image copyright Rahul Dhankani

Workers take a few minutes of rest from construction work on the road to Khardung La - the "world's highest motorable road". More than 70,000 migrant workers travel ever year from India's eastern plains to altitudes of 12,000ft-18,000ft (3,657m-5, 486m) to construct and maintain some of the world's highest roads.

Image copyright Rahul dhankani

A child worker from Bihar prepares a new stretch of road. This road is an important connection for military and tourist traffic.

Image copyright Arko datto

A worker drags a bag of cement to a construction site near Tanglang La, a high mountain pass.

Image copyright Rahul Dhankani

Workers stand atop a small bridge they are constructing over a stream. Existing roads are broken down by landslides and melting ice and need constant maintenance. Often, they are not provided with proper clothing and have to make do with what they have.

Image copyright Rahul Dhankani

Road workers take a mid-day break for lunch before resuming work near Khardung La. The road from Khardung La leads to the Siachen glacier, which is claimed by India and Pakistan and is dubbed the world's highest battlefield.

Image copyright Rahul dhankani

Exhausted workers rest inside their tent on a day off. The holiday is used for bathing, washing clothes, making phone calls to family back home and relaxing.

Image copyright Arko datto

A migrant worker from West Bengal plays a tune on a flute he created out of a plastic pipe found at a construction site.

Image copyright Arko datto

Two workers from Bihar at a road construction material manufacturing site. These sites are extremely hazardous because of the extreme amount of particulate matter in the air and the lack of safety gear.

Image copyright Arko datto

A worker at a construction site uses ski goggles and a handkerchief as a face mask to protect himself from smoke and debris.

Image copyright Arko datto

Sheikh Inam and Inam Ahmed hail from Bihar and run a little snack shop from their one room apartment which they have been renting in Skampari area in Leh, every summer for the past 20 years. Leh is the main town in the Ladakh region.

Image copyright Arko Datto

Workers prepare dinner in a rented quarter in Skampari. Skampari houses the largest population of migrant labourers in Ladakh.

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