By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer
Dear Mr Gadkari:
We congratulate you for choosing Japanese and Swiss expertise in developing a network of roads in our Himalayas.
We have not travelled in the mountain roads of Japan but we have done extensive and repeated journeys in Switzerland’s superb Alpine highways. These magnificent roads don’t wind up mountains, they bore through them in superb tunnels. They do not sweep down to the bottom of gorges, they span them on bridges that look as beautiful as silken threads and are yet able to withstand the worst of storms.
As students of history we are aware that Surface Transport has always been the throbbing circulatory system of all great civilizations. The Roman Empire was sustained by the famed Roman Roads with their superb highway facilities. Our own Mughal Roads, with their kos minars and highway stations with serais were replaced by the British road network and their Dak Bungalows, Inspection Bungalows and Rest Houses.
As for the great civilisations of the Andes, originally were the duties of road repair enforced on villages, that long after the powerful Central Governments fell, the mountain villages kept maintaining their allotted segments of the highways as if it had become an inherited obligation!
Sadly, Mr Gadkari, the roads leading to our high Himalayan villages in Garhwal, have fallen into disrepair strangled in a Catch 22 situation. It is no longer worthwhile for mule trains to trudge along our narrow pagdandis because Uttarakhandi village products are no longer fashionable; and village products cannot be promoted because there are very few, if any, mule trains surviving. A mule train is a row of mules linked tail to head under one or more muleteers.
In other words, it is not just that lack of a road network that creates our distressed Ghost Villages, it is also the absence of suitable transport.
The creation of suitable transport has always speeded up development. Henry Ford’s Model T, mass produced on an assembly line, did much to democratise the American Dream. Adolf Hitler realised that he would garner mass votes if he put wheels under the aspiring lower middle class. He ordered German luxury car makers to create such a vehicle. The Volkswagen, literally the “Peoples” Car was born. The Jeep was, originally, the GP, General Purpose, car for WWII US troops. And then there was our own surface transport, Herald, was broken by the Japanese Maruti because the second son of the Prime Minister failed to create a car of his own. The Maruti 800 released a boom of Indian Middle-class travel aspirations along with the two-wheeler Vespa and Lambretta.
We need such a surface transport boom today to tap the potential of our Himalayas, as well as to bring essential services to those neglected villages above the accessible 2,000 metre altitude.
We visualise a quad-bike with an enclosed body which can be adapted to carry passengers, goods and medical services. This should be powered by a powerful engine and four gears including a reverse. In addition… and this is the difficult part … this should have a hybrid engine capable of running on solar power, biogas generated in villages and hydrogen produced by the electrolysis of water.
Such a vehicle has not been invented as yet. But if your Ministry offers a suitable reward then there are certainly many geniuses in our diverse land who can design one. When that is done, the export potential will be unlimited greatly, and permanently, enhancing the prestige of India.
We suggest that you call it the KhacCHar or The Mule. The inserted CH capital letters give it a unique identity.
An impossible dream? Perhaps. But then we did make the sun set on the British Empire!
With our Regards,
Hugh and Colleen Gantzer.
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 halfhour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who was a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)