Monday, 18 January 2016

Working in India (Part 1)

Fifteen years ago, in January 2001, I was leaving Northern India where I had spend the better part of two years living, and working on the Nathpa Jhakri Hydroelectric Project. Working for a Canadian construction company that was in a Joint Venture with an Indian firm, I had arrived in India in February 1999, less than a year after graduation from university. It was a bit of an eye opening experience to say the least. 

About five years ago, I posted many of my photos (scanned film and digital both) to my Smugmug site, but for this anniversary I thought I would post some of my favourite images here over the next few weeks. I will start with some of the general scenery that I captured on my trips to and from site.

Traffic in New Delhi, with what I believe is an abandoned mosque in the background. Check out the advert sign in the top right.
I didn't spend much time in New Delhi, as it was only a stopping point on the way back and forth to the project site. I would fly into Delhi, usually from Frankfurt, and stay a day or two at the company's accommodation house. Depending on the time of year that I was there, it was either comfortable (January/February) or inhumanly hot and humid (July/August). From Delhi, I was usually driven (always with a driver, I only drove there once myself) north to either Chandigarh or Shimla to spend the night (though once took the train to Chandigarh). The dual carriageway highway from Delhi to Chandigarh took 6 hours and was not for the faint of heart

Not a great photo, but check out the approaching headlights: a car going the wrong way on the divided highway.
Although to me just another stopping point on my journey, Chandigarh is a "planned city" which Wikipedia indicates was "completed" in 1960. The master plan was prepared by Le Corbusier and others. From Chandigarh, I would head up to Shimla on National Highway 22, a climb of 4 hours.

Approaching Shimla.
As I can attest, the climate in Delhi is not terribly comfortable for northerners, and the British apparently agreed with my assessment - they moved their capital in summer to Shimla, up in the mountains. I'm not sure Shimla was my idea of comfortable in the height of summer either, but at least it was less stifling than Delhi.

From Shimla, the trip to the project site continued on NH 22, and took either 6 hours (if a certain mountain pass wasn't closed by snow) or up to 12 hours if the road conditions dictated. NH 22 starts to behave somewhat like a snake on acid between Narkand and Bithal, and I suspect it was this section of highway that we avoided by heading up into the mountains. I had to take the lower road, and longer journey, at least once that I remember.

The workers camp at Jhakri, not far from the powerhouse (which was built under a separate contract by an Italian firm).
In contrast to the divided highway between Delhi and Chandigarh, NH 22 is a two lane (sometimes single lane) road that snakes its way along the Satluj River on its way to the project site and beyond. This road, too, is not for the faint of heart. Somewhere between Chandigarh and Shimla I would take off my seatbelt, on the theory that it became more important to exit the vehicle quickly if things went wrong than to be restrained from injury in an accident. Case in point:

View from NH 22 looking down at the Satluj River, with another road on the other side.
Thankfully, I never had to test that theory. In some places, the engineering that went into constructing this road was obvious and impressive.

NH 22 approaching Sholding. The office location is in the distance.
The rock in the Himalayas tends to be of fairly poor quality (e.g. soft), as the mountains are relatively new and time and nature haven't had as much time to wear them down (as they have with the Rockies). Travelling through these partial tunnels could be a bit nerve-racking.

After many sights such as the above, which apparently featured in a season of "Ice Road Truckers" (which I haven't seen), NH 22 arrives in Sholding (where the office was) and continues up to Nathpa (where the dam is) and beyond. 

Sholding (bottom left) and Ponda (upper right).
From Sholding, a small road switchbacks up the mountain to the expat camp at Ponda. Every work day during my two years there, I would make the trip down from Ponda in the morning to Sholding, and back in the evening. After that arduous first trip to Ponda, though, I was greated with a beautiful view from what would be my home for the next two years.

The view from my room (summer edition).
The view from my room (winter edition).
It may be these views that I miss the most from my time there.

Looking south.
Looking north.
It was always hard for me to understand that these were just the foothills of the Himalayas. 

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