MUMBAI: From Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra comes the story of another 'Mountain Man', who like the more famous Dashrath Manjhi, took on the task of cutting hills to build roads.
The 84-year-old Rajaram Bhapkar, a former teacher at Gundegaon village in Ahmednagar district, has cut through seven hills in last 57 years to make 40-km roads and is a respected across the region for his feat.
Bhapkar, known affectionately as 'Bhapkar Guruji', looks a simple villager, clad in a white shirt and pajama and sporting a 'Gandhi' cap. However, beneath that simplicity lies a steely resolve, which moved the mountains, literally.
"At the time of Independence, there was not even a 'paywat' (walking trail) connecting Gundegaon to adjoining village," Bhapkar, who has studied till seventh standard in Modi language, said.
When Bhapkar, who worked in zilla parishad school between 1957 to 1991, was working at Kolegaon, people from his villages had to cross three villages to reach there.
Bhapkar remembers asking government authorities to build a road cutting across the 700 meter high Santosha hill.
With no help forthcoming, he embarked on a journey of grit and determination, which 57 years later would result in seven roads, altogether 40-km long, linking his village to the adjoining villages. Earlier, the route to Kolegaon via Deulgaon was 29 km long. The distance became just 10 km after Bhapkar, through sheer grit, cut through the hill and made a kuchcha road.
He paid wages from his pocket to those who accompanied him in the road work. "I used to spend half my salary on their wages," Not a single rupee from the government has been spent on the road work," he adds.
"In 1968 not even a cycle could pass through the earlier walking trail. Now, big vehicles ply on this road," a villager said. He completed the road in 1997.
Bhapkar said he spent his entire post retirement earning and pension to fund the road work. Besides working with spade and shovel, he also hired heavy duty excavator machines for expediting the road work.