You might have watched Manjhi-The Mountain Man, a film that features the true story of Dasarath Manjhi who works as a labourer in an undeveloped village in India. In the film, Manjhi, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, builds roads in his village after his wife dies while crossing a rocky hill.
When Manjhi set out to build a road in his village, he was called a madman. Undeterred, he embarked on his mission with a hammer and pickaxe in hand, determined to build a road that would prevent others from experiencing the same fate as his wife.
Nepal has its own mountain man. He goes by the name of Chandrabir Oli. Like Manjhi, Oli, from Tulsipur in Dang, has been building roads for the past few years.
Not put off by the challenges, he took up the task of building a road to his home. His sole purpose was and still is to create a safe and accessible route for his blind wife and six blind children, ensuring their journey back home is free from obstacles and danger.
For the love of his children
Like most Nepalis living in remote areas of Karnali province, Chandrabir Oli, 72, left the country to work in India. He returned to Nepal aged 48 and decided to get married to a blind woman from his village.
Following their marriage, the two decided to relocate to Sattale of Dang from Salyan where they welcomed their first child who was born with visual impairment.
As the years passed, Chandrabir Oli and his wife were blessed with five more children, all of whom were born blind.
“I do not know why this happened to me,” he says. “Maybe god had a plan for me.”
Chandrabir Oli and his wife were overjoyed to welcome their youngest son into the world without any visual impairments, bringing them immense happiness and relief. He was so happy, he even recalls thanking him for blessing his child.
Oli’s house stands amidst the forest, shrouded in silence. The presence of wild animals poses a constant risk. But, the biggest hurdle they encountered was the absence of a road connecting their home, making accessibility extremely challenging.
To get home, they had to go through steep slopes which was hard for his blind wife and children. That always worried him as he was often unsure of how they would return home.
He wanted to do something about this and despite being over 50, he set a plan to build a road to his doorstep by craving the hills with nothing but a pickaxe in hand.
That was not going to be an easy task. The hill was steep and full of rocks and he was not as strong as he was during his youth. But he had the courage and the will to do this for his family. Even at that age, Chandrabir Oli felt responsible for his family and did something people called him mad for.
Chandrabir Marga and Chandrabir’s wish
He started digging the road in 2017. He left home at 9 am every morning, dig through hills and return home at 5 pm. Engaged in household chores before and after his departure, Oli was occupied.
This was his routine for two whole years. He was determined to build a road to his home and he continuously dug without thinking about the weather. The summer heat did not stop him. Neither did the monsoon rain or the cold of the winter. He did not care if people called him mad or brave. He wanted to do this for his family and that determination got him going.
During his road-building endeavours, Chandrabir Oli encountered various challenges, including injuries to his hands and legs, occasional tumbles, and even a serious illness. At one point, he fell ill with pneumonia after being drenched in rain. Despite these setbacks, he persevered and overcame the hurdles with determination, consistently pushing forward towards his goal.
People from the village saw the old man toil hard in the sun and rain, but no one helped. But he did not care.
“I asked people for help. But they said I was mad and resorted to humiliating me,” he says.
That did not dishearten him. He carried on and showed people in the village what sheer will and determination can do as he completed his project all by himself.
The road he built is called Chandrabir Marga. The local government heard about his endeavours and later helped widen the road.
Not only did Chandrabir Oli successfully connect his own residence to the road, but he went even further by extending it to Khamari, which was located 2 kilometres away from his house.
The road has now become accessible for cars and motorbikes, providing a convenient transportation route where it was difficult for people to walk.
Now, people who called him a madman use the route he paved. Even though none of these people helped him, Oli does not hold grudges.
“I did this for my children. Their love gave me strength. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have dared to dig the road.”
Thanks to the road that Chandrabir Oli built, his children have been able to travel to Kathmandu for their higher education. This newfound accessibility has empowered them to become independent and pursue their academic goals.
The road is so dear to him, he continues to look after it even to this day. Every time a landslide blocks the road, he goes out and clears it. He takes it upon himself to repair and clear the rocks and soil that fall during landslides along the road. He is selfless as he does not want anyone travelling on Chandrabir Marg to face difficulties.
“The road will be better if it is extended and gravelled,” says Oli.
The road to him is like one of his children as he hopes the rural municipality will fulfil his dream and blacktop the road.
“I have appealed to the local government for the maintenance of the road. But they have ignored me,” he says adding no one cares about the road.
This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.