|An aerial view of the road meandering through Patratu Valley, which is a weekend getaway for many in Ranchi, and (above) loose boulders loom over passing vehicles in Ramgarh on Wednesday. Pictures by Prashant Mitra
For a state guilty of offering bone-rattling rides, the newly laid Ranchi-Patratu Road is a perfect face-saver.
The Rs 450-crore revamped state highway, which became operational a month ago, boasts two to four wide lanes, has cut down travel time between towns by less than half and is no longer a soft target for ambush gangs.
But, there is a sinister catch: exactly half of this smooth as silk 40km stretch is flanked by metamorphic rocks embedded in loose topsoil, which frequently respond to vibration with landslips.
If local residents are to be believed, boulders have rolled down the Patratu Valley more than half a dozen times ever since the road was opened to traffic. Fortunately, there have been no casualties.
To corroborate ground reality, The Telegraph team took a ride from Ranchi on Wednesday. The peril zone precisely starts 20km from the capital and close to Pithoria Hill on way to Patratu. Boulders were seen encroaching upon the road, while soil and pebbles littered a lengthy stretch, suggesting a recent landslip. Giant rocks loomed over the road for the entire 20km from the valley to Patratu proper.
“So far, we have just seen landslips, which are misfortunes of a much smaller magnitude. If the problem of loose soil and rocks is not addressed immediately, a landslide will happen. And it may cost lives. Not just private cars, crowded long-distance buses too take this road to reach Ramgarh town (64km from Ranchi) and Hazaribagh (100km from Ranchi). The road may become a grave for passengers,” said Ganesh Reddy, the state representative for National Protection of Child Rights who takes this road every weekend to visit his parents in Patratu.
Ranchi-based government employee S. Chakraborty, who took a trip to the picturesque valley town with his family last Saturday, had a close shave. “We were returning from Patratu in the afternoon and stopped at a splendid spot for a family photo shoot. We had barely said cheese when loose boulders came rolling down. We scurried for cover. It was a narrow escape,” he said.
Chief engineer of the state road construction department Patwari Soren, who exercises jurisdiction over this key Ranchi-Patratu link, expressed ignorance but promised action. “I have no idea about rocks falling on the road. If such a problem indeed exists, I will personally inspect the site and find a solution. We can raise a concrete boundary or fix nets to ensure safety of travellers,” he said.
If Soren walks the talk, Jharkhand’s potholed image will indeed receive a facelift. For, apart from the valley curse, this multi-crore state highway is remarkable for many reasons.
Vehicles can attain top gear as soon as they cross city limits and hit the picturesque road, which snakes through Kanke, where construction is still on, and Nagri, Pithoria and the breathtaking Patratu Valley.
Moreover, the road, which varies from two to four lanes, was built by Gujarat-based Monte Carlo Construction Limited and is a traveller’s delight because it cuts short long and tiresome journey hours.
“It was not so long ago that the Ranchi-Patratu Road was a pockmarked mess. Driving was a nightmare. It used to take more than two hours to cover just 40km. Now, you can reach your destination in about half an hour,” Reddy said, adding that only a boulder buffer zone was quickly needed to maintain its new-found glory.
The activist further pointed out that the highway had become safer since the revamp. “Good and wide roads ensure better visibility. It is no longer easy for criminal gangs to ambush passenger buses or cars because they can speed away if they sense any threat unlike earlier when the road was riddled with craters,” he said.
Shambhu Singh, a resident of Patratu, said tourism too had received a boost. “The footfall is heavy every weekend now. People come to visit the dam. Many just park their vehicle near the valley for a family picnic. Hope things stay the way they are,” he added.
Have you had a narrow escape on this state highway?