Ladakh lies in the midst of the high Himalayas and is accessed through a network of mountain roads. It is a strategic strongpoint for India, with China bordering it to the north and southeast, and Pakistan to the west. These roads are used heavily by the military to ferry supplies to and from its numerous bases that are spread around the region. In recent years Ladakh has also become a tourist hot spot, famed for magnificent mountain views and untouched natural beauty. The roads that lead into this remote mountain region are known to be some of the most extreme driving destinations on the planet. Despite the sub-zero temperatures and being cut off from the rest of the world for more than seven months out of the year, more than 70,000 migrant workers travel each year to altitudes between 12,000 and 18,000 feet above sea level to work on the construction and maintenance of the world’s highest roads. They are a part of a string of migrants who have made the trek to the mountainous region since 1985, when the Indian government first established a project called Himank that was dedicated to the construction and maintenance of road communications in Ladakh under the Indian Army’s civil road engineering department, Border Roads Organization (BRO), which operates a network of over 20,434 miles and counting.
Photographers Rahul Dhankani and Arko Datto, co-founders of the group Lighthouse Projects, present a rich and stunningly beautiful series ‘The High Road’ that documents the arduous work life of migrant laborers constructing some of the world’s highest roads. Over the course of a four month contract, workers — many under-age and from some of India’s poorest regions — work from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. They earn roughly $2.50 per day. Many are not provided with the gear and clothing suitable for the extreme temperatures, and they lack safety equipment. They’ve often traveled far from their families, and won’t see them again for months. The distance is bridged only by brief phone calls back home, done on holidays, and only after a miles-long trek to reach a village with a phone. The existence is excruciating for even the most seasoned construction worker.