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Old 27th March 2009, 18:36   #1
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Default Landslides In Paradise - Lessons In Leadership

A travel story about leadership and life and everyday people:

An hour out of Munsiyari, we noticed that oncoming traffic had become non existent. The big grins on our faces at the prospect of some fast hill driving were soon wiped out when we slammed on the brakes and ground to a halt next to a lonely red flag. Standing in front of it was the largest loose boulder I had seen in my life. At its side were a bunch of people gesticulating upwards towards some more of its precariously perched brethren. We reversed the car and parked. On asking the villagers how long it would take to open up the road, I got a cryptic answer…"Could be 2 days or 2 weeks…It depends”. Thus began our three day stay at Virthi a small village in the middle of nowhere. Blessed with a spectacular waterfall, friendly villagers, two tea stalls and a tourist bungalow with two rooms and a dorm but no lights and of course no telephones.

Virthi Village
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Crumbling Hillside
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Boulder on road (yes that is the road)
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There goes the telephone
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The next day, the sun arose I hung out with the villagers, admired the waterfall, took photos of shepherd kids and drank endless cups of tea. Jeeps came to one side of the roadblock, unloaded their wares, porters carried them over the rocks and onto another set of waiting jeeps and life continued in Virthi. Everything was very peaceful except for the sinking feeling in my stomach. This was going to be a long wait...

Virthi waterfall
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Tea stall
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Shepherd kid
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Porter ferrying the goods
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Jeep transfer
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By afternoon, Mr. Sharma, the district engineer (name changed to protect identities) came along with his road crew armed with shovels and pickaxes. He looked at the boulders, kicked a few stones and said” I cant do anything with what I have, I need to get some heavy machinery (a compressor to drill holes and blast the rocks)”. He radioed headquarters using his wireless set, ordered his men to stay put and sat down in the small guest house which would be our home for the next 2 days or weeks. He had ‘escalated' and now it was time for his ‘leadership' (superiors was the term he actually used) to do their job. He had done his bit and was done.

As the day passed, I came to know a little more about Mr. Sharma, and actually a lot more of his view of the world. I learnt how in his mind, his boss was an idiot, his colleagues were mostly incompetent, the machinery was obsolete, the villagers did not want to be helped, and how in general nothing worked. What was his ‘leadership' doing? Listening to him, I felt I would be stuck here for another two weeks. Suddenly I was convinced that I too hated his ‘leadership'.

Sharma's crew
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Poking and prodding
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The day was almost coming to an end and I was getting nervous about how to get out of this mess. Unexpectedly a PWD jeep stopped and out came Sunil, a young Assistant Engineer. Despite Mr. Sharma's assurances to him that the situation was ‘under control', Sunil started making contact through his wireless set not just to headquarters but also to his colleagues in the neighboring districts. Sunil found someone willing to send over a compressor after which he took Mr. Sharma's crew and asked them to start breaking the smaller rocks next to the boulders into stackable chips. He clambered over to the other side of the boulders, assessed the situation from the other side, came back smiling. He had managed to convince the villagers to start digging and piling up some earth on the side and sent off the police jeep stuck on the other side to scout the neighboring areas for a bulldozer.

Waiting and watching
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Still waiting
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Another evening at the bungalow
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The sun set and I got to know Sunil. He talked about how he loved his job since he could have an impact on such a large population, how the internet was revolutionizing his department (which incidentally was the same department as Mr. Sharma's!), how the new IAS officers were idealistic and competent, how he and his team were changing the image of PWD and how his chief engineer kept political pressures out of his life, always appreciating new ideas brought to him.

Next morning as the sun rose, we heard the rumble of the bulldozer, the drilling of the compressor.

Morning dawns
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Heavy armor comes in
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Drilling holes for the gunpowder
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Lighting the fuse (with a bidi)
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Explosion
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Crack!
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Bulldozer charges in
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The process continued a few times and in 4 hours, Sunil's team along with the villagers had made sure there was enough space for cars to squeeze by! We celebrated over hot cups of tea, thanked each other and headed our own ways.

As I drove back to Delhi , I reflected on the two people I had met and their definitions of ‘leadership'. Mr. Sharma chose to define ‘leadership' as everyone and everything ‘above' him, subconsciously labeling himself and the rest of his team as being ‘below' and therefore incapable of affecting change. Sunil chose to define ‘leadership' as being passionate, about having an impact, about influencing people with a can-do attitude, not limiting his sphere of influence and not being content with status quo.

I learnt a lot from Sunil that day and I do believe we all can…
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Old 27th March 2009, 19:53   #2
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Nice writeup, I know its diffucult to work in these environments.

I enjoyed both your writeup and the pictures, btw, where exactly is Virthi ??
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Old 27th March 2009, 20:04   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dadu View Post
Nice writeup, I know its diffucult to work in these environments.

I enjoyed both your writeup and the pictures, btw, where exactly is Virthi ??
Somewhere in Pithoragarh is it? As one of the trucks said Pithoragarh dist.

What time of the year did this happen, seems to be monsoon time!!

But whatever it was, such things can be really frustrating if you arn't really prepared for them. But what is good is that you took it as a learning experience talking to all the guys.
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Old 27th March 2009, 20:12   #4
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...and you had a couple of days of forced holiday at a place you will remember for a long, long time - that village, the waterfall, that PWD bungalow, no phone calls, the terrific (I'm sure) tea from the little tea stall, the innocent and honest villagers of Virthi - how I would have loved to exchange places with you any day! All this apart from the learning experience...
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Old 27th March 2009, 20:23   #5
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Great place and a wonderful place. Beautiful photos! Enchanting!

And also a wonderful experience with the two sets of people.
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Old 27th March 2009, 20:26   #6
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@dadu: Virthi is on the road to Munisiyari in Uttaranchal. It is in Pithoragarh district.
This happened in the monsoon season a couple of years ago.

The KMVN bungalow there should have electricity by now. It actually is a great place to stay. (when planned )

There was another road to Pithoragarh but the bridge on the river had been washed away since the river changed course!

So we stuck it out here waiting for the rocks to clear.
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Old 28th March 2009, 00:12   #7
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some more details on route and accomodation please
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Old 28th March 2009, 02:47   #8
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Great story genesis, this is how some people can bring change to the world and some will only be left cribbing. Wish to see many more Sunil's working for this country. Hats off to people like him.

BTW, the place is very very beautiful and the rains always brings out the beauty of the mountains/hills. Wouldn't mind getting stuck in such place ;-)
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Old 28th March 2009, 03:40   #9
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Fantastic story Genesis! Good to know that honest & hard working souls still exist in our public services.
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Old 28th March 2009, 07:35   #10
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Genesis, fantastic pics and impeccable narration!
My favourite time of year to visit the mountains too.

...and yes, the kingdom of heaven is not a place, it is ....
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Old 28th March 2009, 10:30   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by genesis View Post
I reflected on the two people I had met and their definitions of ‘leadership'. Mr. Sharma chose to define ‘leadership' as everyone and everything ‘above' him, subconsciously labeling himself and the rest of his team as being ‘below' and therefore incapable of affecting change. Sunil chose to define ‘leadership' as being passionate, about having an impact, about influencing people with a can-do attitude, not limiting his sphere of influence and not being content with status quo.

I learnt a lot from Sunil that day and I do believe we all can…
I only wish your observation can be understood by all of us. We use great case studies to "teach" leadership but your case articulates the complicated concept in incredibly "user friendly" terms and examples. I need your permission to convert this into a case study for the MBA final year students at my college. Of course I shall be sharing the feedback and reactions I get from my students.
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Old 28th March 2009, 12:20   #12
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thanks genesis for sharing this. this reminds me of the "parable of the Sadhu" MBA case. excellent photos.
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Old 28th March 2009, 17:28   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by genesis View Post
@dadu: Virthi is on the road to Munisiyari in Uttaranchal. It is in Pithoragarh district.
This happened in the monsoon season a couple of years ago.

The KMVN bungalow there should have electricity by now. It actually is a great place to stay. (when planned )

There was another road to Pithoragarh but the bridge on the river had been washed away since the river changed course!

So we stuck it out here waiting for the rocks to clear.

Execellent naration Genesis...

I was wondering why you did not back track to Munsyari and took the Madkot road for Pithoragarh.......

The washed bridge explained it...

Birthi is an impressive waterfall. Drove my Honda City all the way from Bhopal to Munsyari in May 2008. Me too had my daily share of landslides.
The drive upto Munsyari was stunning. But Girgaon to Kalamuni pass .. not for the weak hearted...
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Old 28th March 2009, 21:15   #14
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Very entertaining and encouraging writeup. And the pictures are just stunning capturing the reality of the situation to good effect.
By the way, where is Munsiyari..?
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Old 29th March 2009, 00:18   #15
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@jaysmokesleaves: Munsiyari is in the northern part of uttaranchal. Past almora, bageshwar (ancient temples), chaukhori (beautiful tea gardens). Technically the road ends at Munsiyari and then you can go hiking and if you hike far enough and climb through a few mountains you reach china!

@columbus: You are right about Madkot. The river there had changed course due to floods wrecking the bridge.

A photoblog of the entire trip (too many to post here) can be found at:
Genesis - soumya.org: Dev Bhumi Uttaranchal
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