The first record of any European having crossed the Khasi Hills from one valley to the other is that of the journey made in 1824 by David Scott, the Agent to the Governor-General on the North East Frontier with headquarters at Sylhet. In 1826 the Syiem of Nongkhlaw was persuaded by David Scott to allow the construction of a road across the Khasi Hills. In 1833 Cherrapunji was established as the headquarters of the hills districts. For the next twenty years all effort was concentrated on establishing communication between Cherra and Sylhet.
In 1864 the headquarters of the district and the military forces was shifted from Cherra to Shillong. Gauhati was connected to Shillong by road in 1880 but the problem of connecting Shillong with the plains of Sylhet remained.
The construction of the road throughout was carried out by contract and was distributed among 36 contractors some of whom hailed from as far afield as Punjab and Afghanistan.
Masonary & Bridging
Masonary work in the construction of retaining walls (some of which were over 50-ft high), guard walls and culverts was paid for according to qualities varying from hammer dressed dry stone at Rs. 20 per hundred cubic feet to chisel dressed masonary in cement mortar at Rs. 120 per hundred cubic feet. The Nepali masons from Darjeeling were found to be the best craftmen of all kind of masonary work.
From the junction with the Sohra road (at Umtngar) to Dawki, a distance of 59.5 kms, the total bridging is only 265 meters, including the Dawki bridge. The bridges are either masonary arches or steel girders on masonary abutments. There are 387 cross drains in this section.
The Lyngkyrdem Saddle
In order to reach the Lyngkyrdem plateau it was necessary to take the alignment over a knife-edged saddle about 500 feet long with a sheer drop of over 2,000 feet, on either side. This was known as the Lyngkyrdem saddle.
The construction of the road at this point presented considerable difficulty to the engineers and contractors. In order to minimise rock-cutting at this point it was necessary to keep the road-level as high as possible. To achieve this, it was found necessary to raise the level of the road over the saddle very considerably. This was done by carrying the road on double retaining walls throughout the length of the saddle. These retaining walls are over 30 feet high at their maximum. They are constructed of chisel-dressed dry-stone masonry on concrete foundations. The greatest care was exercised in the selection and preparation of the foundations and subsidiary retaining walls to prevent all possibility of slips below the road. For the same reason care was also taken to prevent the seepage of water below the road and the retaining walls.
Work was brought to a standstill in April to October 1930 owing to an outbreak of cholera and the rainy season.
In June and July of 1931, Pynursla recorded 27 consecutive days of rainfall during which visibility was practically nil.
The explosive material that was used for the excavation was Gelignite.
The Dawki bridge is a stiffened suspension bridge with a 12-foot roadway and 336-foot span. The bridge was designed and erected by Messrs Kumardhubi Engineering Works at a total cost of Rs. 1,84,893.
The bridge material were brought in country boats from Chattak, a distance of 64 kilometers away.
So how much did it all cost?
Statement of expenditure on the construction of the Shillong Sylhet motorable road. (Shillong-Jaintiapur Section, from the 14th mile of the Cherra cart road.)
So how long did it take to make the road?
After several widening projects of this road over the years, the Shillong-Dawki road is getting a Rs. 12,51,00,00,000 upgrade funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency. The 71-km long NH-40 will be converted into a four-lane highway from Umshyrpi bridge in Shillong to Bañiun at 7th Mile, Upper Shillong. The project also includes the construction of a new bridge over the Umngot river at Dawki.
This infographic historical essay is based on a paper by F. E. Cormack, I. S. E., Executive Engineer, Assam presented at The Indian Roads Congress, January 1936. Download the paper here:
Illustrations, layout and additional research by Nathaniel D. N. Majaw. You can download this info-graphic historical essay as a pdf here: