Major roadblocks between Zhemgang and Gelephu lead to 33 km long walks

Travelers caught by numerous monsoon triggered landslides on the Zhemgang–Gelephu highway in south central Bhutan have had to resort to walking to get to their destinations in other parts of the country.

While major blocks occurred between Tingtibi in Zhemgang and Surey in Sarpang dzongkhag, there were at least 42 other blocks with major damage to the highway in at least four places according to sources.

People travelling via Trongsa have been stranded at Tingtibi and Zhemgang and those travelling via Gelephu have been stranded at Surey.

“Even if there is a vehicle it is of no use on this highway,” said Lhakpa, who walked all the way from Dungmang to Tingtibi.

Tandin, II year student of Sherubtse College, walked to Gelephu, said he had been waiting for the blocks to be cleared. “But after seeing the blocks along the way I cannot imagine it will can be done within a short a span of time,” he said.

Jurmey, a civil engineering student of Deothang Polytechnic, said he has never faced a situation like this. He walked all the way from Surey to Gelegph which is 33 km.

“We walked even at night over sharp boulders, logs and the only short cut we took was very slippery and we had to be very careful not to slip off the cliff,” he said.

A teacher of Zhemgang Central School, travelling to Thimphu, said there was no way the highway would be opened in two to three days because some parts were severely damaged. “It’s going to cost the government a lot of funds to restore these damaged roads,” he said.

Choekor, who regularly plies between Zhemgang and Gelephu, said that it was the first time he was walking the highway and that he had never seen so many blocks before. “I‘ll leave my vehicle at Surey and come back to get it when things become normal,” he said.

While restoring roads have been started in Gelephu town, work on the highway is yet to begin.

In a day, approximately 30 to 40 people walk from Gelephu town to Surey on the Zhemgang highway crossing fallen boulder, trees, swollen streams and with the fear of encountering wild animals and snakes along the way.

An expatriate road worker estimated that the highway could be temporarily opened to traffic in a few days but restoring the damaged areas could take more than a month.

In the major block areas mud, stones, large trees and growling streams fill areas of what used to be a part of the highway.

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