Some travelers that recently traveled on the Thimphu- Punakha highway have these words to say about their journey: Stressful. Torturous. Rough. The daily commuters on the highway are at their wits end as their vehicles are damaged and tyres punctured due to the poor road condition. Tourists say the road is not fit for traffic as there are dangerous sections along the highway where chunks of road is either sinking in or blocked due to landslides. Retention walls in certain areas along the highway are also collapsing.
“I travelled to Bhutan last week with my visitors. I visited Phuentsholing, Thimphu, Punakha and Paro. Only drawback I found is the road condition to Punakha, from Menchuna to Mendrelgang. Approximately 20-25 kms is very bad. ” a tourist guide, Sonam Tshering, said.
Apart from Punkaha and Wangdue Phodrang the road condition is no better all the way to the east hampering travelers and tourists. Tourists have in fact cited road conditions on the highway as the main problem during their stay and word of mouth on the highway’s condition is also hampering Tourist numbers.
“While driver errors are among the leading causes of automobile accidents in Bhutan, dangerous road conditions are also a significant contributor,” a taxi driver, Kinley Tshering, said.
Officiating Director of the Department of Road (DOR), Ministry of Work and Human Settlement (MoWHS), Lungten Jamtsho, said that the risk of accident is high. Drivers who travel to Punakha everyday should know how to travel, especially when the road is slippery and muddy.
“It is very true that travelling by Thimphu-Punakha highway is so stressing and inconvenient for the travelers, but the people must also understand that the construction of road is under progress,” Lungten Jamtsho said.
The ministry stated the maintenance works will begin only after the road construction is complete.
“Or else the expenditure would be too high,” Secretary of MoWHS, Phuntsho Wangdi, said.
Meanwhile, the road is riddled with potholes. “Potholes and most road conditions are caused by early monsoon sometimes in May. That time we, in collaboration with the contractors, had a meeting and it was decided that the work would be done after monsoon season starting from October,” Lungten Jamtsho said.
Chief engineer at Lobesa, GM Rai, said, “Dangerous road conditions may be the results of natural events, such as heavy rainfall and flooding that makes driving unsafe. Dangerous conditions can also arise from poor physical conditions of roads and its surroundings.”
Kinzang Wangdi who drives to Punakha everyday said, “There were two landslides in past two weeks, one at Lobesa near Drupchu Resort and another at Khuruthang near Talo Jangshing.”
Another traveler, Sonam Jamtsho, reports, “There was one more landslide in Ramtotok. Half of the road was taken by landslide at 10 pm. All thanks to Project Dantak for clearing the road in the earliest time as possible for the public convenience.”
The mountainous terrain with steep drop-offs and blind curves and heavy rainfall contribute to risks such as falling rocks and landslides.
Lungten Jamtsho said, “Monsoon is the major obstacle of road construction, so we don’t work in Monsoon season, but again if we completely stop working in monsoon, we would not be able to achieve our target within these two to three years. Only cutting is done in monsoon but when we cut we are destabilizing the natural slope and that cases landslides in the area. And to prevent that slide, we are constructing walls.”
He added, “During the time of landslides, you should be especially alert if you are driving.Embarkments along roadsides are particularly susceptible to landslides. Watch the road for collapsed payment, mud, fallen rocks and other indications of possible debris flows. A landslide can completely engulf a car on a road that’s in its path.”
To ensure the quality of the road, MoWHS has established a separate unit for technical monitoring of the quality of road every month.
Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay and MoWHS Secretary, Phuntsho Wangdi, along with a team travelled to the highway to road to carry a few tests, Lungten Jamtsho said.
He added, “I would like to request the public that the inconvenience is there, but we are doing our best to minimize the inconveniences, and maybe after 2018 when we open this new double-length road to the people, they would appreciate our efforts.”