I just returned from a quick trip to Phobjikha and Gangtey Goenpa.
The road widening works between Semtokha and Lobesa has been going on for over 15 years and yet, most of it is still in complete shambles. From the looks of it, it will not be done in the next 2-3 years. In the meantime, the road widening works have been started between Wangdue and Bumthang. According to the Hon’ble Minister for Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, the project will be completed in 3 years.
A stretch of road between Semtokha to Lobesa - a distance of 59 KMs - couldn't be completed in 15 years. How the stretch of road from Lobesa to Bumthang - a distance of 197 KMs - will be done in just 3 years is something to be seen to be believed!
However, this post is not about achieving the impossible or procrastinating on the possible. It is about what the road widening work is doing to our vitally important tourism industry.
At Gangtey Goenpa, I had lunch at a restaurant whose owner is a contractor of sorts - for a tour operator in Thimphu. He tells me that he had a lunch order to serve lunch to 50 tourists due to arrive Gantey Goenpa/Phobjikha on the 8th of August, 2015. On the appointed day, he got a call from the tour operator telling him of the cancellation of the lunch order.
The reason: the tourists, all three busloads of them, arrived below Nobding on their way to Gangtey Goenpa/Phobjikha. The tourists looked at the condition of the road and refused to go any further. They cancelled the trip and turned back. In the process the poor restaurateur in Gangtey Goenpa was stuck with the lunch that was already prepared and ready. He tells me that his refrigerator is now overflowing with the prepared food and he has been overfeeding his family in an attempt to save the cooked food from going to waste.
Some discussions are already taking place among tour operators that it is no longer safe to use Hyundai H1 and Toyota Hiace buses to transport tourists between Thimphu and Bumthang, because their undercarriage clearance is too low and unsuitable for the slushy road conditions.
They are now actively considering the use of Toyota Prados and other high-clearance SUVs in place of the mini buses. However, it remains to be seen whether their tour pricing is able to absorb the more expensive hire charges of the SUVs.
This is one of the many faces of the road-widening project that is destined to kill our tourism industry.
Only in Bhutan it happens that the Tourism Council declares the year 2015 as the “Visit Bhutan Year” to boost tourism while, at the same time, the government introduces something that is designed to strangulate it completely!