Rajesh Rai  | Samtse

The Covid-19 pandemic has eventually led to some positive developments for many villagers of Tading gewog in Samtse, residing along the Phuentsholing-Samtse highway.

Although the 58km highway internally connected Phuentsholing and Samtse in July 2018, vehicles, including passenger buses, preferred travelling via India.

But now, with the border sealed, commuters travelling on the highway are boosting local businesses.

Resham Ghalley sells vegetables by the roadside at Panbari.

“Sales have increased,” she said. “This all due to the increased vehicle movements these days.”

Resham Ghalley, however, said that there was not much to sell these days. Roadside vendors just sell farm produce, she said.

In a day, if it does not rain, Resham mints between Nu 1,200 and Nu 1,500.

A restaurant owner at Khenpagaon, Dilip said the business was better due to the increased movement of vehicles.

“At least five to six private vehicles, including taxis stop by every day,” he said.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, his daily earnings didn’t cross Nu 500 but these days he earns at least Nu 1,500 a day.

Meanwhile, a new hotel construction is ongoing at Panbari on the highway. The hotel would open in three months, its owner Sumit Kumar Rai said.

Expecting good business, he started the hotel construction in October 2019.

“The school nearby would also be upgraded,” he said.

Highway Inn at Khenpagaon is another hotel along the highway. Its owner Prabin Chhetri said that his business is about a year old and today around five passenger buses stop at his hotel daily. “Business is good.”

Highway Inn earns at least Nu 6,000 a day.

If not for the highway, Samtse remained cut-off from the rest of the country during strikes or other disruptions in the neighbouring Indian state of West Bengal.

The construction of the highway commenced in 2005 from both Samtse and Phuentsholing with funds from the government.

Meanwhile, when the border was sealed in response to the pandemic on March 23 this year,  Gomtu remained cut-off from the rest of the country. Owing to this, a road to connect Gomtu with Phuentsholing via Tading began in May.

The road will add 5km to the existing 16km road. The total distance from Gomtu to Phuentsholing will be around 44km.

The dzongkhag road, which will pave through Sisney pass in Tading will connect the Phuentsholing-Samtse highway at Suntaley.

Heavy monsoon rains have hampered the road construction.

Department of Roads’ chief engineer for Phuentsholing region, Karma Dorji said the area where the formation cutting was done had been sliding frequently due to heavy and continuous rainfall.

“We clear the road one day and it is blocked the next day.”

Karma Dorji said that machinery is deployed at the site.