As a result of new highways and tourism

Development: With a handful of shanty bamboo huts the place once looked desolate but that is changing now.

By a narrow dusty trail, Sangay Lhaden runs a general shop in Sonamthang, Panbang in south Zhemgang. She settled in the area 15 years ago.

Today, Sonamthang is located by the Nganglam highway that cuts through the village sprawling across wide fields of paddy, maize, citrus, banana and bamboo that is randomly dotted with traditional houses roofed with corrugated iron sheets.

“When I came here 15 years back Sonamthang just had around four bamboo huts,” Sangay Lhaden said, adding since the construction of the Panbang-Nganglam highway began, the place is brimming with new houses being constructed every few months.

Today, Sonamthang has over 10 houses mostly shops by the roadside. And more houses and some buildings are now sprouting.

Just before the construction of Gomphu-Panbang highway in recent years, the nearest road connecting Panbang with rest of the country was around a two-day walk away in Gomphu. Hiking then was the only way to reach the dzongkhag to avail services.

But things improved drastically after the construction of the Gomphu-Panbang highway in the north and Panbang-Nganglam highway in the east. Though Panbang’s connectivity to road is still fledgling, the opening of the highway to traffic is already beginning to spur economic activities.

Since the Panbang-Nganglam highway is shorter by almost a day’s drive and because of safety reasons, most truckers travelling to deliver cement from Dungsam Cement Corporation Ltd are using the 55km highway to get to Gelephu instead of going via India.

“Now the cement-laden trucks are using the Nganglam and Gomphu Panbang highways to deliver cement to Mangdechhu hydropower project,” Sangye Lhaden said.

Business in Tungudhemba, which is less then five minutes drive from Panbang on the way to Gomphu is also picking up now.

“Though it is difficult to quantify in terms of income, business is starting to pick up compared to before with truckers stopping by for meals or at least grabbing basics like water and doma,” a shopkeeper from Tungudhemba, Choden said.

With a continuous stream of travellers, the number of shops are also shooting up in Tungudhemba. Just two years back Choden’s was the only shop there. “Now there are at least three-four shops here,” Choden said.

The influx of vehicles and people is also beginning to give rise to infrastructures and the hospitality industry such as hotels. From the existing hotels, at least three new ones are under construction to meet the increasing demand for accommodation.

“A couple of hotels with modern amenities are under construction to cater to high-end guests and tourists,” a resident from Panbang, Sangay Penjor said.

Even the existing ones are trying to attune to the improved quality services. For instance, Manas-eco lodge is constructing a single-storied stonemason lodge with air conditioner from its existing minute single unit cottage lodge.

As such constructions are only likely to rise once the town planning is finalized, as tourism is rapidly catching up in Panbang because of its rich avian and floral biodiversity and unique culture.

Residents are also promoting Panbang as a potential ecological destination with attractions like bird watching, wildlife safari, river rafting, and elephant rides in the protected areas of the Manas park.

As a result of Panbang gaining popularity, investors from across the country are intrigued with the thought of opening business there.

“Lots of investors from Thimphu came asking for land for sale in Panbang,” a resident, Dorji Yangkey said.

While no transactions have happened so far, land prices in Panbang have shot up dramatically over the last few years.

“In the core Panbang area some are asking Nu 30,000 per decimal though no once has sold any land yet because of transactions being suspended for now,” another resident, Sangay Dorji said.

In Tungudhemba and Sonamthang, the land prices have gone up to minimum of Nu 18,000 per decimal from just Nu 8,000 some 15 years back.

Tempa Wangdi