The Watsa-Chhukha stretch of the Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway, which used to be one of the busiest routes with many vehicles plying through the narrow road, has now become idle.

The opening of the 22km Chukha-Damchu bypass in July this year not only reduced the travelling time by an hour but also reduced the traffic on the old route. Only residents of Chapcha gewog and DANTAK officials use the old route.

While the bypass has benefited people, residents of Chapcha gewog and Tsimasham say they were affected.

Chapcha residents say that it’s very difficult to find a vehicle to travel to Thimphu, Phuentsholing and dzongkhag administration in Chukha.

Pasang, 69, said they have to walk all the way to Watsa to find vehicles going to Thimphu.

He said people who own car do not have a problem but not everyone in the locality owns one. “It’s very expensive to hire taxis and we do not get lift.”

Kencho Bidha, 82, was harvesting chillies. She said she used to sell dairy products and chillies on the highway before. “But without road users, there are no buyers now.”

She said that although all political parties have pledged to look into the matter, no one mentioned any particular activities.

The business community to Tsimasham also says they were affected by the bypass. Without any vehicles plying along the old route, the business people say they do not have customers.

The house owners and the tenants also say they are affected, as the house owners were forced to minimize the rent as most tenants vacated the house. Tenants also say the business is not doing well and they could not earn enough to pay the rent.

Residents and the building owners are worried about how they could repay the loans as most of the tenants have left the place to explore for better business opportunities.

A resident said 12 restaurants have closed till now and many more are likely to close at any time.

The Tsimasham town representative, Damchoe, said financial institutions have seized four buildings as of now. “House owners have reduced rents and flat which were rented out at Nu 7,000 is now reduced to 4,000 but people are leaving.”

The owner of Kencho Tshering Tshongkhang said the few restaurants and groceries shop, which are still operating in the town are of the owners who need not pay rents.

“We are doing the business as we don’t have to pay rent and because we have grandchildren studying in schools here,” he said. “If not, we will not dare to do business at loss here.”

He said the new government should come up with some developmental activities in the locality. “A college or an institution or starting up of Bunagu Hydro project will help to boost the business.”

He reasoned out that only if such projects start in the locality, people who constructed houses on loan would be able to repay the loans.

Nim Dorji | Chukha