After eight years of construction, the 29.2km Damchu-Chukha bypass road was inaugurated and opened to traffic yesterday.

Residents from different villages joined the officials who had come to witness the inauguration at Damchu.

A farmer from Bunagu, Phub Thinley, 48 said he left all his work to witness the event.

“The road and the bridges are good,” he said. “Having seen the construction for such a long time, I feel the satisfaction I would get in constructing my own house.”

A class VII student from Wangchu middle secondary school, Ugyen Tenzin said he felt lucky to observe the inauguration of the new road. “I would like to drive on this road one day.”

At Damchu, the inauguration set a bright and colourful mood for celebration of the 50-years of diplomatic relationship and friendship between Bhutan and India.

Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay said it was a momentous day in a very momentous year as the Republic of India and the Kingdom of Bhutan are celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations.

“The two countries also are celebrating many more decades and centuries of friendship,” Lyonchhen said. “Project DANTAK’s work in Bhutan is a testimony to that.”

Although the two nations established diplomatic ties in 1968, Project DANTAK was established in Bhutan as early as 1961, Lyonchhen said. Their first work, the Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway is still the most iconic work in the socio-economic development of Bhutan, he added.

Reminding those times in Bhutan before 1968 when Phuentsholing – Thimphu highway did not exist, Lyonchhen said it would take people five days on foot to reach Thimphu from Phuentsholing. This highway marked the end of centuries of self-imposed isolation of Bhutan, Lyonchhen said, and explained the highway had since then become Bhutan’s economic corridor.

The construction of Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway was the first major collaboration between India and Bhutan, Lyonchhen said.

“As Project DANTAK was involved in this road, so were our citizens from across the country. They worked with DANTAK engineers,” he said.

Although the bypass was inaugurated in the morning, it opened to traffic only after 4pm. All types of vehicles were allowed to ply. The total distance between Phuentsholing and Thimphu has been cut short by 19.2km and travel time by more than an hour.

Considering about 5,000 vehicles (250 trucks) that ply the highway daily, Lyonchhen said the Bhutanese economy would be able to save in millions. A truck would save eight litres of fuel in a day, while a light vehicle would save about 2.5 litres using the new road.

Without having to travel to Chapcha, Bhutanese would also save in vehicles’ wear and tear expenses.

Damchu-Chukha bypass road construction started in March 2010. It is the third phase of the project to double-lane Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway. The first two phases were to double-lane road stretches from Thimphu to Damchu and Chukha to Phuentsholing.

Of the three phases, Damchu – Chukha project faced major challenges and missed at least four deadlines. The 900-metre rock at the Chukha side of the 29.2km bypass road was a major hurdle. It was only in August 2017, Project DANTAK made a breakthrough by cutting through this rock and connected the entire road.

However, it was only with the recent completion of 145-metre “balanced cantilever bridge” over Tanalungchhu that the entire Damchu-Chukha bypass was connected. It is the third bridge on the bypass that was also inaugurated yesterday. Other two bridges are the 75-metre Jangtalungchhu bridge and 30m-concrete Sirupachhu bridge.

The cost of the project has also escalated to Nu 2.870 billion (B). The revised cost of the project was Nu 2.803B in 2017.

Project DANTAK’s chief engineer Brigadier AK Ramesh said they have seen numerous “ups and downs” that inevitably resulted in revised deadlines much to the dismay and frustration among eager road users.

“As we look back at moments of euphoria and hard times we experienced during construction of this road, there is a deep sense of satisfaction,” the chief engineer said.

Starting from hard rocks to areas that would see perpetual slides and constructing bridges in locations with no proper accesses, Brigadier AK Ramesh said the Project DANTAK team was stronger and wiser today. About 11 members of the team had also lost their lives, he said.

Project DANTAK is committed towards development of quality infrastructure in Bhutan, he said and expected people eagerly waiting for the completion to now experience the pleasure of seamless double-lane road.

Meanwhile, the Director General of Border Roads Organisation, Lt Gen Harpal Singh, attended the inauguration event as the Guest of Honour at Damchu yesterday. Lt Gen Harpal Singh had played a pivotal role in deciding the project in 2006 when he was with Project DANTAK in Bhutan.

“Today is truly a historic day. Personally for me it’s an emotional moment and feeling of satisfaction and pride,” he said. “I am also gladdened by the fact that the inauguration of the road has been included as a part of the events to celebrate the 50-years of diplomatic friendship between India and Bhutan.”

Lt Gen Harpal Singh said Project DANTAK was established during the time of the visionary leadership of the Third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck and since then Project DANTAK has had the honour and privilege to enjoy the patronage and blessings of the King.

“Under his visionary leadership, the project was fortunate to have the opportunity to develop some of the most important roads and infrastructure in Bhutan,” Lt Gen Harpal Singh said. “Today as we look back, Project DANTAK’s history is intertwined with the saga of growth and development of this beautiful nation over the past 57 years.”

Lt Gen Harpal Singh also said the completion of Damchu-Chukha bypass road has added to the vast experience of Project DANTAK in Bhutan.

India’s Ambassador to Bhutan, Jaideep Sarkar, works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden, other dignitaries and officials also attended the inauguration.

Rajesh Rai | Damchu