Rajesh Rai | Samtse

A couple from Gomtu will never forget the day they legally tied the knot. The couple was among the five people stranded in the middle of the Khanabharti river when the Bolero pickup truck they were travelling in couldn’t cross the river.

The incident happened on Tuesday, August 4. The couple was going to the court in Samtse along with their three- month-old child.

Police, DeSuups and locals rescued the passengers without any harm. But the Bolero was taken out from the river only at around 3pm. It got stranded in the river around 10am.

With the border sealed, Gomtu is cut off from Samtse, the dzongkhag headquarter. The only internal road connecting the two towns is not complete and people resort to a 20-km dirt road, which runs through the Khanahbarti river.

Although the construction of a new internal road to connect Gomtu with Phuentsholing was initiated in May this year, monsoon has put the construction to a halt.

A Bolero driver, Nima Tamang who was present during the Tuesday incident said the road condition has been like this for the past one month.

“Without the Khanabharti route, Gomtu would be cut-off from rest of the country,” he said. Today, Gomtu shopkeepers have to either come to Samtse or Phuentsholing using Khanabharti route.

And while they bear the risk of travelling, it has also become expensive as hiring a Bolero could cost them from Nu 2,500 to Nu 4,000 for a to-and-fro journey. This, people said was because of the risk the vehicles have to bear while crossing the river.

A shopkeeper from Gomtu, Kanchi Rai, 70, said she comes to Samtse for shopping once a month. “It has become risky these days, but there is no option” she said.

Despite the risk factor, shopkeeper Shova Gurung said she had to come Samtse once a week to buy stocks for her shop.

Meanwhile, a temporary check-post has also been stalled in Samtse to monitor the vehicle movements between Gomtu and Samtse. After 5pm, vehicles are not allowed to leave for Gomtu.

Drivers also expressed the timing of closing the current check post at  5pm was too early. One Bolero driver said that many people who go to Phuentsholing for shopping had to rush before 5pm.

“Drivers have to rush and reach at the gate before 5pm,” he said. “There are high chances that vehicles will speed up on the Phuentsholing-Samtse highway, which increases the risk of accidents.”

The driver said that the exit timing should at least be changed to 6:30pm.

Due to the incident on August 4, about 14 Boleros, with more than 50 Gomtu-bound residents were also not allowed to go to Gomtu despite reaching the checkpoint on time. Many spent the night in hotels.

This, people said were extra expenditure, as not everyone would have friends or relatives to put up in Samtse.

Gomtu residents usually shop in Birpara and Makrapara, two border towns in India.