Chencho Dema

Punakha—The longest suspension bridge in Punakha, adorned with colorful prayer flags, has become a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. However, concerns about its durability and safety have highlighted the need for improved safety measures and maintenance.

This structure, 27-years-old, while offering breathtaking views and a unique crossing experience in Punakha, spans the two banks of the Pho Chhu with cables anchored to cement blocks, is believed to be sagging slightly due to extensive use over time. 

The bridge built in 1997 connects Chubu and Dzomi gewogs.

Witnessing the crowd on the bridge, a tourist, Debabrata, a 40-year-old lawyer from Kolkata, India, asked if there are officials or authorities monitoring or regulating the movement of people on the bridge. “For safety, there should be officials regulating the number of pedestrians on the bridge,” he said, noting the throngs of people crossing simultaneously.

Another tourist from India sharing his experience said that  he had to hold onto his friend as the bridge began to sway violently with people coming from both directions. “It felt precarious, like the bridge could give way under the strain.”

Both locals and tourists alike echoed these concerns, advocating for thorough inspections and maintenance to ensure the safety of all bridge users. Suggestions were made to impose a daily limit on the number of pedestrians allowed on the bridge to mitigate risks.

Meanwhile, the Dzomi gup, Dawa Tashi, said that the issue was brought up during the 4th Dzongkhag Tshogdu session of the 3rd Local Government on April 2, where it was noted that an assessment is currently underway. “I am concerned about the bridge as it has slightly elongated,” he added.

The chief district engineer, Parsuram Rai,  said that they have been assessing the bridge yearly. He said during the technical assessment, engineers of regional engineering cluster, Punakha, considered the load of two parallel water pipes running over the bridge as a dead load of 2,925kg. “We considered the live load (People) at 250 kg per meter for the 230-meter long  bridge. The age of the bridge was also considered while determining the assessment of the bridge,” he said. 

The bridge has a capacity to carry 580 people at a time without considering the dead load. However, considering the bridge’s age and the dead load of the pipe, the capacity has been assessed to be 300 people as of now.

The chief advised pedestrians to enjoy walking on the bridge and to avoid jumping, swinging, and leaning against the handrail cable for their own safety and the bridge. “Elongation of the handrail cable was observed during the assessment, and it is attributed to people jumping, swinging, and leaning on the bridge, as well as additional wind pressure from the flags stung on the bridge,” he said. 

However, Parsuram Rai assured that the main cable (on which people walk) is currently seen to pose no danger to pedestrians. During the assessment it was also observed that the anchorage block of both the cables, handrail and main cables has been found intact without posing danger to the bridge. “If the elongation continues until the next assessment, then the concerned office has to go for renovation or readjustment of the handrail cable,” he said.

Although a cautionary signboard is currently placed on one side of the bridge, the dzongkhag is in the process of placing two large cautionary boards with do’s and don’ts written on both sides of the bridge.

Meanwhile, the Punakha police are in the process of deploying Desuups to monitor the bridge. Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Colonel Lobzang Dorji said that they have sought the assistance of the Desuups and urged both the public and tourists to adhere to the rules while walking on the bridge.

The suspension bridge was renovated several times and was originally built to connect Punakha Dzong to the villages of Shengana, Samdingkha and Sangkha, on the other side of Phochhu.