Tshering Namgyal | Dungkar

Finding transport services in the upper Kuri valley of Lhuentse has been a challenge.

Reservation of pickup trucks, the most available and feasible transport service, is expensive.

Kurtoe residents said an SUV charges Nu 3,000 from Dungkar and Tabi chiwogs to Lhuentse.

Residents said waiting for hours on the roadside to find a vehicle was frustrating. “You need patience if you need a pickup service,” a resident, Zangmo, said.

Farmers said they could not pursue commercial farming due to a lack of access to the market.

“Our soil is fertile enough to grow any variety of vegetables, but we don’t grow abundantly because there is no market nearby. Selling at Phaling town in Lhuentse is difficult in the absence of transportation facilities,” said Peldon, a farmer from Tabi chiwog.

They said they have requested transportation facilities from the gewog administration and the dzongkhag administration.

“The transportation service would not only benefit the people of Kurtoe gewog but also that of Gangzur gewog. It would especially benefit the students who walk for two hours to Thimyul Primary School from places like Rodpa and Shawa villages,” a former tshogpa Rinchen Choden said.

Residents said officials from the Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) also came to consult with residents about the transport service and took note of the suggestions. “We have suggested provision of a pickup truck, but our request hasn’t yet been answered,” a Dungkar resident, Sonam, said.

Besides being riddled with potholes in numerous locations on the narrow and curvy road, most of the smooth portions are without blacktopping and a proper drainage system, residents say.

According to the former Jasabi-Chagzam tshogpa, Kunzang Penjor, around 18km of the 45km gewog centre (GC) road from Lhuentse to Dungkar are not blacktopped.

The residents say the road remains under a thick blanket of mudslides, making it slippery during the monsoon.

A large number of pilgrims started coming from across the country for pilgrimages to popular destinations like Dungkar Nagtshang and other popular pilgrimage sites.

Residents said the road remains covered with forest most of the summer months and remains infested with leeches. PWD workers clear the bushes once the winter approaches.

They said the conditions are a little better at this time of the year as the Department of Roads (DOR) has removed the mudslides from the road.

“It is a GC road and the condition should be better than this. Moreover, our Royal family members also visit. We don’t know whose responsibility it is to maintain it,” said a resident, Penjor.

With the dzongkhag administration planning to transform the Jigme Namgyal Nagtshang into a heritage museum, a conditioned GC road would inevitably boost the socio-economic development of the county.

Meanwhile, the DoR’s assistant engineer of the Autsho sub-divisional office, Karma Galey, said the condition of the road is terrible and genuinely in need of maintenance.

Karma Galey said around five km of road, including a three km stretch between Zhamling and Dungkar, could not be blacktopped because the road was marshy.

However, he said the whole stretch of 42.3km road is in dire need of maintenance, with resurfacing from Lhuentse to Zhamling, while both base course and blacktopping need to be carried out in the stretch of around 18 km between Zhamling and Dungkar.

In addition, drainage for a 30-km stretch needs to be constructed. Karma Galey said the sub-division is working on proposing a budget for the blacktopping work for this financial year. “We proposed it last year also but it got rejected. We are hoping to get through this time.”

Given the importance of the road, he said the road has been upgraded from a GC road and standardized under-secondary national highway since July 2021, and the road width for the blacktopped portion will also be increased to 5.5 meters, while the thickness of the blacktopping will be increased from 25mm to 30 mm if the proposal gets through.