Nima  | Zhemgang

We always say on a knife-edge when we are in a difficult situation. The journey from Gelephu to Zhemgang during monsoon, especially when you are a first-timer, lets you feel the meaning of being on a knife-edge.

It is a comfortable start from Gelephu driving on the broad smooth road. In about 20 minutes, the air becomes colder and the road narrows. The vast plains of Gelephu, a buzzing commercial town despite looming Covid-19 fear is nowhere to be seen as soon as you get out of the town.

The broad-leaved and conifer forests replace canopies of areca nut trees. And the plains by hills drenched with a heavy monsoon. Muddy and slippery roads with boulders precariously hanging above make you feel like an unseen force chasing you from behind.

The road filled with potholes, the threat from falling boulders, and broken twigs lying by the roadside are common scene along the highway.

However, I was fortunate to be accompanied by a driver and an engineer from the Department of Road, Zhemgang on the road. I followed the tyre tracks left by the bolero ahead of me. It helped me locate the high crown and road edges.

At Ossey bypass road construction site, the road is slippery. The car stopped in the middle of the mud. I restarted the engine but in vain. I would have returned from that point. Travelling alone is not advisable.

However, the bolero driver stopped a few metres ahead and came back to my rescue. A stranger came out of a Hilux and helped me push the car. Together we got the car out of the mud.

After another five minutes of driving, the engine failed in the middle of a stretch filled with wet sand. The tyre is rolling but refuses to move. There was a smell of burning rubber as I pressed the accelerator, harder.

The bolero driver had to come out of his car again and that was the last time. By then the five-kilometre bypass road construction site at Ossey was over, but Zhemgang is still far away.

“Two days of sunny weather, the road is clear without any hurdle said Kencho Wangdi who worked with the Department of Road, Zhemgang for the past two years. “There is no proper drainage build along the road. When it rains heavily the landslides are a common sight,” he said.  He added that the bypass road construction is taking a long time.

We reached Tingtibi, a small town 35 kilometres away from Zhemgang town at around 1pm. The road is narrower with several hairpin curves along the Zhemgang-Dakpel road.

As I inched closer to Zhemgang town, Kencho Wangdi shared a story about a 22-year-old boy who was killed by falling boulders on the Zhemgang-Dakpel highway last month. The parents of the deceased who also worked with the national workforce for decades were preparing to quit the job.

I asked Kencho Wangdi about the plan to widen the road. He said that the approval was given only for two kilometres of the road when proposed to widen about 10 kilometres of road.

The half-day journey took almost a day. It was 3 pm when I reached Zhemgang town. The small town along the old Trongsa-Gelephu highway remained still and silent with the picturesque Zhemgang dzong in the backdrop.